Archive for the ‘Christian Doctrine’ 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

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Book Plunge: But God Raised Him From The Dead

February 12, 2015

What do I think about Kevin Anderson’s book from Wipf and Stock publishers? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

butGodraised

Wipf and Stock was recently letting reviewers have a free copy of this book and since it was about resurrection, I jumped at the chance, so my thanks first to Wipf and Stock publishers for this copy.

This is supposed to be the first monograph of its kind on the resurrection as seen in the work of Luke-Acts. For those with a more apologetic bent like I am, this is not meant to give you a defense of the resurrection. You will not find something like the minimal facts in here. You won’t even find an argument for the resurrection. What you will find is what the doctrine of the resurrection means in Luke-Acts and how it plays a major role if not the major role in the whole narrative.

Some especially interesting subjects are the looking at the concept of resurrection in Second Temple Judaism and the looking at resurrection in the pagan world surrounding the Jews. The resurrection is not cut and dried in the time of Second Temple Judaism. We know the Sadducees did not believe in it and the Pharisees did. Various texts in the OT are looked at to see if they talk about resurrection and then some writings from the period of Second Temple Judaism are looked at.

More interesting is the looking at the pagan world I thought. After all, many of us would view resurrection as a good thing. In the ancient world, not as much. There are strong indications that it would be like returning to a prison. This is helpful for those of us in the apologetics field as it gives us further evidence that indeed returning to the body would be seen as returning to the shackles of a prison. Contrary to what we might think, the resurrection was not thought to be a liked doctrine. That would explain why there were scoffers of the idea even in the Corinthian community.

From there, with the cultural backdrop of resurrection, Anderson looks at how Luke plays this out in his narrative. He spends plenty of time on Peter’s speeches and on Paul’s speeches. If there is a main theme that the resurrection is seen to help establish in the narrative, it is the theme of hope, which is also something Anderson writes about. What is the hope of Israel and how will it be established?

Anderson seems to end on the note that the resurrection will take place so the just will be rewarded and the wicked punished. I think it’s a bit more. The hope of Israel is that God will become king and Israel will be His special chosen people. Today, Christians also share that hope as we are adopted into the family of Israel and we preach the kingship of Christ with the hope that His kingdom will spread all over the world.

Note this book is not layman friendly. It does contain plenty of Greek and assumes a good background with the scholarly material, but if you’re into the heavy stuff, this will be a good addition to your library.

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

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

Book Plunge: Crazy Busy

February 2, 2015

What do I think of Kevin DeYoung’s book published by Crossway? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

CrazyBusy

My pastor is wanting to do a series on this book so he gave me a copy so I could write out some lessons on it. Fortunately, it was Super Bowl Sunday and since I don’t give a rip about sports, that left me with plenty of time to watch while my wife and another couple we were with were all watching the game. Because, you see, had it been any other time, it might have taken longer to go through.

Because I am Crazy Busy.

It’s true. As an apologist with my own ministry and one who works closely with two other ministries, my to-do list never seems to end. I have people coming to me constantly with questions. I am asked numerous times to help out in debates on Facebook and other places. I have a to-read list from publishers that keeps growing and growing. I have a Master’s degree that I am working on. I have a podcast that I produce every Saturday that is two hours long. I have numerous places to go around here and most of them at least 20 minutes away. I am trying to be a good husband all the while and still make time for some down time so I can recharge. I try to help take care of the house around here. I have to drive my wife to many places since she can’t drive. (Not complaining about it. Just stating it.) I also try to get in a good prayer life and then when that’s all done, try to sleep and think about the next day.

Yes. We are all Crazy Busy.

In fact, most of us had this idea that technology would help make things easier for us. In fact, it has made things even busier in many ways. Many of us have a hard time unplugging from the world around us, including our phones and tablets. DeYoung in the book says for some of us, one of the times we’re happiest is when we unplug from things and just get away. The last time I did this seriously (And I mean as an intentional desire to put things away seeing as the last time I spent away from technology was when I had the flu and was too sick to do anything and no, that was not a nice technology break) was when I went on my honeymoon in 2010. The only book I brought with me was my Bible and I had my phone as a GPS and to find places to go for us together and such, but I did not check any emails. I did not do any Facebook. I did not do any debating or answering questions. It was me and my new bride and that was where my focus was. I even especially told my parents and hers to not contact us that week unless it was an emergency. For the time being, it was the two of us. Some of you will think it was a really happy time for obvious reasons, but i would say a large part was it was just good to get away for a bit. For awhile, I did not need to do anything at all.

Of course, we can’t stay that way. We’d love it if we could be on an endless honeymoon, but we know that there is real work to do and as soon as we return, we find that that work is there for us.

So what are some of DeYoung’s recommendations?

First, watch for pride. Many times, we don’t say no to someone because of pride. We don’t want to look bad or some other reason like that. When we are given a chance to serve, it is okay to say no, but if we say yes, let us examine to see why it is that we say yes.

