Posts Tagged ‘Jesus Christ’

Defend The Faith Day Three

January 8, 2015

What happened at the third day at Defend The Faith? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Today was the last day of the conference for us. Not because it’s a bad conference or we just want to go home. Not at all. Allie just has a women’s retreat that she had booked months ago before we ever heard about the conference and she has to be home so we can take her to that. Still, I will make tomorrow’s post and Friday’s about the conference. Unfortunately, my guest for Saturday on the show had to cancel and I figure it’s both my Mom’s birthday and I have to pick up Allie from the retreat, so why not just have some time of rest?

The day started with David Calhoun giving a version of Lewis’s argument from reason. This one has some points that are not exactly found in Plantinga. It also doesn’t depend on your stance on if evolution is true or not. The only one it says is not likely true is purely naturalistic evolution. If you have a theistic evolution of sorts, then your position is still safe.

The next session was one of Tom Gilson speaking on a new twist on the quadrilemma he has come up with, according to Dan Wallace. His approach is to look at Jesus as the person of impeccable moral character and also all-powerful and asks how hard it would be to imagine the typical illiterate fishermen created such a character. My description cannot do the argument justice so I recommend you click the link and check it out for yourself.

After a lunch, Allie and I went to a breakout session of Tom’s again. Let me mention at this point to please be praying for Tom with a foot injury he has. In this talk, he talked about missions and apologetics. This was one of the best sessions I attended as we talked so much about what the average college student believes today. They have misconceptions about love, sex, they’re relativists, they’re naturalists, they are experiencing freedom for the first time, they lack a sense often of obligation or responsibility, and usually they rely on Google scholarship.

Of course, this is a generality, but much of it applies in various degrees to American college students. This is our mission field. We are no longer living in the 1950’s. It was the discussion in the classroom that made this one so great. Tim McGrew and Tom were usually together and Tim was sitting in the audience for this one and he had a lot of good things to say.

Next we went to a talk by Sarah Ankemann on morality and making a case for absolute morality. Might I say at this point also that it’s great to see more women getting involved in apologetics? It’s usually a man’s field, but we need both sexes to be involved. A lot of interesting discussion came about in this one as well and we do plan on having Sarah come on the show in April to discuss autism since she has a son on the spectrum.

Then came my time to speak. I spoke on Gentlemen, We Are At War. I had a full classroom so much so that some people came in and left. The audience was entirely receptive and I pointed out the dangers that are usually faced on the internet. More people need to learn how to deal with popular internet skeptics and various theories like Christ mythicism and the pagan copycat idea. Many people in the audience thanked me for the talk which was incredibly warming to hear and humbling at the same time.

After a dinner, Tim McGrew and I again spent some more time working on Bayes’ Theorem together. I’ve said before what a great figure Tim is and I mean it. In fact, when I saw him last tonight, I had to give him a hug again, and I think it was a sad moment for both of us. I think we’ve both enjoyed getting to connect with each other and it will always be a special memory. We’re both hoping we can do it again next year.

But you need to know the final talk was Gary Habermas. He spoke on emotional doubt and while it’s a talk I’ve heard several times before, I always hear something new in it. If you struggle with doubt, I really urge you to go to this web site and listen to his talks on the topic and also download two books he has for free on the web site. They will be a great help if you apply them.

That’s all for now. Tomorrow Allie and I head back, but it’s been a great time here in New Orleans. We really hope we can come back again next year!

In Christ,
Nick Peters

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Fathers Know Best?

June 18, 2014

What do the church fathers say about Matthew 27? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

Norman Geisler has come to picture obsession to the extreme. For years now, he’s been harping on Matthew 27 and really, not producing anything new. In all this time, he could have gone out and read Burridge on why the Gospels are Greco-Roman Bioi or gone to the best scholarly monographs he could find on the passage in Matthew 27, but instead, he just wants to repeat the same material.

So now he’s gone to the church fathers. Now I’m sure we’ll all agree that while the church fathers have authority, they are not the final authority. What matters most is what the Scripture says. Still, it would be foolish to just dismiss all the church fathers. Their views should be taken seriously.

But do they really agree with Geisler?

Let’s start with Geisler’s citation of Ignatius’s epistle to the Trallians.

What does the text supposedly say?

“For Says the Scripture, ‘Many bodies of the saints that slept arose,’ their graves being opened. He descended, indeed, into Hades alone, but He arose accompanied by a multitude” (chap.Ix, The Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. I, p. 70).

Why do I say supposedly?

Because there are two versions of the epistle. There is the shorter version and the longer version. Most scholars consider the longer version to be spurious.

So let’s go to chapter 9 of the shorter version. What do we see?

9:1 Be ye deaf, therefore, when any one speaketh unto you apart from Jesus Christ, who is of the race of David, who was born of Mary, who was truly born, ate and drank, was truly persecuted under Pontius Pilate, was truly crucified and died, in the sight of the things that are in heaven and on earth and under the earth;

9:2 and was truly raised from the dead, his Father having raised him up; according to the similitude of which also his Father shall raise up us who believe in him in Christ Jesus, apart from whom we have not the true life.

Why was the spurious version cited? Why is this not pointed out?

Either A) Geisler does not know and this is an error of ignorance that calls the research ability high into question

or B) It is known and is ignored, in which case facts are being ignored to suit an agenda.

I think it’s best to be generous and go with A.

Let’s now look at the epistle to the Magnesians.

According to Geisler.

“…[T]herefore endure, that we may be found the disciples of Jesus Christ, our only Master—how shall we be able to live apart from Him, whose disciples the prophets themselves in the Spirit did wait for Him as their Teacher? And therefore He who they rightly waited for, being come, raised them from the dead”[Chap. IX] (Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, eds. The Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. I (1885). Reprinted by Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, p. 62. Emphasis added in all these citations).

While some connect this to Matthew 27, nothing in the context demands it. Further, what does it mean, “When he came?” Nothing is said about the death of Jesus or about opening of the tombs. It could be referring to Matthew 27, but the text does not demand it.

The next statements are from the lost fragments of Irenaeus. The problem is many scholars consider these lost fragments to be spurious. Once again, the problem is the same as in the first citing of the epistle of Ignatius.

Next is Clement of Alexandria. What do we have from Geisler?

“‘But those who had fallen asleep descended dead, but ascended alive.’ Further, the Gospel says, ‘that many bodies of those that slept arose,’—plainly as having been translated to a better state”(Alexander Roberts, ed. Stromata, Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. II, chap. VI, 491).

But what do we find earlier?

But how? Do not [the Scriptures] show that the Lord preached the Gospel to those that perished in the flood, or rather had been chained, and to those kept in ward and guard? And it has been shown also, in the second book of the Stromata, that the apostles, following the Lord, preached the Gospel to those in Hades. For it was requisite, in my opinion, that as here, so also there, the best of the disciples should be imitators of the Master; so that He should bring to repentance those belonging to the Hebrews, and they the Gentiles; that is, those who had lived in righteousness according to the Law and Philosophy, who had ended life not perfectly, but sinfully. For it was suitable to the divine administration, that those possessed of greater worth in righteousness, and whose life had been pre-eminent, on repenting of their transgressions, though found in another place, yet being confessedly of the number of the people of God Almighty, should be saved, each one according to his individual knowledge.

So a question.

Does Geisler think the apostles went and preached the Gospel to those in Hades? If not, why not? If so, on what grounds since this is a testimony centuries later?

Now of course, it could be that Clement really sees the resurrection of the saints as historical and that must be taken into consideration, but it is not the final authority.

Next comes Tertullian. What does Geisler quote?

“’And the sun grew dark at mid-day;’ (and when did it ‘shudder exceedingly’ except at the passion of Christ, when the earth trembled to her centre, and the veil of the temple was rent, and the tombs burst asunder?) ‘because these two evils hath My People done’” (Alexander Roberts, ed. An Answer to the Jews, Chap XIII, Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. 3, 170).

An obvious problem here is all it says is that the tombs burst open. That could easily happen in an earthquake. There is no mention of saints coming out. Now Geisler could say is that Tertullian did fully have in mind that scene, but that would be claiming to know authorial intent, which he says cannot be known.

Next he says this about Hippolytus

“And again he exclaims, ‘The dead shall start forth from the graves,’ that is, from the earthly bodies, being born again spiritual, not carnal. For this he says, is the Resurrection that takes place through the gate of heaven, through which, he says, all those that do not enter remain dead” (Alexander Roberts, Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. 5, The Refutation of All Heresy, BooK V, chap. 3, p. 54). The editor of the Ante-Nicene Fathers footnotes this as a reference to the resurrection of the saints in Matthew 27:52, 53 (in Note 6, p. 54.), as indeed it is.

