Posts Tagged ‘Bible’

Book Plunge: Christianity on Trial

December 16, 2014

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

Christianity on Trial

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Apostles’ Creed: Conclusion

October 24, 2014

What have we learned looking at the Apostles’ Creed? Let’s dive into the Deeper Waters and find out.

As Christians, we’re people of Scripture, but it’s not as if the canon was closed and then lo and behold, everything just popped into place here centuries later. We have a rich tradition that we came from and we need to look at that tradition. Too many Christians really have no knowledge whatsoever of church history. They do not know who great thinkers were, what great problems the church faced, great events that shaped the church, and how their own Bibles came down to them.

How can it really hurt your Christianity, if it is true, to know its history?

The look at the Apostles’ Creed has been a start for that. I specifically chose this creed due to it being shared in my own church on a regular basis, which is one of the reasons I think my church is so wonderful. I listened to it regularly and repeated it regularly and started wondering how many of us have really thought about the creed.

As we’ve gone through it, I hope I’ve impressed on you a deeper meaning of what has been said. Naturally, I’m not claiming a perfect interpretation, but I’m hoping that I have given you a thought-provoking interpretation. Even more than that, I hope that I have ended up giving you a life-changing look at the creed and furthermore, I hope I have given myself one.

We Christians are actually people of creeds. Much of our Christian lifestyle focuses on right living, and indeed it should! We should be living a certain way if we are said to be Christians, but much of that should be based on right doctrine. What you live should be a direct outworking of what it is that you really believe.

Consider if you are your average middle-class person living today and lo and behold, you receive undeniable proof from your bank that a rich relative passed away and left you millions in your bank account. Is your lifestyle going to change somehow? You bet it will! Even if you say “I don’t really care for buying a lot of fancy things”, you will probably at least care for getting your children through college and if you don’t have those, you will hopefully care for giving away money you don’t really need to charities that you think deserve that money.

If you go to see your doctor and he tells you you have a disease and it will be terminal unless you do X, Y, and Z, then chances are you will end up doing X, Y, and Z. That is, you will do them if you want to live. In both of these cases, it is your knowledge that is affecting how you live and in the case of Christianity, it is the claim to have the knowledge of the revelation of God. That should change everything.

Pay attention to the creed and pay attention to what it is you believe and especially let the creed drive you back into the Scriptures, the ultimate authority we have for what we believe today. From there, spend some time studying what has happened in the life of the church and how it is that you got that Bible that you value so greatly.

The creed is a statement that connects you with those Christians from the past, Christians that lived in a world where their lives were on the line regularly and being a Christian carried a serious cost. They often also did not have the luxury of the fine resources for study you and I have. We have centuries of Christian though, a gold mine of knowledge, that we can draw from. What a waste on our part if we do not learn from it and benefit from it.

I encourage you to do be benefiting from it. This is your heritage. Some of you might enjoy going to a web site like ancestry.com and learning about your family history. How much more should you be interested in learning about the history of your spiritual family?

Let that journey begin today.

In Christ,

Nick Peters

Book Plunge: The Civil War As A Theological Crisis

September 2, 2014

What do I think about Mark Noll’s book? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters. 

The Civil War was an awful time in our nation’s history. There can be much debate about what went into it and why it happened. I personally don’t think the war was about slavery at the root, but I think slavery did play a part in it. I would say it was about the decision of the states to secede the union. It did end in freedom for the slaves and the abolition of slavery, but there was more to it than that. Still, that’s just a theory and I leave it to Civil War historians to say more about that.

There can be no doubt however that slavery is a dark mark on our nation’s history as well. What is even sadder about it is that so many people were using the Bible to defend the practice. This has led many of us to forget that the Civil War was not just a crisis of politics, but in fact it was a crisis about theology, since both sides would be able to say the exact same statements about the Bible. They’d just disagree on hermeneutics.

Knowing my interest in inerrancy, it was suggested to me that I should read this book. I’m glad I did. I found in it many of the problems that are still going on today.

Here in America, we believe greatly in the individual power of each person. To some extent, this is not problematic. However, the problem is we often carry this over to every area. We say that the average man is capable of electing his leaders for government. (Note that unique aspect of us. We are a self-governing people instead of people who have a king ruling over us.) We believe in the American Dream where with hard work and ability, you can reach the goals you have. You are to have the freedom to pursue happiness.