Second is that we cannot do everything. Each of us in ministry really tends to stress the importance of what we do. I’m no exception. I do apologetics and I find this extremely important and neglected in the church today. Yet it is not the only field (Though it does touch on others), Some people have a great passion for missions. Some have it for youth ministry. Some have it for music ministry. There are many such fields out there.

In fact, DeYoung also says we don’t have to be greatly moved for all these fields. We can care about the persecuted church or people who don’t know Jesus overseas, but not all of us will be going to our prayer closets weeping for them. Note that we all care does not mean we all have to do something specifically in each field. None of us could. We would just wear ourselves out. I found this to be important seeing as we need to learn to rely on each other in ministry and use each other’s gifts well. I’m thankful I’m at a church where while my pastor is not gung-ho for apologetics like I am, he realizes my gift and great focus in my life and has chosen to find a way to let me serve to be best of my ability in the church.

Third is priorities. We just need to keep first things first. One aspect of this I’ve always stressed is that whatever I do in ministry, my wife comes first. Paul tells us that a good church leader must be able to manage his own household. There are many people out there who can do apologetics ministry successfully. There is only one person who can be a husband to my wife and that is me. If I fail at the task of being a husband, it really doesn’t matter how I do in apologetics. I’ve failed to love my wife as Christ loves the church. If ministry gets in the way of family, something is wrong.

I thought the fourth chapter on children would not be really relevant to me. After all, my wife and I don’t have any yet. Instead, I found it quite relevant. It really brought a lot to the nature/nurture debate and gave me some thoughts for if that time does come, particularly that the greatest influence can often be what is thought about politics and what is thought about religion.

I also found it great when DeYoung said that our society doesn’t really care what you do as an adult, but if you’re a kid, they’ll count the number of calories in your school lunch. Maybe if we were often as serious about what our children do with their sex lives as we are about what it is that they’re eating we’d be better off. You could also say the same about if we taught them good thinking as much as we try to teach healthy living.

The next chapter is about our internet struggles. I was pleased to see some discussion about how Google is affecting the way we think and DeYoung is open that it could be making us dumber. Sometimes, we might actually need to do something like get a book to get an answer to a question instead of thinking a few seconds on Google will do it. DeYoung is not saying remove technology altogether, but make sure it is a tool and not a master.

The following chapter is about rest. This is a principle I try to apply in my own life. It is why on Sunday, I make it a point to not do any debate on Facebook or anywhere else. I need a day to break and recharge. When we miss sleep, we are simply borrowing time, We will have to take that time later and it could be that in the meanwhile, we are more prone to have a car accident or snap at a loved one.

Finally, the last danger he mentions is that we should expect some busyness. We will be busy and we should be busy and it is not a foreign state. Even in the Garden of Eden, there was work to be done. What needs to be done then is just to follow the previous steps to make sure we don’t get overwhelmed. Jesus was a busy guy in His ministry after all, and still He did everything God had for Him to do.

But what is the one thing we must do? That’s the last chapter and that’s setting aside time for God. We need to have a prayer time and DeYoung also recommends a devotional time. So having said all that, let me get into some things I think could be improvements.

I would like to see some more on time management instead of saying we need to manage our time. Is it proper for me while busy to take that down time to do something fun and entertaining just for me? How about those date nights with my spouse? I find it concerning that Christians emphasize so much on the work we are to do for God, but we rarely seem to take time to realize the importance of play.

In fact, let’s consider 1 Cor. 7 in this regard. Paul says to not deprive one another of the gift of sexual relations except for an agreed time and then come quickly together. It looks like Paul is saying it’s important for husbands and wives to have intimate time together and while sex is the way of making babies, I have a suspicion that he has more in mind than simply making babies. He knows husbands and wives need to have this intimate time together in order to build up their marriages.

Second, I understand the importance of prayer, but this can be difficult for a lot of us. I have a mentor who helps with me, but that extended time can be difficult and I really think it difficult when people talk about hearing the voice of God since I don’t see this as normative in Scripture anywhere. At this point, a small section of recommended reading would have helped. I do have Tim Keller’s book on prayer though I have not got to it yet. Why?

Because I’m Crazy Busy of course.

With devotions, I have to say I don’t really do this one either. I don’t because so many devotionals I come across are just so fluffy and light. I really have a hard time focusing on the supposed lesson because I realize that the text that is being used is being ripped totally out of its context. I have not found a devotional yet that works for someone of my kind of mindset.

Still, DeYoung’s book is a good one and it is short so that those of you who are Crazy Busy can indeed find the time to read it. I think this could be a good one for discussion in the church.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

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

Is Bill Maher Right on Religion?

January 23, 2015

What is the source of moral progress? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out!

Recently, an article showed up in Salon saying Bill Maher is right about religion. Maher is of course the man behind Religulous, which we have reviewed earlier on this blog. Michael Shermer who wrote the article is a well-known skeptic and I have actually seen him in debate. So let’s go through and see what Michael Shermer has to say. Is he right about his claims on moral progress?