But is it indeed? Perhaps it is. Perhaps it is not. Could it not refer to the future resurrection, especially since it is also in the future tense? Of course, it could refer to Matthew 27, but must it do so necessarily?

What about Origen?

Now to this question, although we are able to show the striking and miraculous character of the events which befell Him, yet from what other source can we furnish an answer than the Gospel narratives, which state that ‘there was an earth quake, and that the rock were split asunder, and the tombs were opened, and the veil of the temple was rent in twain from top to bottom, an the darkness prevailed in the day-time, the sun failing to give light’”

Once again, the tombs are open, but there’s no mention of saints getting out and walking around. Again, Geisler cannot appeal to anything else here because he says we can’t know authorial intent.

Geisler also goes to chapter 36. What does the chapter say in that work?

Celsus next says: What is the nature of the ichor in the body of the crucified Jesus? Is it ‘such as flows in the bodies of the immortal gods?’ He puts this question in a spirit of mockery; but we shall show from the serious narratives of the Gospels, although Celsus may not like it, that it was no mythic and Homeric ichor which flowed from the body of Jesus, but that, after His death, one of the soldiers with a spear pierced His side, and there came thereout blood and water. And he that saw it bare record, and his record is true, and he knows that he says the truth. Now, in other dead bodies the blood congeals, and pure water does not flow forth; but the miraculous feature in the case of the dead body of Jesus was, that around the dead body blood and water flowed forth from the side. But if this Celsus, who, in order to find matter of accusation against Jesus and the Christians, extracts from the Gospel even passages which are incorrectly interpreted, but passes over in silence the evidences of the divinity of Jesus, would listen to divine portents, let him read the Gospel, and see that even the centurion, and they who with him kept watch over Jesus, on seeing the earthquake, and the events that occurred, were greatly afraid, saying, This man was the Son of God.

Again, no mention here. Strange isn’t it?

For Cyril, I see no reason to doubt that this is referring to Matthew 27 and this must be taken seriously, but it is also about 300 years after the event.

Next is Gregory of Nazianzus.

“He [Christ] lays down His life, but He has the power to take it again; and the veil rent, for the mysterious doors of Heaven are opened;5 the rocks are cleft, the dead arise. He dies but he gives life, and by His death destroys death. He is buried, but He rises again. He goes down to Hell, but He brings up the souls; He ascends to Heaven, and shall come again to judge the quick and the dead, and to put to the test such words are yours” (Schaff, ibid., vol. VII, Sect XX, p. 309).

This could indeed be a reference to Matthew 27, but it could also have in mind a passage like Ephesians 4. Mike Licona would want to know how this would work with Jesus being the firstfruits of the resurrection. If Jesus is the first to rise in a new and glorified body, how is it that these saints arise in such a body before Jesus? It is a question Geisler needs to take seriously.

We have no beef really with what is said later by the early fathers, but it’s worth noting that the earliest references possible to this do not mention it. In fact, this could be along the lines of what some scholars would say is legendary development. I’m not saying that it is, although we all do know legends did arise around Jesus. That does not mean that they are found in the Gospels of course. Gnostic Gospels and such contained stories about Jesus we would call legends. In fact, some of our Christmas tradition comes from the Proto-Evangelium of James. (Not really a Gnostic Gospel, but rather something that could have been seen as Christian fiction.) It is doubtful that Geisler thinks Jesus struck down bullies with death as a child or extended the length of planks of wood for his Dad or brought clay pigeons to life, but these are accounts found in other works and at times, even some Christians got confused.

We conclude that there is still much research to be done on this question but let it be known the difference. When a question like this is raised, it is better to debate the question without settling it, than it is to settle it without debating. We prefer the former. Geisler seems to prefer the latter.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Rabbi Jesus

March 18, 2014

What do I think of Bruce Chilton’s biography of the life of Jesus? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

I picked this one up at the bookstore since I liked the Jewish title to the book. I’m highly interested in learning more about how Jesus fits into the Jewish culture and the thinking of Second Temple Judaism so I figured this could be an interesting read.

Unfortunately, I was mistaken.

Chilton has a few insights in the book that can help one’s understanding and as an account meant to be more historical fiction, it is certainly more entertaining than reading something like “Killing Jesus”, which sadly isn’t saying much, but the speculation that runs rampant throughout leaves a damper on the whole work.

The account involves a great deal of personal psychology. Jesus is seen as a mamzer at the start, a child born from a forbidden relationship, which is accurate enough, but this is seen as affecting him psychologically throughout his whole life.

When we have the account of Jesus going to the temple as a young boy found in Luke 2:41-52, Chilton takes a diversion from Luke and says that rather than return with his parents, Jesus instead stayed in Jerusalem and lived on the streets as it were for a time until the day came that he united with John the Baptist and became his disciple.

Throughout the work, it is claimed that the chariot in Ezekiel 1 was the driving force behind what Jesus did. Now it could be that the Son of Man title Jesus used to refer to Himself could be a reference to Ezekiel, but I think it is far more likely considering the high status of this figure that Jesus was referring to Daniel 7.

The problem is this kind of thinking is central to Chilton’s thesis and if the opening premise is wrong then all information that is based on that premise becomes problematic as well. What methodology does Chilton use to determine what happened in Jesus’s life and what didn’t? He doesn’t tell us. Why should I think the chariot was what was on Jesus’s mind? Why should I even think he never returned with His parents after the event in Luke? If the reason is that this comports with Chilton’s thesis, well I need a better reason than that.

Of course, when it comes to the resurrection, Chilton does not accept that as a bodily resurrection but instead places his hopes in hallucinations and the hopes of the disciples. There is again, no interaction with the data that opposes this theory. Instead, it is just again more speculation that has been built on speculation that has been built on speculation.

There was a man long ago who gave us a warning about a house that is built on sand vs. one that is built on a rock. I can only conclude that when looking at that man, that Chilton has built his historical foundation on sand rather than doing the work of history and seeking what the best data is and explaining it. While the work has some mild entertainment value, I was certainly happy to be done with it.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Four Views on the Historical Adam

March 5, 2014

What did I think of this counterpoints book? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

A friend sent me this wanting to see what I thought of it. He also figured I’d eat it up since I am a major fan of the work of John Walton. In that case, he is entirely correct and it’s not a shock that in my eyes, Walton did indeed deliver.

I will say also that at this point, I do believe the case for a historical Adam is far stronger than the case against. At the same time, I am not ready to make the belief in the existence of Adam a point of salvation. Salvation is based on belief in the death and resurrection of Jesus. It is not based on belief in Adam.

The one essay in the book that argued against a historical Adam, that of Denis Lamoureux’s, also contained a wonderful story about his coming to Christ and it’s apparent throughout the work that he has a great love for Jesus Christ and a high regard for Scripture.

In reviewing this book, I’d like to look at in order the essays that I found most persuasive and why.

It is not a shock that I found Walton’s to be the most persuasive. Since reading The Lost World of Genesis One, I have been amazed by Walton and that book has forever shaped the way I read Genesis. Naturally, I have a great admiration as well for the book he co-wrote with Brent Sandy called The Lost World of Scripture.

Walton argues that Adam is the archetype of humanity. The text does not say anything about if Adam was the first human or if he was the only one at the time before Eve was created, but it does argue that he is the one who is the representative of us all. Walton also argues that the text says nothing about the material origins of man but rather a statement such as being dust refers to our mortality. He also argues that God did not really perform divine surgery but that the text is written in a way to show that Adam realized Eve was of the same nature as he was and was meant to be his helpmate.

The argument is impressive, but I would like to have seen some other points. For instance, I would have liked to have seen more about his view of the Garden of Eden itself, though I realize that that was not the scope of the book, it would have helped explain the relation between Adam and Eve more in their historical context. Also, the biggest pushback in the counter essays to Walton was on his view of the firmament in day two and this wasn’t really addressed. I know his view has become more nuanced since The Lost World of Genesis One was published and I would have liked to have seen more on that.

The second essay I found most persuasive was that of C. John Collins. Collins comes from an old-earth perspective more along to the lines of what one might see from Reasons To Believe. I found Walton did make a case for how his view would fit consistently.

Yet at the same time, I wondered about some aspects of his essay. Did he really make a case for reading Genesis as he suggested to refute the young-earth position, especially since one scholar in the book is a young-earth creationist? I did not see that presented enough. I also did find his essay contained more concordism than I would have liked.