If all of this is true, then surely we can also do what every other man should surely be able to do! We can read the Bible and interpret it correctly! This is especially so since if this is the Word of God, then it must be that information which God would want us to know and if He wants us to know it, it should be simply to understand shouldn’t it?

Now I do think the common man to an extent can understand the Bible. You can get the main message of the Bible, such as that of salvation found in Jesus Christ, out of the Bible by a casual reading. Yet you will not get the inner intricacies of the Bible without doing real deep study and it could be the “common sense” interpretation, might be what many Americans think it is, but not what it really is. 

Of course, the fact that we were materialist did not help with this. By materialist, I do not mean philosophical materialism, but rather that we had a great love for our wealth. Slavery was a great way to increase your wealth. Invest a little bit in some slaves who you don’t have to particularly treat well and have them do all the work for you. 

Still, we’re going to be sticking with the problem of Scripture. America had been largely built on the Bible and it held a high place in American society. So what happens when there is a fundamental disagreement among the common man on how it is to interpret the most important book that exists in the American culture?

And you thought your church scuffle was bad….

As Noll also says on Location 2089 of the Kindle, foreign observers could see much clearer what was going on. If the highest authority that they had was every man’s private interpretation of Scripture, then what happens when there is a clash and there is nothing beyond that to point to? Naturally, the Catholics were willing to point out there was a problem with such a view. I, as a Protestant, would point out the need for much study and reflection in reading the leading works of scholarship. Unfortunately, too often, we’ve degenerated further into a strange idea of “That’s just your interpretation!” (Postmodernism I see as the end result of this kind of thinking.)

The great danger is that so many Protestants were saying the Bible was clear on the issue. Unfortunately, that clarity existed on both sides. One side said the Bible was clearly pro-slavery. One side says the Bible was clearly anti-slavery. Once again, we have the same problem today with people going by what is “clear.” What is clear to a modern American however is not necessarily what would be clear to an ancient Jew.

Also add in the view of providence and this makes it more difficult. Every event was interpreted as a specific “sign” from God. (I always get wary when people talk about receiving what they are sure has to be signs from God. These are even more difficult to interpret and while God allows all things to happen, there is no clear indication that any one of them is a direct message from God to the people involved.) This could in fact be something that’s a precursor to another situation today in America, interpreting events in the Middle East as signs from God and seeing Scriptural fulfillment in everything that happens.

A lot of this also came from Christianity blending itself with the Enlightenment. If the power of reason by its own is so great, then surely we can understand a book like Scripture and it must be simple. After all, if God is going to speak a message, won’t He make that message simple? Note that this is an assumption that is not defended. If anything, reading the Bible should show that the message will not be simple as even Jesus says this specifically about His parables.

It’s important to point out that the side that would have often been going the most for the clear reading of the Scripture and seen as conservative, even including the SBC, would have been the side that was pro-slavery. The other side would have been the side that brought forward the textual evidence such as looking at what slavery consisted of in the OT and the NT and what was going on at the time in the world and the marked ways slavery was different in America. Why were these arguments not given the attention they deserved? On Loc. 519, Noll says

But because those arguments did not feature intuition, republican instinct, and common sense readings of individual texts, they were much less effective in a public arena that had been so strongly shaped by intuitive, republican, and commonsensical intellectual principles.

 

Today, we would be told these arguments involved rationalization or “trying to deny the clear meaning of the text” and no doubt several wicked ulterior motives would be involved. Those who were opposed were the ones doing some of the hardest research and analyzing the Scriptures piece by piece instead of going with the “simple” interpretation. (Note: This simple interpretation is also preferred by too many internet atheists today.)

In fact, notice this contrast shown in Location 612.

James M. Pendleton was a hard-nosed defender of the Bible’s inerrancy as well as of Baptist distinctives, but that cast of mind did not prevent him from mounting a strong case against slavery as practiced in Kentucky at a time when possible legislation concerning slavery was being considered by a state constitutional convention.

Note this. Pendleton is seen as a strong defender of inerrancy and the Baptist faith, and yet marked out because he opposed slavery. Now none of this is said to slam Baptists as a large number of Northern Baptists did oppose slavery. Many Baptists today from the South have acknowledged this dark mark on their past and it does no good to deny it. It must be owned up to just like Crusades that went wrong or the fact that even one death in the Inquisition was too many. (Although the number of hundreds of thousands or millions is not accurate at all)

Pendleton also dealt with what was called “the Negro problem.” This meant that even if you freed the slaves, how are you to treat the black population? Are you to view them as Christian brothers and sisters? To the shame of the North, even up there that was not done that often. It would still be difficult to accept them not just as free, but as fully human. In fact, the problem of race was one that could not be answered from within the Biblical text, like many others. (Geez. Maybe extra-Biblical resources aren’t always so bad.)