Most people believe that moral progress has primarily been due to the guiding light of religious teachings, the activities of spiritual leaders, and the power of faith-based initiatives. In “The Moral Arc” I argue that this is not the case, and that most moral progress is the result of science, reason, and secular values developed during the Enlightenment. Once moral progress in a particular area is underway, most religions eventually get on board—as in the abolition of slavery in the 19th century, women’s rights in the 20th century, and gay rights in the 21st century—but this often happens after a shamefully protracted lag time. Why?

Okay. I’ll go on and say I haven’t got a chance to read the book. My to-read list right now is extensive and I’m saving my money, but let’s see if Shermer can provide evidence here. Right now, I see some problems right at the start. For instance, many of the church fathers were strong opponents of slavery based on Christian teachings and indeed, the church did put an end to slavery. Rodney Stark shows this in The Victory of Reason with telling how Bathilda, the wife of Clovis II, was instrumental in this regard. Did slavery start again later on? It did, and sadly many Christians took part, but many ended it as well. Wilberforce was a strong voice to ending it and the abolitionists over here who were using the Bible were the Bible scholars of their day, in response to the literalists, which would sadly fit the way many atheists read the Bible today.  I suspect Shermer would fall into that camp.

As for women’s rights, once again, the church has been the strong champion of this. Too often we can look at a passage such as “Wives, submit to your husbands.” Instead, consider how husbands were to love their wives. They were to be willing to die for them. This would have been unheard of in Paul’s day. Normally, the commands given were to everyone else to tell how to support the head of the household, the man. Paul has most of his commands on house rules to go to the men instead. For more on this also, listen to my interview with Lynn Cohick on Jesus and women.

The Old Testament starts out with men and women both being in the image of God. In the New Testament, we are told in Galatians 3:28 that in Christ there is neither male nor female among other things. When women have been involved in the sex trade, such as in Thailand, Christians have been there to end it. David Marshall documents this very well in his book How Jesus Passes The Outsider Test. I have reviewed that book here.

Of course, if Shermer wants to say that this is about abortion, then I do not think we should see that as progress. The same applies to what he calls “Gay rights.” This is part of an idea of progress to be just saying that we want something and then when we get it, say that that is progress. What has to be established is that this is good in each case. Color me skeptical that redefining the family and allowing women to kill their children in the womb should be counted as progress.

if Shermer wants to say this came from the Enlightenment, then I would like to know what new truths he thinks we discovered in that time. It is after all since the Enlightenment that we have had two world wars take place and in fact, we could easily say Nietzsche was right about the 20th century being the bloodiest century of all. Much of this also took place under atheistic regimes or at least anti-Christian ones, which would include Hitler. No. He wasn’t an atheist, but he sure wasn’t a friend of Christianity.

The rules that were dreamt up and enshrined by the various religions over the millennia did not have as their goal the expansion of the moral sphere to include other sentient beings. Moses did not come down from the mountain with a detailed list of the ways in which the Israelites could make life better for the Moabites, the Edomites, the Midianites, or for any other tribe of people that happened not to be them. One justification for this constricted sphere can be found in the Old Testament injunction to “Love thy neighbor,” who at that time was one’s immediate kin and kind, which was admittedly an evolutionary stratagem appropriate for the time. It would be suicidal to love thy neighbor as thyself when thy neighbor would like nothing better than to exterminate you, which was often the case for the Bronze Age peoples of the Old Testament. What good would have come of the Israelites loving, for example, the Midianites as themselves? The results would have been catastrophic given that the Midianites were allied with the Moabites in their desire to see the Israelites wiped off the face of the earth.

I wonder how much of the OT Shermer is really familiar with. Most of the battles Israel fought prior to the Promised Land were defensive wars. Let’s consider the Midianites. The Midianites were constantly trying to destroy Israel. Now we don’t have details on individual interactions between Israelites and Midianites, and that is what the law applies to. On a national level, Israel did have to defend themselves.

And yet, anyone was welcomed to be part of Israelite society. We have Ruth who is a Moabitess who ends up being part of the lineage of David and of Christ. We have Rahab of Jericho who has the same thing happen to her despite being a prostitute. We also have instructions on how foreigners were to be treated who sojourned among the Israelites. Anyone who wanted to come to the God of Israel was welcome.

Shermer can also say the command to love your neighbor applies only to one’s immediate kin and kind, but what evidence has been given of this? It has just been asserted. He might have some in his book to be sure, but what evidence has he given here? Could he have not at least referenced some paper or the work of some scholar that would attempt to argue this? Of course, the Israelites could have seen it that way, but we need some evidence.

And certainly, there is the mention of Bronze Age people, but we wonder how much study Shermer has really done on Bronze Age society. Has he really thought about how they lived or has he simply imposed his own culture on to them too often? One of the rules of studying another culture is to realize that that culture is different from yours and the harsh realities of life are different.