The next on the list is Denis O. Lamoureux who argued that Adam did not exist. I found it amazing to see that Lamoureux did hold to a high view of Scripture in fact proclaiming his belief that it was inerrant. His case was a fascinating one for no Adam and he did seek to bring into play the NT evidence as well.

Yet I found myself wondering if this was really necessary. The genealogies and other such arguments do lead me to the position of a historical Adam. I do not see how Lamoureux’s position does in fact explain the origin of sin in the world and the problem of evil. Still, it is worth seeing what that side has to say.

The least convincing to me was that of William D. Barrick who argued for a young-earth and a historical Adam. It is not because I hold a disdain for YECs. My ministry partner is a YEC. My wife is a YEC. I do have a problem with dogmatic YECs however, and that includes someone dogmatic in most any secondary position. I would have just as much a problem with a dogmatic OEC.

Barrick too often was pointing to Inerrancy and seeing Scripture as the Word of God as support of His position and agreeing with what God has said. Now naturally, every Christian should want to agree with what God has said, but your interpretation might not be what God has said. This is built on the idea sadly that the Bible was written for the context of a modern American audience. I do not see this.

I have also seen firsthand the damage that is done by assuming that if you believe in Inerrancy, then you must believe in a certain interpretation of Scripture. I would not argue against a Jehovah’s Witness, for instance, that he denies Inerrancy, even though he denies essential tenets of the Christian faith. I would argue against his interpretation. Inerrancy says nothing about what the content of Scripture specifically is. It only says that whatever the content is, that when Scripture affirms something, it affirms it truly.

Also, Barrick did not make any arguments for a young Earth that I saw from a scientific perspective. Now he might discount this as man’s reason and such, but I would have liked to have seen something. I do not think these arguments work since I am not YEC, but I still would have liked to have seen them.

After all, if we are going to just simply say “We don’t need man’s reason” then my reply to that is “Then I do not need to read Barrick.” I do not need to go to his seminary and sit in his class and learn from him. I do not need to go to a church service and hear a pastor speak. I have everything I need with just myself.

Yet I will not be the one who thinks that the Holy Spirit has only guided me into truth and everyone else is just ignorant.

Sadly in many ways, it comes across as just a self-righteous and holier than thou approach to argumentation. I do not think that that is at all conducive to good debate and discussion and while of course the case of Scripture is supreme, there is no harm in looking at extra-Biblical sources. The Bible was not written in a vacuum and we dare not proclaim there is a cleft between the book of Scripture and the book of nature.

The book ends with essays by Greg Boyd and Philip Ryken with Boyd arguing that Adam is not an essential to the faith and Ryken saying that if we don’t have a historical Adam, then Christianity is seriously undermined.

Frankly, I see Ryken’s argument as a kind of paranoia in Christians that if you take this one step, then everything goes down from there. I do not see the argument that if there is no Adam, there is no original sin and thus no need of a savior. If I need to see original sin, I just need to turn on the evening news and see that there is a need for a savior. If I want to see if Christianity is true, I look and see if Jesus is risen. I find it bizarre to think that we could say “Yeah. Jesus came and died and rose from the dead, but Adam didn’t exist so Christianity is false.” I can’t help but think of what G.K. Chesterton said in Orthodoxy:

“If it be true (as it certainly is) that a man can feel exquisite happiness in skinning a cat, then the religious philosopher can only draw one of two deductions. He must either deny the existence of God, as all atheists do; or he must deny the present union between God and man, as all Christians do. The new theologians seem to think it a highly rationalistic solution to deny the cat.”

I highly recommend this volume as an important work on an important question. While I do not think this is a salvation question, I do think this is an important one and one worth discussing.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

How Not To Debate a Christian Apologist

March 3, 2014

Does Stenger need to be the teacher that teaches himself? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

Victor Stenger is one of the new atheists who has written books such as “God: The Failed Hypothesis” and “The New Atheism: Taking A Stand For Science and Reason.” (No. That’s really the title. Please try to stop laughing.) Now he has written an article for the Huffington Post called “How to debate a Christian apologist.”

Mark Twain once said it’s better to be silent and have people think you’re a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.

Stenger apparently doesn’t realize that that rule also applies to keyboards.

Towards the start, Stenger says

In the latest debates I have watched, as well as many others I have witnessed over the years, including several of my own, the Christians are almost always very smooth and well prepared. The reason is not that their arguments are so persuasive but that they generally have spent years in front of religion classes, lecture audiences, and church congregants, polishing the same old arguments.

And, after you have watched or participated in a number of these events, you find there very seldom is a new argument. All have all been refuted many times, but most in the audiences do not know that.

But then he says

During their opening statements and throughout the debate, apologists are likely to make arguments with which atheists may not be so well versed. So, when the time comes for rebuttals, atheists often cannot provide cogent responses, or any responses at all, and so lose debating points.

Wait. I thought we weren’t making any new arguments and all of them have been refuted. If all of these arguments are old-hat, how is it that there is no preparation for them? I would figure that this would be rather simple. So which is it Stenger?

Later he also says

An experienced debater will make note of every point his or her opponent makes and try to provide at least a one sentence response.

Which shows once again that Stenger is part of this culture of sound-bite atheism. This consists of these little sayings like “You’re an atheist with all others gods. I just go one God further,” or “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence,” or “The Gospels are anonymous and not by eyewitnesses.”

Of course, it would be nice to see the reasoning and evidences behind these claims, but the group promoting reason the most is often too busy with throwing out soundbites to actually practice the Gospel that they preach.

Stenger goes on to say

If you are a non-expert on any subject, you should not say anything about it beyond your competence. Your opponent may call you out on it. I have seen that happen.

And as we’ll see, Stenger, a physicist, does not follow his own advice. So yes, you’re about to see it happen.

Fortunately for me, I will not be going with the idea that I can speak on everything Stenger says. Many science questions will be left for scientists to answer. This is, after all, a mistake of the new atheists and sadly, many apologists. They think that they are experts on everything and for too many new atheists and internet atheists, they’re right by virtue of being an atheist. Since because of that they’re automatically rational, well then obviously their conclusion must be rational.

The first argument Stenger wants to deal with is the following:

God can be proved to exist by logic alone. For example, we have the ontological argument, which appears in many forms. It was first proposed by St. Anselm in the 11th century. He defines God as “a being than which no greater can be conceived.” If such a being only exists in the mind, then we could conceive of a greater being. But we cannot imagine a greater being than God, so God must exist in reality.

Stenger’s reply is at the start to say that this could be applied to a perfect pizza.

Now let me state something upfront. I do not think the ontological argument works. I do not use it. Yet at the same time, I realize the perfect pizza is a sophomoric response to it. After all, with a material object, one could always make it bigger and bigger. For Anselm, this greatness would apply to the transcendentals for God and would not apply to anything material.

Again, I don’t think the argument works, but it’s worth noting that someone like Plantinga who does think it works would take an argument from someone like Stenger and in fact, do the opposite of what Stenger does. He would polish up the argument and make it the best that he could, and then still proceed to show that it doesn’t work.

For Stenger, a sound bite without really thinking on the issue will work.

Next argument:

Science and religion are compatible as evidenced by the fact that many scientists are believers.

Stenger answers that:

They are actually a relatively small minority. Only 7 percent of the members of the National Academy of Sciences, the elite of American science, believe in a personal God. Believing scientists compartmentalize their brains, leaving their critical thinking skills at the lab when they go to church and leaving their Bibles at home when they go the lab. God is not a coherent part of the scientific model of any believing scientist.

Science and religion are fundamentally incompatible because of their contradictory views on the source of knowledge. Science assumes that only by observation can we learn about the world. Religion assumes that, in addition, we learn by revelations from God.

Rob Bowman has written an excellent article here and I will quote what he says regarding the National Academy of Sciences.

Assuming that’s true, how does one get into the NAS? Here’s what the National Academy of Sciences website says: “Because membership is achieved by election, there is no membership application process. Although many names are suggested informally, only Academy members may submit formal nominations.” In other words, it’s an exclusive club that decides who may even be considered for membership. According to a 2010 article in Scientific American, about 18,000 American citizens earn PhDs in the sciences or engineering every year. There are only about 2,200 members in the NAS, and no more than 84 new members are inducted each year. Even the geniuses in the NAS can figure out that its membership does not represent an adequately representative sampling of well-trained scientists.

If Bowman is correct, then Stenger is indeed taking a small small sample from an elite group who will make sure like-minded people get in. Now I have no problem with doing that if that’s what they want, but don’t take a small minority and act like that represents the majority.