What this gets down to was that too often, an attack on slavery was seen by those with the persuasion that the text was simple and clear, that this was an attack on Scripture itself and an undermining of its authority. After all, if this is what Scripture clearly teaches, then if you are going against it and bringing in ideas outside of the text, then you are going against the text of Scripture and undermining it as the final authority.

As Noll regularly points out, this was an American problem. It wasn’t that much of a problem to those who were outside of America. In America, to go against this viewpoint would make you be seen as heterodox. In the other nations, it would not. The problem then was not the Bible, but rather how Americans viewed themselves and ultimately, that came from how they viewed God should present His message. Our individualism made it possible.

Reading this book for me was a quite eye-opening event and I made several several more highlights in my Kindle that could not be recorded. What are some lessons to get?

First, we should all seek to go beyond the common sense interpretation of Scripture. We must really wrestle with Scripture and while I am not a presuppositionalist, that does not mean I do not recognize the importance of presuppositions. The assumptions that we bring to the text can affect the way that we read the text.

Second, we must also get over ourselves majorly. All of us who want to learn the Scriptures need to realize that there is no shortcut to understanding. By all means pray before Bible study, but don’t pray expecting God to just beam the answers into your head. You’re going to have to do your part to learn the answers.

Third, be extremely careful about signs. Some signs read would have pointed to the favor of slavery. Some would have pointed to the condemnation of it. It’s very difficult to judge God by current events, especially since you don’t know which ones are specifically from Him and which ones aren’t. We tend to view ourselves as really really special and therefore, God will treat us differently.

Fourth, even opponents of Scripture need to learn to not be so simplistic. When we go by what the clear meaning is, we have to ask who that is clear to. Is what is clear to a modern Westerner the same as what is clear to an ancient Jew? The Bible was written for us, but we must not think that it was written to us. It is not all about us.

Fifth, different interpretations does not mean that one is calling Scripture or inerrancy or anything like that into question. In fact, the ones who were opposed to slavery certainly did have a high view of Scripture. The fact that they weren’t using simple arguments was often seen as if it was a point to be used against them.

Anyone interested in learning the importance of good interpretation in history and the problems with a rampant individualism need to take this book and see what it has to say.

In Christ,

Nick Peters

Reading The Bible As Literature

June 16, 2014

Is there a reason so many debates about the Bible just miss the point? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

Okay. We get it in the atheism/theism debates. Some people believe the Bible is reliable. Some do not. That’s fine and until the return of Christ, that’s not going to change. Yet I have been pondering lately that the way we talk about the Bible is part of the problem, and this isn’t just how atheists talk about it, but also how theists talk about it.

It seems while we speak about if the claims of the Bible are true, which we should, there is a lack of the recognition that the Bible is a piece of literature. It speaks with allegory, hyperbole, metaphor, simile, etc. It uses poetry and narrative and proverbs and apocalypses to make its point. The Bible exists in one book, but it is itself a collection of many books, books written by different authors in different times and locations.

Considering all of this, the Bible is not going to be an easy book to understand! Add in that it comes from languages different from our own, a culture different from our own, a time different from our own, and a place different from our own.

I started pondering this the most recent time I saw someone describe the Bible as a book of fairy tales. This is a common claim, but quite frankly a strange one. Fairy tales are really wonderful works of literature that show a richness of imagination and insight into the human predicament. What kind of person would laugh at a fairy tale for being a fairy tale? Yet this kind of statement is not an insult to the Bible alone, but it is also a lowering of the kind of writing that is a fairy tale.

Now why do many atheists say this? I suspect it’s because our culture has been heavily influenced by scientism. We have this idea that all truth should be amenable to the sciences and that science is the highest way of knowing anything if not the only way of knowing anything. We expect then the Bible to speak in scientific language because we are a scientific people.

It doesn’t, and that’s not because the Bible is anti-science. Many of us are not anti-science and we don’t speak in scientific language. The Bible has a totally different purpose. Even if you don’t think it is from God, the authors at least were really trying to make a message about God and they did not have to do it in a way that is convenient to modern listeners. They would write in ways their immediate audience would understand.