Today, of course, most Jews, Christians, and Muslims believe that moral principles are universal and apply to everyone, but this is because they have inculcated into their moral thinking the modern Enlightenment goal of broadening and redefining the parameters of moral consideration. But by their nature the world’s religions are tribal and xenophobic, serving to regulate moral rules within the community but not seeking to embrace humanity outside their circle. Religion, by definition, forms an identity of those like us, in sharp distinction from those not us, those heathens, those unbelievers. Most religions were pulled into the modern Enlightenment with their fingernails dug into the past. Change in religious beliefs and practices, when it happens at all, is slow and cumbersome, and it is almost always in response to the church or its leaders facing outside political or cultural forces.

Again, no evidence is given of this. Most believe in universal moral principles because of the Enlightenment? Really? Does that include Saint Paul in Romans 2 telling us about the law written on the heart? Does that include the thinkers from Aristotle to Aquinas and beyond who believed in Natural Law thinking? Has Shermer even seen that a large part of the Summa is devoted to moral questions and the reason for the arguments goes far beyond “God says so.”?

Shermer also talks about religion by definition. Whose definition? Religion is notoriously difficult to define and in fact, we could say that that message of outsiders has been followed by atheistic regimes who didn’t mind killing Christians who were outsiders and did not believe in the progress that would come through the Marxist revolutions. We also have to wonder how this Enlightenment revolution came about. Was it through the bloody French Revolution for instance?

It is as if Shermer has never read anything any theist has to say about Natural Law, which could be the truth. Now of course Natural Law thinking could be wrong, but that is not the same as saying that the theists did not have an explanation for moral principles being universal and applying to everyone. This was believed long before the Enlightenment was around and it was believed largely in part thanks to Christians who brought a theistic belief and a religious belief together.

The history of Mormonism is a case in point. In the 1830s the church’s founder, Joseph Smith, received a revelation from God to enact what he euphemistically called “celestial marriage,” more accurately described as “plural marriage”—the rest of the world calls it polygamy—just about the time he found a new love interest while married to another woman. Once Smith caught the Solomonic fever for multiple wives (King Solomon had 700), he couldn’t stop himself or his brethren from spreading their seed, along with the practice, which in 1852 was codified into Mormon law through its sacred “Doctrines and Covenants.” Until 1890, that is, when the people of Utah—desirous for their territory to become a state in the union—were told by the United States federal government that polygamy would not be tolerated.

Conveniently, God issued a new revelation to the Mormon leaders, instructing them that a plurality of wives was no longer a celestial blessing, and that instead monogamy was now the One True Way. As well, Mormon policy forbade African Americans to be priests in the church. The reason, Joseph Smith had decreed, was that they are not actually from Africa but instead are descendants of the evil Lamanites, whom God cursed by making their skin black after they lost the war against the good Nephites, both clans of which were descendants of two of the lost tribes of Israel. Naturally, since the evil Lamanites were prohibited from having sexual relations with the good Nephites, interracial marriage was also banned. This racist nonsense lasted a century and a half until it collided with the civil rights movement of the 1960s. Finally, in 1978, the Church head Spencer W. Kimball announced that he had received a new revelation from God instructing him to drop the racial restrictions and adopt a more inclusive attitude.

Okay. Not much problem here….

But what are we to draw from this? One religious movement was like this, therefore all of them are? Does Shermer really think he can point to Mormonism and say “Since Mormonism is like this, all religions are like this.”? This is a hasty generalization at its best. It also is not the way Christians, Jews, or Muslims act since most of us do believe in a closed canon. Shermer could find a sect out there with different beliefs, but that would not represent the main three monotheistic faiths as a whole.

There are three reasons for the sclerotic nature of religion: (1) The foundation of the belief in an absolute morality is the belief in an absolute religion grounded in the One True God. This inexorably leads to the conclusion that anyone who believes differently has departed from this truth and thus is unprotected by our moral obligations. (2) Unlike science, religion has no systematic process and no empirical method to employ to determine the verisimilitude of its claims and beliefs, much less right and wrong. (3) The morality of holy books—most notably the Bible—is not the morality any of us would wish to live by, and thus it is not possible for the religious doctrines derived from holy books to be the catalyst for moral evolvement.

The first one does not follow. I can fully believe someone has departed from the Christian faith and does not follow the one true God, but they are still my neighbor and I am still obligated to love them as myself. For #2, while we do not have the same methodology of science, this does not mean the claims are just faith claims entirely. They are established through different methods. Want to know who Jesus was, what He said and did, and if He rose again? Then study history. Want to know if God exists? Study philosophy and metaphysics. Want to know if the New Testament documents have been handed down accurately? Study textual criticism. Of course, in each area there are many more areas that can be studied. Shermer should know this having debated some Christian apologists, yet he chooses to not mention this.

In fact, we could ask for #2 if there was a systematic process or empirical method to determine that a claim must have a systematic process or empirical method to determine its truth. Shermer has made a claim that is not scientific all the while making a claim that puts science on the highest branch of knowledge. Those who take a position always take such a position on grounds that are not scientific. For #3, we will look at this later.