Meanwhile, Stenger claims that they are compartmentalizing and leaving their critical thinking skills behind, but this is just an ad hominem. Could it be that when it comes to religion, Stenger is compartmentalizing and leaving his critical thinking skills at home? (In fact, I would contend that he is and it will not be an ad hominem because I intend to demonstrate it.)

Stenger also says we believe in contradictory sources of knowledge. No. We believe in complementary sources of knowledge. Christians do not disavow the idea that we learn information through the senses. In fact, this is the best way to learn about the world. If I want to teach someone Algebra, I don’t go to the Bible. I go to an Algebra textbook. If I want to teach them about the life of Jesus or the history of Israel or who God is, then the Bible is a fine place to go to.

I’m sure Stenger’s opinion however would be news to the numerous scientists out there who are Christians, including Francis Collins. Does it really require that Stenger has to smear every scientist out there who is a Christian in order to make his point? Apparently it does.

The next claim Stenger deals with?

Science was the result of Christianity, which introduced the use of rational thinking. Galileo, Newton, and other early scientists were Christians.

Stenger’s response?

Science was well on its way in ancient Greece and Rome. But the Catholic Church muffled science when it took over the Roman Empire in the 4th century, ushering in the 1,000-year period known as the Dark Ages. This ended with the Renaissance and the rise of the new science, when people could once again think and speak more freely. So it is ludicrous to argue that science was a product of Christianity.

While it is true that great Christian theologians, notably Augustine and Aquinas, applied rational thinking to their theology, they viewed science as a means to learn about God’s creation. They always insisted that revelation rules over observation. Galileo was the first true scientist of the modern age when he insisted that observation rule over revelation. That got him into trouble.

Of course Galileo and Newton were Christians. Their only other choice was to be burned at the stake. Atheism did not appear openly until the French Enlightenment a century later. That light was produced by the mind, not the flames engulfing a heretic.

Stenger is, sadly, uninformed on history. The Dark Ages is a great myth often thrown about today. Of course, Stenger gives no sources whatsoever. Obviously, he expects his readers to just take him by faith. Apparently, Stenger is wanting to sound just like the preachers he condemns then.

One of my favorite resources for dealing with this is the web site of Tim O’Neill that can be found here. I value this so much because Tim and I are ideologically opposed. He’s an atheist. Still, he’s honest with the data unlike many atheists today. I will quote a small part of the article.

It’s not hard to kick this nonsense to pieces, especially since the people presenting it know next to nothing about history and have simply picked this bullshit up from other websites and popular books and collapse as soon as you hit them with some hard evidence. I love to totally stump them by asking them to present me with the name of one – just one – scientist burned, persecuted or oppressed for their science in the Middle Ages. They always fail to come up with any. They usually try to crowbar Galileo back into the Middle Ages, which is amusing considering he was a contemporary of Descartes. When asked why they have failed to produce any such scientists given the Church was apparently so busily oppressing them, they often resort to claiming that the Evil Old Church did such a good job of oppression that everyone was too scared to practice science. By the time I produce a laundry list of Medieval scientists – like Albertus Magnus, Robert Grosseteste, Roger Bacon, John Peckham, Duns Scotus, Thomas Bradwardine, Walter Burley, William Heytesbury, Richard Swineshead, John Dumbleton, Richard of Wallingford, Nicholas Oresme, Jean Buridan and Nicholas of Cusa – and ask why these men were happily pursuing science in the Middle Ages without molestation from the Church, my opponents have usually run away to hide and scratch their heads in puzzlement at what just went wrong.

Also, people are free to listen to my interview with James Hannam, author of “God’s Philosophers” here. The book is all about science and scientific advancements in the Middle Ages.

For the claim that revelation always trumped observation, it would be nice if we had some sources here. Unfortunately, we don’t.

And as for scientists being burned at the stake, As Tim O’Neill shows above, it would be interesting to see one named. The ones that were burned at the stake were not burned for science, but for having views that were heretical. Now is that too many burnings? Yes. But let’s be clear what the crime was.

As for Galileo, Galileo was riding off of the work of Copernicus. Does Stenger really think Copernicus did no observation when he came up with heliocentrism? No. He based it on observation. The problem was the evidence was not in. Had Stenger been around in those days, he would just as likely have been one of those condemning Galileo for bad science. The evidence at the time DID point to geocentrism. Galileo’s strongest argument was the rise of the tides. It wasn’t a convincing one.

It also didn’t help that Galileo was not a theologian, but yet ended up speaking on theology. Furthermore, he wrote a little dialogue where the Pope was pictured as a simpleton. Galileo wanted immediate recognition of his views and that was the main problem. He had an ego. Still, he did not die a painful death at the hands of the church. He was allowed to do science for the rest of his life and the church paid his pension.

I am skipping the question on design since the design I hold to is the fifth way of Aquinas which Stenger doesn’t touch.

Next?

Many Christians believe in evolution.

Stenger’s answer?

Not really. Surveys indicate that what most believe in is God-guided evolution. That is not evolution as understood by science. That is intelligent design. There is no room for God in evolution.

Now readers of this blog know I don’t comment on if evolution happened or not, but what Stenger is doing here is question-begging. It is assuming that if evolution happened, only naturalistic processes were involved, but how could that be known? Could He demonstrate it? Has he interacted with any of the scientists who are Christians who hold to such a position?

The next several questions are about science. I will leave those to more scientifically minded people. The next one I can deal with is

How can there be objective morality without God?

Stenger answers saying

Socrates proposed what is called the Euthyphro dilemma: Either (a) God wills us to do what is good because certain acts are good, or (b) an act is good only because God wills it. If (a), then moral values are independent of God. If (b) then there is no morality because God can will whatever he wants. In this case, if he asks you to kill a baby, would you do it? If you answer, “That would be against God’s nature,” then you are adopting (a), admitting that there is an objective morality that does not depend on God. If that is the case, then atheists can be just as objectively moral as theists.

This is another one of those pet objections atheists like to toss out. Do any of them bother to notice that Aristotle in his Nicomachean Ethics actually defined what the good is? He did not refer to God’s nature. He referred to just goodness itself. Now did he provide a foundation for goodness? No. That is a problem with his system, but he did show that goodness can be known. That it can be known however does not explain how it is that this goodness exists.

Stenger has simply said theists can have a hard question to answer. Sure. They need to answer this. Yet Stenger has not given an argument for the existence of goodness itself. What is his ontological foundation for it? Does he believe that it just exists out there? How in a universe where matter is all there is?

Note also that it ends with saying that atheists can be just as objectively moral as theists. The argument from morality has never once argued that an atheist cannot be a moral person. It has argued that there is no ontological foundation for their morality.

Once again, Stenger demonstrates that he doesn’t understand the arguments he argues against.

Next question we’ll address?

What about all the millions of people murdered by atheists: Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot?

Hitler was not an atheist. The rest did not kill in the name of atheism while throughout history Christians, Muslims, Hindus, and others have killed millions in the name of their gods. Pope Innocent III alone was responsible for a million innocent deaths during the Fourth Crusade. Now, if there ever was a historical figure who was misnamed, it is Pope Innocent III.

It is certainly true that Hitler was not an atheist. The rest were, however, and I’m sure it brings great comfort to the families of those who were killed to show they didn’t kill in the name of atheism. In reality, their atheism has a direct connection with what they did. If there is no outside force to bring about Utopia on Earth and you are the highest power, you are in fact God, and you cannot tolerate any dissidents. Why did Stalin seek to destroy so many churches in Russia? Why are so many Christians being persecuted even today in China?

As for the Pope, it would again be good to see a source on this. Stenger is not a historian so why should I take his opinion seriously? One million innocents were killed. Who were these innocents? How did he get the numbers? How about we use a real source, such as a professor of medieval history when she’s asked how many people were killed in the Crusades? You can find that here.

Who do I trust then? A physicist who cites no sources or a professor of medieval history? Decisions, decisions….

But now we get to a really fun one!

There is convincing evidence that Jesus was a historical figure who performed miracles and rose from the dead.

Try not to laugh as you read the following answer of Stenger.

There is absolutely no evidence that the Jesus of the gospels even existed. He is only mentioned in the New Testament, which was written long after his death by people who did not know him. St. Paul says little that suggests a historical Jesus. He also did not know Jesus. His “evidence” for Jesus is just his own mystical visions. He said, “I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel I preach is not of human origin. I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ.” (Galatians 1: 11-12).