Besides, how many of us would really like to have many events described in scientific language? Consider for instance the union of man and woman in the act of sex. Which account would you rather here to describe what happens in the event? Would you prefer a purely scientific account or would you prefer to get an account perhaps from the lovers themselves? (Naturally after they’re done. There won’t be much desire to explain in the midst of the act.)

If you choose the first one, I pity you. I really do.

What needs to be done is to wrestle with the literary forms of the Bible and see if maybe our modern ideas of what the text means are wrong. Perhaps the Bible is not interested in the questions we are interested in. Perhaps one really needs to wrestle with the text to understand it. Still want to disbelieve it? Fine. At least do your part to really try to understand it as a text.

I’ve spoken about the atheists, but frankly, I think the theists are just as guilty. In fact, in many ways, I think my fellow theists are more guilty than the atheists are because we’ve set the standard that the atheist will follow.

For us, it really boils down to one word.

Literal.

Immediately, some people reading this who are Christians are going into a defensive stance because I have just made a statement that is going to dare to suggest that we don’t take the Bible literally. Why I must just be a liberal Christian who rejects miracles and inerrancy and everything else.

On the contrary, I believe we should ALWAYS take the Bible literally.

Why?

Because literal really means “According to the intent of the author.” If the author meant the text to be taken straight forwardly, then do so. If he meant it to be a narrative, then do so. If he meant it to be a metaphor or an apocalypse or a generality, then take it that way as well.

Too often, we have taken literal to mean something more like a wooden reading of the text. That’s not what a literal meaning is. That’s why in today’s parlance if I was asked if the Bible is the Word of God to be interpreted literally, I would say no, because sometimes the Bible is not straight forward.

Why should this surprise us? Jesus told his own parables in a confusing manner. In fact, he did so purposely. Job in his book talked about the search for wisdom and compared it to mining and digging deep for great wealth. It would not be easy to understand and considering all we’ve said about the Bible, why should it be?

Thus, when we hear Christians talk about the literal interpretation, too often it sets up atheists who think that this is always the way the Bible should be read and when read in that sense, they reject most of it as nonsense, and who can blame them? In fact, none of us take it that way or else in reading the words of Jesus, we’d all be blind and have no hands. (Too many people heavy into inerrancy fall into this trap of literal interpretation.)

In fact, when I put a short form of this up on Facebook, what happened immediately but a debate started about Genesis 1, which shows the problem! It’s immediately jumped to that Genesis 1 must be read in scientific terms! Surely this is what the author of the text meant to convey!

But maybe it wasn’t! Could it be someone like John Walton is right with his interpretation of Genesis One. Of course he could be wrong, but isn’t it worth listening to to consider first instead of assuming our presupposition is correct?

The theist, you see, is often guilty of not treating the Bible as literature as well and not really being able to wrestle with the text and ask the hard questions of the text. Some of us have this idea that we should not question the Bible. I disagree entirely. We should question the Bible with every question we can bring to it. In doing so, we can best find out what it is the text is saying.

Ironically, the two sides mentioned both have similar mindsets. Both of them tend to view the Bible always in a straight forward sense and both assume the Bible was written in a way that is directly fitted for modern 20th and 21st century people in a Western civilization.

Maybe it isn’t.

That’s not the fault of the Bible then. That’s the fault of us for wrestling with the text.

If you are on a debate site and you are arguing about the Bible, then for this part, it doesn’t really matter what side you’re on. You owe it to yourself to wrestle with the text as literature and seek to find out what it means and why you think it means what it means. If someone questions that, then it’s up to you to defend your position and if you can’t, be open to changing your mind.

Will we still disagree about the truth claims of the Bible? Absolutely! Yet if we follow a procedure like this, hopefully some of us will have instead better informed disagreements as to the nature of the text and what it is saying rather than a quick dismissal of it all or a quick embrace of it all.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Is The Bible Simple To Understand?

December 5, 2011

Hello everyone and welcome back to Deeper Waters where we are diving into the ocean of truth. There doesn’t seem to be much going on on the Inerrancy front at the moment, so I thought instead on a somewhat related note, I might look at the question of if the Bible is easy to understand. One objection often raised is that the man on the pew can easily understand the Bible so why do we need to add a lot of complicated stuff?

Fair enough. Why don’t we take a look at a fairly simple verse we all grew up with? I will quote it the way I remember it.

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believes on him should not perish but have everlasting life.”

Of course, most of us recognize John 3:16. This verse has been called the gospel in miniature. It’s my understanding that even Martin Luther called it that. I have no problem with it. We can pick up the Bible, read this verse, and understand that God loves the world. He loves it so much, He sent His son to die for it that anyone who believes in Him will have everlasting life.