Many Jews and Christians say that they get their morality from the Bible, but this cannot be true because as holy books go the Bible is possibly the most unhelpful guide ever written for determining right from wrong. It’s chockfull of bizarre stories about dysfunctional families, advice about how to beat your slaves, how to kill your headstrong kids, how to sell your virgin daughters, and other clearly outdated practices that most cultures gave up centuries ago.

There is a lot of misinformation in here, and a lot of misunderstanding. For instance, are there stories of dysfunctional families. Yes. These stories also show up on the evening news and in the newspaper. Does that mean these are prescriptive, telling us how we should live, or does that mean that they are descriptive, telling us simply what it was that happened and letting them be object lessons for us?

How to beat your slaves? I don’t think so. There’s no passage that says “Now take your rod and aim straight for the back first. That’s the place that you want to start!” Now it does say that some would, but this was also the kind of discipline that was around back then and would also apply to children. Yet how much could someone be disciplined? If they even lose a tooth, they go free and guess who has to give them ample resources when they go free. That’s right. The master. Guess also who will lose honor in the community and not have people come to him willing to work? Same answer.

What is forgotten is that slavery was not Civil War slavery and was closer to our employer-employee system. An employer cannot beat you today, true, but they can just as easily lay you off and have you out of work. Your livelihood is gone in that moment. In the ancient world, you couldn’t just go down the street to Wal-Mart and get a job. You had to work for someone else and this was the language used to describe it. It was also something that was done willingly among the Hebrews. For more on this, I recommend Scripture and Slavery.

How to kill your headstrong kids? Really? The passage in question is Deuteronomy 21:18-21. I have dealt with it earlier, but let’s put it up here:

18 If someone has a stubborn and rebellious son who does not obey his father and mother and will not listen to them when they discipline him, 19 his father and mother shall take hold of him and bring him to the elders at the gate of his town. 20 They shall say to the elders, “This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious. He will not obey us. He is a glutton and a drunkard.” 21 Then all the men of his town are to stone him to death. You must purge the evil from among you. All Israel will hear of it and be afraid.

This is not a case of little Johnny won’t clean up his room so let’s kill him. This is a drunkard and a glutton, which means someone of mature age who knows better and refuses to listen to discipline. Is the penalty harsh? Yes. It’s also known in advance and the one living this way is one who cares nothing for the good of the community. This might be hard for an individualist like Shermer to understand, but the Majority World would consider his views to be the ones that are out of sync. After all, why should you sacrifice the good of the whole for the good of the one?

For selling virgin daughters, in the ancient world, marriages were arranged and a dowry was expected to be given. That’s because families were being united. Since this would involve financial loss, there would be a dowry to be expected to be paid.

Shermer can say these are outdated, but at the same time, for a period of time in parts of the world, this was necessary, and some could be necessary still in some parts of the world. This was done to maintain the social order and have a functioning society. Again, one wonders just how much Shermer has actually studied the Ancient Near East, or if he’s just reading it like a modern individualist.

In order to make the Bible relevant, believers must pick and choose biblical passages that suit their needs; thus the game of cherry picking from the Bible generally works to the advantage of the pickers. In the Old Testament, the believer might find guidance in Deuteronomy 5:17, which says, explicitly, “Thou shalt not kill”; or in Exodus 22:21, a verse that delivers a straightforward and indisputable prohibition: “You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”

These verses seem to set a high moral bar, but the handful of positive moral commands in the Old Testament are desultory and scattered among a sea of violent stories of murder, rape, torture, slavery, and all manner of violence, including capital punishment for a variety of acts:

Maher acts like cherry-picking is going on, but is this the view of Christian scholarship? Is it not the case that we realize some laws were civil and ceremonial and applied to a theocratic system whereas they don’t today? Even in the case of a universal moral law, we do not live in that kind of theocracy and so even if the moral principle is still upheld, the way it is dealt with is different. If we are cherry-picking, then what about Shermer talking about parts of the Bible that he thinks uphold a high moral standard? Is he not cherry-picking as well?

Let’s see what he says about a variety of acts that have capital punishment as their sentence.

Blaspheming or cursing of the Lord: “And he that blasphemeth the name of the Lord, he shall surely be put to death, and all the congregation shall certainly stone him: as well the stranger, as he that is born in the land, when he blasphemeth the name of the Lord, shall be put to death.” (Leviticus 24:13-16)

• Worshiping another God: “He that sacrificeth unto any god, save unto the Lord only, he shall be utterly destroyed.” (Exodus 22:20)

Both of these are because Israel was in a covenant relationship with God. Going against God would lead to the destruction of the covenant and the penalties that followed. If Bill Maher or Michael Shermer think this is ridiculous, then I suggest they go on live television and try to make a joke about killing the president and see how long it takes before the Secret Service shows up at their door. Treason is still a serious crime, in fact, one of two crimes specifically mentioned in the Constitution.