The fact that Jesus is not mentioned by any of the many Roman historians of the time, some living in Jerusalem and who wrote voluminously, proves beyond a reasonable doubt that the Jesus described in the gospels is largely of not totally a fictional character. However, secular scholars disagree on whether Jesus is a historical figure. Bart Ehrman thinks he did exist, as an apocalyptic preacher. Robert Price think’s he is not historical.

This is the compartmentalization that Stenger displays. When it comes to that which disagrees with him, he uses a completely different standard. Let’s note some figures.

Socrates was certainly an important person in his time. One of his contemporaries was Thucydides. How many times does Thucydides mention Socrates? None. Not once. In fact, Thucydides’s works are not named by anyone until Polybius which takes place 250 years later.

How about Hannibal, the great general who nearly conquered the Roman Empire? How many of his contemporaries talk about this important figure? I’ll give you a hint. The number who mention him is less than one.

These figures are not mentioned, yet a traveling rabbi seen as a fraud since he did “miracles” and was yet another “Messianic claimant”, yet never traveled as an adult outside of his country, a bizarre part of the world to the Romans, nor went into battle, nor ran for office, and above all died a death of crucifixion, the most shameful death of all, should have somehow been mentioned by all these guys in Rome. I have expounded on this in my piece “Jesus Is Not Worth Talking About.”

Now Stenger could be trying to get a way out by saying the Jesus of the Gospels never existed, but it’s quite clear he’s not wanting to go that route. He’s going with all-out mythicism. Keep in mind that you will not find a scholar in the field who teaches at an accredited university and has a piece defending the idea in a prestigious peer-reviewed journal anywhere. Professor Craig Evans in his appearance on my show talked about these kinds of people in the midst of our conversation.

Stenger will complain about a belief that goes against the National Academy of Sciences. Can he find the scholars at the Society of Biblical Literature who still think the existence of Jesus is debated today?

Stenger says Jesus is only mentioned in the NT which was written long after his death by people who did not know him.

No scholarly sources are cited whatsoever. There is no interaction whatsoever with a work like Bauckham’s “Jesus and the Eyewitnesses.” Again, why should I take Stenger seriously on this topic or consider him an authority?

He also says Paul shows little interest. Paul is not writing to give a biography of Jesus but to correct problems in the churches. Yet in all of this, there are many places where scholars are convinced that there is a Jesus tradition. Also, we have numerous facts about him. We would know that Jesus was crucified and that he was buried and that his disciples claimed to see him again. We would know that he was of the lineage of David. We would also know that he instituted a Last Supper with His disciples. These are the essentials that we need.

He also claims Paul only knows about Jesus through visions. Absent is any interaction with someone like N.T. Wright on this. Paul’s own account in 1 Cor. 15 corresponds with those who thought they saw Jesus bodily. Paul knows about visions of Jesus after this event, but He considers himself the last to have seen the risen Christ as one out of time. It means these kinds of appearances should have stopped, but an exception was made for him. I recommend definitely a work like N.T. Wright’s “The Resurrection of the Son of God.”

Stenger also tells us about the voluminous writings of Roman Historians, some living in Jerusalem at the time.

It would be nice to know who these Roman historians would be, especially since most Romans would look down their nose at Jerusalem. The only one could possibly be Josephus, who was in fact a Jewish historian who came to live in Rome.

Stenger also presents this as a debate that secular scholars agree on citing Bart Ehrman vs. Robert Price. No. This is not a debate. Scholars treat the Christ-myth idea as a joke and most don’t even give it a footnote. Stenger just doesn’t know how history is done. For that, I recommend my interview with Paul Maier for someone who wants to learn how to do history properly.

The next question is about Josephus and Tacitus. Stenger answers that

Both were born after Jesus’s supposed crucifixion, so obviously they were not eyewitnesses and wrote long after the fact. Furthermore, the frequently quoted passage from Josephus: “Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man,” is now recognized to be a much later forgery. Tacitus and Josephus, at best, were writing about a new death cult called Christianity, which certainly existed by that time.

If Stenger wants to demonstrate that an account being not by an eyewitness means it’s invalid, then what of the biographies of Alexander the Great written 400 years after the fact at least? What about the numerous biographies of Plutarch that he was not an eyewitness of? For more of a double-standard, I recommend my piece where I deal with Carrier’s arguments on the crossing of the Rubicon by Caesar

For the scholars who think Josephus is a total forgery, it would be nice to see them named. The most well-known ones in the field see it as a partial interpolation. Note also that there are TWO references to Jesus in Josephus. Stenger, great historian that he is, does not even touch the second one.

As for Tacitus, he is indeed writing about Christianity, but incidentally, he mentions Christ. He also mentions this other figure named Pontius Pilate. It’s worth pointing out that this is the ONLY TIME Tacitus mentions Pilate as well.

Well maybe Tacitus was going by hearsay?

Really? The same Tacitus who said this?

My object in mentioning and refuting this story is, by a conspicuous example, to put down hearsay, and to request that all those into whose hands my work shall come not to catch eagerly at wild and improbable rumours in preference to genuine history.
(Tacitus, Annals, IV.11)

There is a claim about Socrates having more evidence than Jesus for his existence. Stenger says that Socrates was written about by people who knew him. Again, no interaction with Bauckham whatsoever so I see no need to reinvent the wheel here.

As for Jesus’s moral teachings, Stenger says

More important, you can dig around and find many of Jesus’s pronouncements that are immoral by modern, objective standards. In Matthew 10:34-35 he says, “Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace but a sword. For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law.” And in 10:37: “He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.”

Yet this is not a moral teaching. Jesus is not teaching people to pick up swords and go through their families. He is saying that His message is divisive. The Kingdom of God has come in Him and family lines will be divided on that.

Stenger goes on to say

But what makes Jesus one of the most unpleasant characters in all of fiction, along with the Old Testament God Yahweh (quoting Richard Dawkins), is that he dooms everyone on Earth who does not worship him to an eternity in hell. The six million Jews who died in the holocaust just moved from one furnace to another.

Of course, the only source cited is a fellow atheist who is not a scholar in the field as well. Stenger gives no argument that Hell is unjust. If someone does not want to be in the presence of YHWH and rejects Him, YHWH will let Him have His way. This includes Stenger. If Stenger thinks YHWH is so horrible, why complain that He doesn’t spend eternity in His presence?

And for one furnace to another, this is a literalistic view of Hell few evangelicals hold. Of course, being a fundamentalist atheist, Stenger is a literalist.

With Near-Death experiences, Stenger says

How can you prove they where not just hallucinations, all in the head of the person claiming the experience? I can tell you how! All that has to happen is the subject returns with some knowledge that she could not have possibly known prior to the experience. For example, suppose she meets Jimmy Hoffa in heaven and he tells her where he is buried. When she reports that location, authorities go to the site and dig up a body that they identify as Hoffa by its DNA.

Nothing like this has ever happened in the thousands of religious experiences that have been reported over the centuries.

Stenger has obviously never done any reading on Near-Death experiences and noted how many people see events that take place while they were “dead.” Does Stenger interact with someone like Sabom on the topic? Not a bit.

The others are arguments that by and large, I would not use, so I will not address them.

Of course, there have been some replying on the Huffington Post page itself to correct Stenger. Their posts have been deleted and moderated to not show up. Apparently, this is the other way to debate a Christian apologist. Just silence them.

Hopefully, Stenger will one day realize that he should not speak outside of his field or else he will be called out on it. But alas, new atheists are really slow to learn. The Scripture is fulfilled in them with saying “Proclaiming themselves to be wise, they became fools.”

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Is Harry Potter True?

November 12, 2013

Can one dismiss the gospel accounts by pointing to the boy wizard? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

It’s amazing that the group that likes to call themselves freethinkers all seem to think exactly alike and follow the exact same thought patterns. One idea catches on in the group and those who make the most out of condemning gullibility are immediately shouting it from the rooftops unaware that a few minutes worth of research could have prevented them from making such blunders.

A major one going around today is to say that if you believe the stories of Jesus are true, what about the stories of Harry Potter?

Because we all know there’s just a one-to-one parallel right there.

If we are to say it’s because of fantastical elements, well nearly every ancient writing of the time had some fantastical elements. We would have to throw out all of ancient history by this. Of course, not all did this, but it was something common still.

For instance, biographies of Alexander the Great that we have and even consider authoritative state of him that he was virgin born. Do we throw them out? No. We just look and say “Well this is a late tradition with not much behind it and we should be skeptical.” A mistake many critics make is thinking that history is an all-or-nothing game. An account is totally reliable in everything or it’s totally false in everything.

Unfortunately, many Christians make the same mistake with Scripture.