So keep in mind, nothing I say in this post is to detract from the beauty and simplicity of this verse, and there is a beauty and simplicity in much of the Bible. If you want to be saved and know who God is, you don’t need to have a degree in the Bible. You don’t need to be a high-ranking theologian. You can do that with Scripture alone.

However, while there’s a simple message that can be grasped here, let’s look and see if there are some hard questions we could ask as well.

To begin with, who’s saying this? Is this still Jesus speaking, or is it John narrating on the meaning of the conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus? I’ve seen arguments that go both ways.

“For God.” Who is God exactly? What does this mean? Does this mean the same being as in the Old Testament? What is He like? Is He triune? Does he switch roles? Some of these questions might seem strange, but they could all have an impact on Christian history. Marcion thought the OT god was an evil being. Arius would say the Son was not fully God and therefore there is no Trinity. Someone like Praxeus would say God is one person and therefore there is a switch of roles. Of course, the doctrine of the nature of God is rich with content and every theologian could spend their lifetime working on it and not get anywhere near fullness, as not even eternity will do that for us.

“So loved.” What is this love? Is this like the sexual love that I have for my wife? Is this like the family love I have for my parents? Is this like the phileo love I have for my friends? Does this mean that God has emotions? If He does, how does He love? If not, then what does it mean to say God loves? Can you have love without emotion?

“The world.” What does this mean? Are we not after all told to hate the things of this world and that love of the world is opposition to God? Are we not told about the corruption of the world? If the world is corrupt, why would God love it? Does this mean the material world? Does God love material objects? Does this refer to the Roman Empire? Why would God love the Roman Empire? Why would God love the world beyond Israel anyway? Is not Israel His special people?

“That He.” What does this mean? Are we going to say that God is a man? If God is a man, does He have a male body and if so, is He designed? Is this something that is perhaps sexist? Does this mean that God could be masculine, but if God is masculine, is He opposed to the feminine? Why do we say God is masculine, if that is the case, if male and female are both made in His image? If male and female are both His image, why does the text not say “That He/She”?

“Gave.” What does it mean for God to give something? Does it really cost anything for God to give something since He is the maker and Lord of all? If we are speaking about the sacrifice of Christ, can we really call it a sacrifice if Christ was to be raised three days later?

“His Only Begotten Son.” What does this mean? Does this mean that Jesus is the Son of God through sexual means? If not, how can Jesus be called the only begotten? Are there not others who are called sons of God? Isn’t Adam a son of God? Aren’t angels sons of God? Weren’t the kings of Israel and Judah considered to be sons of God?” Are we not as Christians considered to be sons of God? How is our sonship different from Jesus’s?

“That whosoever.” Are these whosoever free or not? Does whosoever apply to only the elect, or does it refer to anyone freely? If I am a Calvinist using this verse, should I be careful lest the person I am talking to is not one of the elect? If I am an Arminian, do I really believe that it’s possible that everyone could be saved? Would that mean Christ died in vain for some?

“Believes.” Does this refer to having intellectual assent? How can this be since we are told that the demons believe and tremble? But if belief does not refer to intellectual assent, then to what does it refer to? Is this an act of the will and if so, is it done freely or by irresistible grace?

“in Him.” What does it mean to believe in Jesus? Does it mean that I have to acknowledge that Jesus existed? Can I accept Jesus as a good man? Could I even accept Him as a resurrected man but not the God-Man? Does this verse then say anything about how I should act in response to this belief?

“Should not perish.” What does it mean to perish? Don’t we believe in Hell usually? Is Hell a place where people perish? Isn’t it a place where people really live forever in pain and/or shame? Does this verse refer to total destruction then? Does this mean that people have the freedom to avoid perishing?

“But have everlasting life.” What kind of life? Do I really want to live forever? Don’t people who exist in Hell also live forever? What does this say about salvation? The verse nowhere says “salvation” or “justification.” What does this say about sins? Do we have anything in this verse about sins? Will this everlasting life be in Heaven or will it be on a New Earth? Is there a difference between those two?

These are all questions we could ask. My point has not been to raise these to answer them. I have no intentions of doing such. My point is that yes, the Bible can be simple to understand at times, but at the same time, those simple verses have a rich complexity and too often in debates, we can say “Well it looks plain and simple to me.” Maybe it does, but that does not mean that it is.

To get the diamonds out of Scripture, we have to do some digging.