• Witchcraft and wizardry: “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.” (Exodus 22:18)

This is the same kind of thing. It’s an act of treason calling on another deity and if these kinds of beings are real, then it is putting everyone else around the person in danger.

• Female loss of virginity before marriage: “If any man take a wife [and find] her not a maid … Then they shall bring out the damsel to the door of her father’s house, and the men of her city shall stone her with stones that she die.” (Deuteronomy 22:13-21)

The OT law is didactic in nature. Stoning was a possibility, but it was not the only one. This would be left for the judges to decide or for the disgraced husband to request. A woman was prized for her virginity and the man had essentially entered into an agreement with the father-in-law about the bride. While under the father’s supervision, he was to protect her virginity. If he didn’t, then it was as if he deceived the son-in-law. He could ask for any money back that had been exchanged and he could have the woman live with her father, a burden on him as no one would want to marry her then. There were numerous other methods that could be used. The husband is not seeking to kill the bride but just end the marriage. If he was wrong of course, he would be shamed greatly by a flogging. If not, then the shame came on the bride and her family.

• Homosexuality: “If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them.” (Leviticus 20:13)

I am sure Shermer wants to see homosexuality as either morally neutral or maybe even positive but we need more of a reason than “Modern people think so.” If that is the case, it is no more of a reason to accept it than for Shermer to hear something like “God says so” from our side. We need to look at the data. In a theocracy like ancient Israel, this was an immoral practice tied also to immoral practices of the pagans, that would have led to treason against God. The same penalty applies. Sexual matters were taken seriously I suspect because humanity normally has a hard time controlling their sex drive.

• Working on the Sabbath: “Six days shall work be done, but on the seventh day there shall be to you an holy day, a sabbath of rest to the Lord: whosoever doeth work therein shall be put to death.” (Exodus 35:2)

Again, this was also part of the covenant agreement. Note also that anyone who did work could use it as a way to get ahead of their neighbors financially. In essence, doing something like this was a way of cheating your neighbors. This is also not a universal law as other nations were allowed to work on the Sabbath, but this was to be a special sign of the covenant with Israel.

Most modern Christians, however, respond to arguments like this by saying that the Old Testament’s cruel and fortunately outdated laws have nothing to do with how they live their lives or the moral precepts that guide them today. The angry, vengeful God Yahweh of the Old Testament, they claim, was displaced by the kinder, gentler New Testament God in the form of Jesus, who two millennia ago introduced a new and improved moral code. Turning the other cheek, loving one’s enemies, forgiving sinners, and giving to the poor is a great leap forward from the capricious commands and copious capital punishment found in the Old Testament.

Unfortunately, this could be the case that too many Christians have a Marcionite attitude towards God. I would prefer instead to say we answer it by actually studying the Old Testament culture. Shermer seems to look through the Bible and says “I find something I deem offensive, therefore it is wrong” without bothering to really understand the culture that he is speaking about.

That may be, but nowhere in the New Testament does Jesus revoke God’s death sentences or ludicrous laws. In fact, quite the opposite (Matthew 5:17-30 passim): “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill.” He doesn’t even try to edit the commandments or soften them up: “Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven.” In fact, if anything, Jesus’ morality is even more draconian than that of the Old Testament: “Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment: But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment.”

This is true in part. Jesus does come to fulfill the Law, but what does that mean? This is one of the extremely debated passages in the NT to decide what is meant by it and Shermer posts it like it’s just patently obvious. Let’s see what else he says about this.

In other words, even thinking about killing someone is a capital offense. In fact, Jesus elevated thought crimes to an Orwellian level (Matthew 9:28-29): “Ye have heard it was said by them of old time, Though shalt not commit adultery: But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.” And if you don’t think you can control your sexual impulses Jesus has a practical solution: “If thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.”

Shermer’s problem here is that Jesus is not saying the judges of Israel have the right to judge a fault crime. Jesus is saying that before God, who does know one’s thoughts, one is guilty. Note also the problem is not having a desire. A desire cannot necessarily be helped. Note Jesus says that if you look at a woman to lust, you have already committed adultery in your heart. Looking and lusting is something that could be difficult to help, but looking to lust is something specific. If you look at a woman just to desire her and treat her like an object, you’ve already defiled her in your mind.

Yet nowhere does it say that Israel gives capital punishment. It says one is in danger before God. Jesus is telling us all to shape up and say not to look at a woman to lust after her. (And here I thought Christianity was supposed to be against women and yet here is Jesus telling us not to look at women as sex objects and apparently Shermer is complaining about that as well.)

As for Jesus’s own family values, he never married, never had children, and he turned away his own mother time and again. For example, at a wedding feast Jesus says to her (John 2:4): “Woman, what have I to do with you?” One biblical anecdote recounts the time that Mary waited patiently off to the side for Jesus to finish speaking so that she could have a moment with him, but Jesus told his disciples, “Send her away, you are my family now,” adding (Luke 14:26): “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple.