For the sake of argument Christian, what would it mean to you if you found out that there was one error in the Bible? Would you pack everything up immediately, conclude Jesus didn’t rise from the dead and that you can’t know anything about Him, and then abandon your Christian faith?

If your answer is yes, then you have a problem.

For me, if it was true, I’d still have an incredibly strong case for the resurrection, but I would have to change my views on inspiration and inerrancy. My overall method of historiography however would remain unchanged. I would just say I’d been wrong in some usages of it.

Now the comparison going around the net just doesn’t work. It says that Harry Potter has stories in it that are magical and therefore, it is untrue. The gospels also have stories in them that are magical. If we were being consistent, we’d say the gospels are untrue.

To begin with, the objection assumes that such a thing as magic does not exist. We do not know that for sure. Now is it fine to be skeptical of such a claim. In fact, I encourage skepticism, but if your worldview automatically precludes such a thing, then you are reaching a decision before examining the evidence.

Furthermore, the Harry Potter novels are in fact written to be fiction. No one has any idea that Rowling considered herself to be writing an authentic account of events that were taking place. The gospels by contrast are Greco-Roman biographies. They are not hagiographies, those came later. They must be judged by what was there at the time and at the time, they were written as Greco-Roman Biographies, accounts written to be historical. (The only exception could be Luke which could be a historiography with Acts being part 2 of it.) Those wanting more information on this are encouraged to read Richard Burridge’s “What are the Gospels?”

Now if we are to say that the problem is the gospels contain miracles, we come to the same objection. Has it been shown that miracles cannot happen? In fact, given Craig Keener’s book “Miracles” we can have a strong case that miracles do in fact happen and are still abundantly claimed today.

“Yeah. Well you’ll accept miracles in Christianity, but what about those outside your Christian tradition?”

That’s simple. If you show me a miracle that has good evidence backing it, I will believe it happened. It doesn’t have to be within my Christian tradition at all. If you can show me there’s a strong case that Vespasian healed blind men for instance, I’ll be more than happy to say that he did even if I can’t explain it, but good luck doing that.

Incredulity is not an argument. You may think miracles are ridiculous. Fine. It doesn’t work against my worldview to say that your worldview is different. You will need to give me an argument for your own worldview.

In fact, whenever I see someone use the Harry Potter analogy to explain away the gospels, I already am certain that I am meeting someone who is unfamiliar with historiographical standards at all. To skeptics of the NT, I encourage you to get a better argument. Start by reading good scholarship on both sides. Maybe in the end you’ll still disagree with me, but I hope it will be an informed disagreement.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

The Virginity of Mary

December 5, 2012

How many objections can be raised about this story? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

We’re looking at the Christmas story in Matthew and right now I’m going to be jumping ahead a little bit to look at the idea of Mary being a virgin before dealing with the response of Joseph. To begin with, the word for virgin in Matthew is “parthenos.” In the NT, this does refer to a virgin, but those who know the language better than I do tell me that this isn’t necessarily the case outside of the NT. Not being an expert on the area, I will not comment beyond that, though I do recommend that those interested check various commentaries. Some say that in Hebrew, “Betulah” unequivocally refers to a virgin, but this is not so as even a widow can be called a Betulah, such as Job 1:8. However, it could be the case that this refers to a woman pledged to be married and before the marriage can be consummated, something happens to the man in a plague. Almah, another word meanwhile in Hebrew, often refers to a maiden, and that is the word used in Isaiah 7:14.

In Isaiah, Ahaz is told to ask for a sign, and he does not. Interestingly, Isaiah does not give a prophecy then to Ahaz, but rather to the whole house of David. This indicates a far greater reach. There is something astounding about what is going to happen. Further, there is no present fulfillment that really matches. Yes. There was a child that was born shortly afterwards, but how is this child shown to be a fulfillment? The text never says so. The child’s name is a name of disaster rather than encouragement. The child’s mother is known whereas in the case of Isaiah the child’s mother is not known. The child is never called Immanuel. We can go on and on.

It could be that the child born in Isaiah, Maher, for short, does show a partial fulfillment, but there is another fulfillment. There will come a child who will be born and in his time, kings will be made desolate. This does happen in Jesus who by His coming and being made the King of the Jews and sitting on the throne of David renders any other claim of kingship by anyone else to be ineffective.

Did Matthew misquote this then? No. He saw Jesus as a fulfillment of what had been promised to the house of David and is entirely in line with the text.

Something else that can speak about this is that a virgin birth would not be made up. Now some say that there were virgin births in pagan mythology, but in many cases the women involved were not virgins but those that a god like Zeus seduced. Furthermore, what happens was a physical interaction between the god and the woman that would hardly be like what is described in the biblical text, which is Luke in this case.

It also would not benefit the church. Jesus would have been seen as illegitimate in the culture he lived in. It would not be seen as a good counter to that to say “He was virgin born!” Picture if you’re a skeptic of the NT. If you are and you are told that Jesus is virgin born, what’s your response?

“Yeah, right.”

Why think it was really different back then?

“Because everyone was gullible and didn’t know better.”

A thought like this always amazes me. We can say that we live in an age of science and know better. Little fact here. Even back then, everyone knew that it takes sex to make a baby and that is sex between a man and a woman. If someone thinks that this is not the case, then could they tell when it was in the history of science that it was established that it takes a man and a woman to make a baby? If it was not known before science, I’d really like to know about the scientist that established this mystery of pregnancy that no one else understood beforehand. Now I don’t doubt we know more about pregnancy than they did, but they certainly knew the basics!

So why did they say it?

Because they had to.

They had to?

Yes. They had to. They had to say what really happened even if it would bring disrepute.

What disrepute?

It would mean that Jesus not being the son of Joseph and Mary biologically would be stated upfront. It would mean that some would still see a relation to pagan stories and discount Jesus for the same reasons. It would mean that some would think that Mary was likely cozy with a Roman soldier beforehand and was making up a story and that if this is the kind of woman who is the mother of Jesus, then who needs Him? Either way, it would not win friends and influence people.

The main objection is still the objection of miracles. Of course, if one does not believe in miracles, one will not accept the virgin birth or more importantly, the resurrection. For the one skeptical of that, I recommend this.

I conclude that I have no reason to not accept the virgin birth due to believing in miracles and because of the criterion of embarrassment.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

The Truth on Ruth

December 2, 2012

The third woman in the genealogy of Jesus? Let’s talk about her on Deeper Waters.

We’re looking at the Christmas story this month on Deeper Waters and right now we’re going through Matthew’s genealogy and looking at notable mentions in it. I’ve said that women seem to have a tendency to pop up in the genealogies, which is highly unusual for a genealogy of the time. The first and second one have both involved morally questionable situations, but when we get to this third one, she is definitely as pure as the driven snow.

One of my favorite ministries is the Ruth Institute, which is an excellent pro-marriage ministry, and a great place to go to if one wants to know why we should oppose redefining marriage. In talking with the founder of this group, I found that it was named the Ruth Institute because of the character of Ruth in the Bible. Ruth is one of those books not quoted in the Old Testament, but one that is extremely important. How come?

The story starts with a family that leaves Bethlehem and goes into Moabite territory due to a famine. While there, the sons marry two Moabite women. Shortly after that, all the men die. Naomi, the mother, hears that the famine has ended and starts heading back. Her two daughters-in-law come with her and she tells them to go back. One of them agrees but the other says:

“Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me.”

This is one determined woman and this is not a simple platitude. With this, she was abandoning her Moabite heritage and saying she wanted to be a part of the people of Israel. That also meant abandoning the religion and living in the service of the God of Israel. We may see this as a small change today as many people change their religions all the time, but in that day and age, your entire identity was being changed. This is no small gesture on Ruth’s part and we should not see it as such.

Ruth and Naomi come to Bethlehem then and in order for them to survive, sends Ruth out in the fields to glean. This was an allowable practice where someone was supposed to leave some food behind in a field so that the poor could come in and get what was left behind. Ruth gets noticed in the field of a man named Boaz. He makes sure she is well provided for. When Naomi finds out, she is overjoyed and says that God is to be praised because He has not forsaken the living or the dead. That is the most important line in Ruth. It is the central one and the rest of the story is built around it. The author of the account wants you to know that God has not forsaken those people who have died and is still fulfilling the covenant. This will become more apparent later on.