It is curious to know how never marrying and never having children means that one does not have good family values. Of course, one cannot demonstrate how to be a good spouse or a good parent without having a spouse or without having children, but it does not one mean one cannot have good views on the matter. But for now, let’s look at the Scriptures that Shermer cites.

What Jesus said to his woman first off in calling her woman, was a typical way of addressing women in the ancient culture. It was not a disrespectful way. The latter part of the phrase could be, but it could also just be a case of saying “This is really none of my business.” Still, it’s important to note that Jesus does do what His mother asks of Him at this point, which is hardly an example of turning her away.

Shermer also claims Jesus tells his disciples to send his mother away as the disciples are his family now. Really? Let’s look first at Matthew 12:

46 While Jesus was still talking to the crowd, his mother and brothers stood outside, wanting to speak to him. 47 Someone told him, “Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you.”

48 He replied to him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” 49 Pointing to his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. 50 For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”

And Luke 8:

19 Now Jesus’ mother and brothers came to see him, but they were not able to get near him because of the crowd. 20 Someone told him, “Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to see you.”

21 He replied, “My mother and brothers are those who hear God’s word and put it into practice.”

And Mark 3:

31 Then Jesus’ mother and brothers arrived. Standing outside, they sent someone in to call him. 32 A crowd was sitting around him, and they told him, “Your mother and brothers are outside looking for you.”

33 “Who are my mother and my brothers?” he asked.

34 Then he looked at those seated in a circle around him and said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 35 Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.”

We are not told how the story ends, but nowhere do we have Jesus telling the disciples to send his mother away. Jesus is instead making a point about loyalty. It is no longer among family lines, but is in relation to God.

This is especially so with Luke 14:26. Too many skeptics of Christianity jump up and down like they’ve found buried treasure when they come across this verse. Meanwhile, most of us who are not fully sold out on literalism and know how to recognize a hyperbole when we see one do just that. We know that Jesus is making a comparative statement between different things. He is saying that if you love anything more than you love Him, you are not worthy to be His disciple. He is not encouraging you to go out and actively hate your family.

Even sincere Christians cannot agree on Jesus’ morality and the moral codes in the New Testament, holding legitimate differences of opinion on a number of moral issues that remain unresolved based on biblical scripture alone. These include dietary restrictions and the use of alcohol, tobacco, and caffeine; masturbation, pre-marital sex, contraception, and abortion; marriage, divorce, and sexuality; the role of women; capital punishment and voluntary euthanasia; gambling and other vices; international and civil wars; and many other matters of contention that were nowhere in sight when the Bible was written, such as stem-cell research, gay marriage, and the like. Indeed, the fact that Christians, as a community, keep arguing over their own contemporary question “WWJD” (What Would Jesus Do?) is evidence that the New Testament is silent on the answer.

Are some things not clear and simple? Obviously. Some things are. Some are not. That’s the nature of the beast. It also gives the impression that the purpose of the NT is to tell us all moral precepts. It’s not. Most of these are to be known anyway. Still, I find this paragraph amusing. Here Christians are so often accused of not knowing how to think for themselves, and then the other accusation we get is one like this one that we don’t agree among ourselves. I can’t help but wonder which is it to be.

All this means is that there is work to be involved. That involves Scriptural study, as well as study in ethics and philosophy. Christian academics for the most part have not been opposed to such.

If God really believes in equal rights for all of his people, one would think that He would have said something about them in his holy book. But such sentiments are nowhere to be found in the Bible. The closest thing to a modern moral value is in Galatians 3:28, when the apostle Paul says: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.” That sounds ecumenical, but the surrounding verses demonstrate clearly what Paul is up to: (Galatians 3:1) “O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you?” And what is this truth, according to Paul? The truth is that “[T]he Jew in becoming a Christian did not need to become a Greek, nor the Greek a Jew. The slave might continue to serve his master, and “male” and “female” retained each its function in the ongoing stream of life.”

The notion of equal rights for all people is one that makes sense in an individualistic society, but not in the ancient society where people would not stand up and say “I have rights! I am an individual!” Yet Shermer’s look at Galatians is just confusing. What is the truth being argued for in Galatians 3? It’s that circumcision is not required to show you are part of the covenant of God. What makes you righteous before God? It’s not being a Jew or a Greek. It’s not being a male or a female. It’s not being a slave or a freeman. Jews were still Jews. Greeks were still Greeks. Men and women were still men and women. Slaves and masters were still slaves and masters, but their new identity was to be in Christ. Being in Christ does not depend on either of those.

That is about as ecumenical as you can get. Want to be a Christian? Anyone can. It does not matter your station in life, your nationality, or your gender. You can be part of the family of God. God welcomes all. Shermer’s reading of the text quite frankly is just confusing and it is one that I do not think any Biblical scholar would uphold.