Naomi tells Ruth that Boaz is a kinsman-redeemer and thus is eligible to marry Ruth so she can be provided for. Naomi, a crafty mother-in-law, gives Ruth clear instructions. Take a good bath, put on the best perfume, and put on a really good outfit. Why? You are to go down and see Boaz and make an appeal to him to marry you. Ruth does this and she does it in a way that is not immoral at all. It was within the custom of the time. Boaz wakes up to find Ruth at his feet when she makes her request. He tells her there is a kinsman-redeemer closer than he and he must have a chance first, but if he does not accept, then Boaz will marry Ruth. Ruth spends the night at Boaz’s feet and leaves before anyone else wakes up. There is no reason to believe that any sexual activity took place that night.

When the morning comes, Boaz speaks to the other kinsman-redeemer, who is so unworthy in his actions that he is not even given a name in the book. All other individual characters, even those without dialogue, are named. This person is not. He refuses to marry into the family of Naomi and so loses his honor. Boaz takes it upon himself then to marry Ruth and he does so. The elders bless the union and pray that it be as bountiful as that of Perez, whom Tamar bore to Judah, a name we saw earlier in this blog.

So the family goes back to Bethlehem, (And yes, the Bethlehem Jesus was born at) and there they have a son whose name is Obed. Okay. A lot of you might not have heard of him. He is the father of a man named Jesse. Now the names are starting to seem familiar. Jesse is the father of David. Indeed, God has not forsaken the living or the dead. He has fulfilled His covenant to Israel in David and ultimately, by David’s son, the Christ.

Ruth is a figure that should be upheld and celebrated in the church today. It is also amazing that she is not just a woman and a gentile, but a Moabite, a distant cousin of Israel of whom they weren’t always on best terms. Deuteronomy 23 shows us that. For those concerned, David would qualify to enter the temple on two grounds. First, his father was an Israelite so he would be Israelite by descent. Second, Ruth had been accepted into the people of Israel and forsaken her Moabite heritage.

Ruth gets us from the time of Judges to the time of David with 1 Samuel filling in even more of the information, but though the book of Ruth is not explicitly cited in the NT, we dare not underestimate Ruth’s importance. God is still able to be the God of all who call on His name.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

The Woman In The Wall

November 30, 2012

Can there be a harlot in the genealogy of Jesus? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

We’re looking at the Christmas story this month and going through the genealogy in Matthew. Our next stop is to look at the story of a woman that is also surprising to find mentioned specifically. Any time, Matthew could have left out these women, but he chose not to.

If you asked a lot of people for a favorite character in the Bible other than Jesus, you would get a lot of responses. For my wife, right there high up on the list would be Rahab. Rahab? Yep. Who was she? When the Israelites invaded Jericho, they sent spies to find out what was going on in the city beforehand. The spies went to a spot where a woman named Rahab was who was a prostitute. She had heard about what Israel’s God had done for them and responded favorably to the spies and hid them so that they would not be found. In return, they granted her and all those with her their lives.

The Israelites had gone to a place where people would be found. As it is today, a place of prostitution is a busy place as most men passing through an area wouldn’t mind getting a little bit of sex in on the way. The place was known enough that when soldiers from Jericho came through looking for the spies of Israel, they made sure to stop there. Rahab’s response showed her faithfulness to the God of Israel and her desire to be included amongst the people. After all, once her city was destroyed, where else could she go? This was a drastic act of faith on her part as she was abandoning her ways and lifestyle to be a part of Israel.

How is she seen in the New Testament? Quite favorably! When James writes his epistle. He gives two examples of faith. One of them is Abraham’s offer of Isaac, which would have been a defining story for the people of Israel and one that they would all have known about. If you wanted an Exhibit A for faith, you would always go to Abraham. Who is the other story? It’s the story of Rahab! This woman who was a prostitute is being put right alongside the very founder of the Jewish people! What greater compliment could be given to her?

What this means to us today is even more amazing I think than Tamar. Tamar was in a position where she could have thought she had to do what she did. Rahab was not. Rahab could have stayed a prostitute and blown off the people of Israel as if it was just a myth. She did not. She was ready to turn her life around and give herself over to the people of Israel and let their God be her God, something that we will see even more of with our next woman in the account. As a result, she was not only in the people of Israel, but she was included in the genealogy of Jesus Himself. She who had used sex so disgracefully in the past had sex used so wonderfully in her to bring about a child through whom would come about the very savior of the people. Matthew is not only reaching out to women here as being in the genealogy, but to a gentile as well!

This is why my wife likes Rahab so much. Rahab is a reminder that with all the screw-ups we’ve made in life, that when we come to God and seek to make Him to be our God, then we are capable of being used. Now since Jesus has come, you will not be used to bring about the lineage of the Messiah any more. That’s been done. You could be used to bring about the birth of Christ in the life of your fellow man. It does not matter if you were a prostitute before or anything else. You are not beyond redemption and not beyond leading someone else into redemption.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

And Then Jesus Showed Up

November 7, 2012

Where do we go from here? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

Like several of you, I’m quite depressed today. Let me tell a little bit about where I’m coming from.

My birthday is September 19, 1980. That means politically, that when I was born, Carter was finishing his term as president. I grew up then in the Reagan years. My dad worked for USA Today and my mother worked at an Elementary school. I also have an older sister. Now, she lives in Nashville and is trying to make it in the music business. (She goes by the name of Angela Ross over there if anyone is interested in finding her music.) My family is conservative and I grew up conservative, but they said nothing about politics really growing up. They decided to let me make my own decisions. I did grow up in church, and I did make my faith my own at the age of 11. Today, chances are both of my parents would say I know more about both politics and the matters of the church due to a large amount of reading.

We did have financial struggles growing up. My father lost his job when the company was being transferred seeing as my sister was about to graduate. Things have been more difficult since then. The reason I got to go to college was because of disability (Asperger’s). Vocational Rehabilitation was willing to help me. I did graduate and was the first in my family in a long time to have a college degree.

I went on to SES to pursue a Master’s in Philosophy. While there, I got married to Allie, who as readers know is the daughter of Mike Licona and his wife. I bring that up because about a year after that, a controversy broke out over if my father-in-law was denying Inerrancy or not. Readers know I spent much time writing up on that topic. I don’t let anyone mess with my family. It did mean that my education there was pretty much done on my own part as well. I was sure I’d developed some opposition.

Also, three months before my wedding, I had lost my job. It was later that I got a part-time position at a Wal-Mart which later became a job on the night shift. Unfortunately, that job was too stressing for me. Before too long, I got fired, and that has been a black mark on me. I had appealed to managers and told them about the difficulties of the job beforehand, but they did not listen. My wife and I moved back to Knoxville and we live in my grandmother’s old house. (She passed away in November of 2010) We are right next door to my parents. We depend highly on our families to make it as no job has come in yet and donations are down to Deeper Waters. (Keep in mind that any reader who is interested in our newsletter can leave a comment and let me know. Also, we have a page on Facebook that you can like and support)

Seeing all of this, I was hoping for a conservative win last night. I’ve seen the economy dropping and people are not hiring. Any time I have gone on Careerbuilder or Monster, I have been disappointed. My skills are in the area of ministry and there are many jobs I cannot do and do not have the credentials for. Meanwhile, in my field, I see several in the church who have no business being in that position.

So last night, it looks like much of our path got cemented. Not only that, for the first time, marriage lost in some states. We dropped our guard. So the questions are two.

How did we get here?

What do we do now?

Let’s start with the first.

I have several speculations on how it began, but I’ll list a few points.

When the Reformation began, which I think needed to be done, there were still unintended consequences. People tend to move on a pendulum and make great swings from one side to the other. We had trust in the authority of the church and then all of a sudden, that authority was gone. The sad reality is that often at those times some can think “Well what else have we been misled about?” Unfortunately, few people were willing to look for the answers that needed to come. This led to the coming of the Enlightenment. In many ways, our societies were acting like rebellious teenagers. We didn’t like what our parents did so we would grow up and rebel against them.

Like rebels, we sought to see how much we could do on our own. Let’s try to make it without God. Let’s see what we can do. It’s my stance that this led to a greater emphasis on the material world to exclude the world of God. What could be done then? Science is pretty much eventually the only answer. In saying this, it does not mean that science is bad. It most certainly is not. It just means that our society had a wrong focus. We started thinking of science without philosophy or sound metaphysics. After all, to do those could get us into the realm of the divine again.

Next came evolution.

The church made a big blunder here. Let’s realize something immediately at the outset.

Evolution is either true or false.

That’s not too difficult is it?

Evolution can be proven true or false by science.

That’s also not too difficult is it?

The problem is we too quickly took evolution into the religious field. If there’s something I’ve seen lately, it’s been the danger of the Inerrancy of interpretation. Now let’s suppose a macroevolutionary theory would contradict our reading of Genesis. Does that mean that Genesis is wrong? Not necessarily. It means that our interpretation is wrong and what we have to ask is “Is our interpretation correct?” Note that to establish that, we can also use literary methods to study the text.