In other words, Paul is saying that you can carry on as you are. If you’re Greek, there’s no need to become a Jew—a significant dispensation, given that a man converting to Judaism often had to submit to adult circumcision, and this is just the kind of thing that puts a guy off the whole idea. Paul was not a revolutionary advocating violence, and he most assuredly wasn’t ghostwriting the U.S. Constitution. He was saying that if you’re a slave, you must keep on being a slave; if you’re a wife, must continue being regarded as property; no matter who you are, you can still worship Jesus Christ and be abused by your culture in whatever manner is customary for someone of your breeding and station.  And in any case, slaves remained slaves for eighteen more centuries, and women remained little more than property for nineteen more centuries in Christian countries around the world. Clearly, even if Paul’s message were interpreted to mean that we’re all equal, no one took it seriously. But what Paul’s passage really meant was that anyone can go to heaven by accepting Jesus as the Christ (as instructed in John 3:16), and that’s the message of universalism—not equal treatment in this world, but in the next world.

Shermer again assumes his mindset of Paul as if Paul was happy with women being seen as property. In 1 Cor. 7, Paul tells slaves that if they can get their freedom, go for it. Paul nowhere says a woman must put up with abuse and be treated as property. But let’s look and use slavery as an example. No one saw any problem with slavery until the time of the Civil War? (And it would be recommended that Shermer read Noll’s The Civil War As A Theological Crisis which I have also reviewed.

How about the epistle of Clement of Rome?

1Clem 55:2
We know that many among ourselves have delivered themselves to
bondage, that they might ransom others. Many have sold themselves to
slavery, and receiving the price paid for themselves have fed others.

Ignatius to Polycarp:

4:3 Despise not slaves, whether men or women. Yet
let not these again be puffed up, but let them serve
the more faithfully to the glory of God, that they may
obtain a better freedom from God. Let them not desire
to be set free at the public cost, lest they be found
slaves of lust.

We later find clearer evidence of this in the Apostolic Constitutions that Christians were in the business of gathering funds to set free slaves. Ignatius is saying that slaves should not expect they are owed such, but the slaves are not to be despised.

In fact, on page 298 of Pagans and Christians, Robin Lane Fox says

“Christian masters were not specially encouraged to set a slave free, although Christians were most numerous in the setting of urban households where freeing was most frequent: our pagan evidence for the practice is overwhelmingly evidence for the freeing of slaves in urban and domestic service…Among Christians, we know that the freeing of slaves was performed in church in the presence of the bishop: early laws from Constantine, after his conversion, permit this as an existing practice.”

We can simply wonder if Shermer has been looking at history or not. Perhaps if he does, he will realize that his so-called Enlightement morality is simply stealing what the Christians had all along and proclaiming it as his own.

I suppose Enlightenment morality does justify stealing then.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Deeper Waters Podcast 1/24/2015: Dee Dee Warren

January 22, 2015

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

Often times, we can approach the topic of abortion without thinking about the person involved. This is somewhat understandable when we see statistics. Who of us could think about 4,000 individual babies dying every day? Who of us in turn could think about 4,000 individual mothers and fathers out there who to varying degrees are involved in the choice to end a life?

My guest this Saturday however is a reminder to me that we need to keep that personal aspect in. This Saturday, I am pleased to have Dee Dee Warren as my guest on the Deeper Waters Podcast.

DeeDeeWarren

DDW, as I normally call her, has been a friend of mine for several years. We first met through the medium of TheologyWeb.com, an online place to debate many issues, including apologetics issues as TheologyWeb has a number of atheists and non-Christians that post there, some of whom I understand even contribute financially to the site. It is a place that I think helped shape me tremendously in the work that I do today and I even have my own section on there now next to that of my ministry partner, J.P. Holding.

Some of you may also know DDW from her excellent work in eschatology. If you all want to know who was the main factor in turning me into an orthodox Preterist, look no further than DDW. DDW hosted the Preteristsite.com for several years and the Preterist Podcast and is the main force out there that i know of in dealing with Neohymenaeans. (Those who prefer to call themselves Full Preterists.) She has written also an excellent commentary on Matthew 24 that I understand will be published soon and yes, I hope to have her back on after that to discuss the apologetic value of the commentary.

But that is for another time. This time we are going to be talking about abortion and this is an issue DDW knows quite well and i would say she would encourage us all to do more about abortion than to just post something on Facebook. DDW knows how abortion affects real people and she has put in her service to help stop the act from taking place. I have heard her story on this issue and I found it one to be incredibly gripping and knew I needed to have her on.

Also, I plan on us discussing a more therapeutic side. How do we approach people who are considering abortion on a personal level? What if we meet people who have had abortions in the past? Are there any resources that are available to help them find grace and forgiveness? Not only that, but what about men? Believe it or not, men can suffer from abortion if they had their wives or girlfriends get one and realize later what they did. Men need healing too.

So I hope you’ll be watching your podcast feed for the next episode of the Deeper Waters Podcast. I hope it will be a story that you will never forget.

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