In fact, recent studies are showing that our interpretation could be wrong. Some works on this include John Walton’s “The Lost World of Genesis One” and Henri Blocher’s “In The Beginning.” Does this mean they’re right automatically? No. But like anything else, we need to just say “Bring forward your case and let’s examine it.” Too often, the church has had a habit of deciding the case before the evidence has come in. This can only cost us.

What our actions did made it a case of science vs. the Bible instead of realizing that if we believe the Bible is true, then if something is true scientifically, it will contradict the Bible. Instead of firing shots, we should have said “Okay. We’ll wait and see what the evidence is on your side.” If the Bible is true and Inerrant, nothing in science can go against it. If we believed in the Inerrancy of Scripture, there would be no need to worry. We could wait and see what happens.

Note also that Darwin’s argument was meant to counter Paley, who had a design argument different from that which has been the case historically. The fifth way of Aquinas, for instance, is not about the internal make-up of objects, but about things working for a final cause, the cause that Aristotle said was the most important cause of all. Darwin dealt with an argument that is not the one the church should have been relying on to begin with.

Note also that neither argument is metaphysical.

When we made a battle go on between science and religion, some decided to return the favor. This includes the works of Draper and A.D. White whose works have largely been found to be lacking in substance, but at the time, people were believing them simply because they did not do the background work and check up on what was said. This is always a problem for us. In fact, it’s a problem for anyone.

Well what happens if we think the external world is no longer our friend?

That’s right! We go to the internal world. Christianity then became a system that is meant to give us good feelings and became a more personal belief system than one that described the world as it is. Religion slowly becomes a personal preference just like a favorite ice cream flavor. We were in fact doing Stephen Jay Gould’s NOMA long before he came up with it. There was an emphasis on internalization to demonstrate that Christianity is true. In other words, we became anti-intellectuals. We withdrew from the world.

And this rift has grown. The church has become less effective in its approach. People have grown more individualistic and more focused on what is going on internally.

Those of us watching last night should see the results of this. A lot of Christians were saying that we cannot support a Mormon. If that is the case, then why did we not have a Christian out there? Could it be because we have so isolated ourselves from the world that we are no longer raising up good Christians in the area of politics? How is it we are to be salt and light in the world and think that we cannot directly influence the governments of our world?

Instead, we became a society that was interested in what can be done for us, or rather for each of us, me. Claims were not studied. Few people have really read anything on economics. People often go by what is going on with them personally instead of looking at the big picture of all the world. We should not be surprised if the world has a self-focus. We should be extremely disappointed if the church is doing the same thing.

As we were sitting here today watching a movie with Allie trying to lift up my spirits, Allie’s Mom called her. I had the phone on speaker as I was sitting here, which is what I usually do, and she wanted to speak to Allie. She told Allie that she was thankful for her. Why? Because she’s seen too many who are compromising with the world. They are looking out for themselves and the great example she had was the marriage debate and how it turned out in some states last night. She was thankful Allie had not compromised and agreed to meet the world halfway. I’m thankful for that as well. She did her own research to decide, something a lot of people don’t do.

That gets us into what we do from here, the second question.

Mike Licona wrote a piece that made it onto Parchment and Pen. I will have a link to it at the end. One term showed up in there. Before the claim, let me show what he said.

“In the first century, the Roman Empire was, for most people, a brutal place to live. Rome ruled with an iron fist and crushed everyone who challenged it and even many who didn’t. An overwhelming majority of those under Roman rule lived below the poverty level.”

This is a hopeless situation. What happened then? Mike Licona goes on to say:

“And then Jesus showed up.”

That changed everything. The world has been going up because Jesus showed up. Jesus turned everything around. Today, we are asking what is going on in our world. Where is Jesus?

He’s not showing up.

Now does this mean I expect Jesus to physically return to save us? Well he will eventually, I know, but I’m not saying that that was the only solution and until that happens, we give up. No. Not at all. There is one way Jesus can show up and that is the way He has not been showing up.

That is, we have not been showing up.

We are to be the body of Jesus, and how are we showing Jesus? We are not. We are withdrawing into ourselves when Jesus went out into the world and confronted others who disagreed. He raised up disciples who went forward with his message. The Roman Empire was a hopeless situation and unlike us, the Christians could not say “We’ll wait until the next election comes about and then we’ll get our Christian choice for emperor on the ballot and we’ll make sure he gets the vote.”

What hope did they have? The government was against them. Heck. It was persecuting them regularly. The other people were looking down on them. They were in the minority. They were a new group and they could not look to past precedent. None of them could say “We can look at the past Christians hundreds of years ago and see what they did.” What did they do? They first off made the arguments that they needed to make. The apologists were busy constantly.

Not every Christian could do this of course, but several were then busy being what the apologists proclaimed. When plague struck, Christians would often care for those no one else would. The lives of Christians were a constant testimony to the world around them. It was unbelievable to people that they were so willing to die for the faith that they were claiming. As Tertullian said “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.”

The Christians were salt and light in their world. Intellectual grounds were being manned and people were living for Christ. Today, we are living for ourselves and not willing to face any discomfort. Meanwhile, in other places, the church is being persecuted and we are not really taking that into consideration. In fact, in those places, the church there is often praying for us to be persecuted. Why? Because that will get us going.

Many of us talk about dying for Christ. That’s a thought we might have to consider. Some of us could have to do that, and it is not a pleasant thought to think about. There is a great danger in some of us that are so quick to say we’d be willing to die for Christ. Let’s keep in mind that the head apostle also made the same claim and later denied that he even knew who Jesus was. There was a lot of talk, but there was no substance behind it. (Kind of like politicians and preachers today and it is a great fault of us that we fall for style instead of substance)

Dying for Christ is a moment and it’s done. Of course, there could be exceptions where a death is drawn out, but if anything is longer than that, it is life itself. Few of us talk about living for Christ. We cannot fault the world for acting the way it does. Yes. It’s sin. Yes. God will hold to account. The big failure last night was not on the part of the world. We cannot expect the world to live like Christians when Christians are living like the world. If there is no difference between how we live and how they live, why should we be surprised?

What that means for us is that we need a revolution. No. I am not talking about a physical battle. I do not oppose the right to bear arms. If we are in physical danger at times, I think physical fighting is justified, but it is not the final solution to our problems. We need a revolution of the mind. We need the church to stand up and say “We are here and we will not be silent any longer.”

We also need to avoid this fear we have of offending people. The world is more than ready to do what it can to the church and we think that if we bend over and do nothing, that the world will just stop what it’s doing. It won’t. We’ve got a long track record to show that. We cannot expect to live as non-Christians and have the world come to embrace the Christian message. Christ did not raise up the church to be reactive. He raised it up to be proactive.

The church is supposed to be a force that the gates of Hades will not stand against. Gates are defensive. We are to be offensive. Do we believe that we are to be that force?

The church is supposed to be yeast filling through the dough. We are to spread our influence. Do we believe that?

The church is supposed to be a mustard seed growing into a tree to fill the Earth. Do we believe that?

If we believe that, then we realize that there is no real “Game Over.” (Yes. I grew up a gamer as well and still am.) We just have to start playing a better game. We should realize that the person behind the game knows that in the end, the good guys always win. We can realize that our world is a really dark place, but that a dark place is a place where heroes can rise up. Right now, the church needs that. It needs us to stand up and lead the charge.

If you’re reading this blog and a Christian, I’m going to assume you’re a Christian who at least somewhat takes your faith seriously. Do it more so. Do your part. It could be tempting to lie down and surrender and I will say part of me is having a “Why bother?” attitude. What I write I write not only for you, but also for myself. This is not the case for us. The early church won the battle overall, and they did not have America to do it with. They didn’t even have free elections.

We can’t guarantee America will last. Great empires do fall. The gospel will not fall. If we believe that, we must live it. We must stand up to our age and say “No. You will not marginalize and bully us. You will not trample on us. You will not deny us our right to speak. We will get our message out. We will live our message. We are going to be what Christ wanted us to be. We will say what we believe and we will make no apology for it.”

It is only by the church standing up and being the body of Christ can we hope to make an impact. Let’s hope we do it here in America. If we do not, we can know that someone else will somewhere, maybe in China, but when we stand before God, the line of “It was someone else’s job” won’t work.

Let’s do our part. Our Lord deserves 110% and still more.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Mike Licona’s blog entry can be found here