Book Plunge: Why Christianity Is Not True Conclusion

How shall we wrap it up? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Our journey with David Pye at this point comes to an end unless there are future books, although he is responding in comments so we might see more there. In the conclusion, Pye just sums up pretty much earlier chapters. There are some appendixes afterward. One is on the dear Dr. Laura letter which we addressed earlier. The others are on Christianity being a religion and what it means to be a committed Christian. There is not much to say about those latter two as they seem to go on pop Christianity sayings.

A few things in the concluding chapter however.

Pye does look at the passage in Revelation to the church in Laodicea about how He wishes the people were either hot or cold, but they are lukewarm instead. Pye makes a common mistake of thinking hot means passionate for Jesus and cold means someone who is not convinced that Christianity is true and is considering dropping. If he decides to drop it he is cold, but if he doesn’t he is lukewarm.

I have sadly heard this often in churches, but it is quite foreign and just considering it should tell us. Who among us thinks cold water is entirely bad? You might heat water for hot chocolate, but don’t we like cold beverages as well? Isn’t cold water refreshing?

The city of Laodicea had water sent through pipes to it from the outside. Some of it was hot and some of it was cold. Each could be used for a sort of purpose. If water was lukewarm, it really served no purpose. Jesus is not making any statement about passions but saying that the Laodiceans have become water that is good for nothing.

Pye also encourages people considering Christianity to be careful of Christian propaganda and testimonies. I agree, but I would also say to be careful of ANY propaganda and testimonies. Yes. Atheists have testimonies. I meet many regularly who tell me about their past life as a Christian. It’s almost like they never learned to move beyond their personal testimony.

I would also encourage researching the best works of scholarship on the issue and in looking at Pye’s work, I don’t think he did this. I see some interactions with Lewis, which is good, and the most recent scholarly work from a Christian side I see is McGrath. I like Alister McGrath, but one needs to have more than one.

I also think based on Pye’s story that he had a very pop Christianity type of Christianity. He talks about a big problem to him was the one in the fifth chapter about there not being a command to worship the Holy Spirit. This is an example of letting a secondary issue become primary. What? This is a secondary issue. Yes. If the Holy Spirit can be seen to be God in the New Testament and you are told to worship God, then you worship the Holy Spirit even if not explicitly stated.

Furthermore, consider this. Picture being a Christian who is convinced Jesus rose from the dead by the history and by exegesis and church history, you are convinced that the Bible teaches the Trinity. Will the lack of an explicit command like that trouble you? Nope. Not a bit.

By the way, that’s a big problem I see with Pye’s work. Nowhere does he touch the resurrection of Jesus. If you want to say Christianity is not true, you need to say something to explain the rise of the church. How do you explain what happened to Jesus?

On a positive note, I will say Pye’s work is very readable and while he is much more on the atheist side, he does not have the vitriol that most atheists I encounter have. Pye does strike me as the kind of guy I could go to the pizzeria with or have some tea with at Starbucks. I also do think his criticisms about how we live our lives and do evangelism should be heeded.

Perhaps we will interact more with Pye in the future even beyond the comments, but in the end, I put down his book and don’t see anything to raise any substantial doubt.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Deeper Waters Podcast 5/12/2018: Matt Delockery

What’s coming up on the next episode? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Who do you say the Son of Man is? It’s a question that’s still debated today. The number that debate if Jesus even existed in scholarship today is marginal and not worth talking about. The number that debate who He is is much more significant. This is something unique about Jesus.

The Pauline epistles give us a good insight into who Jesus was, at least our earliest source on Him. One interesting one is Colossians. Of course, a lot of scholars doubt Paul wrote that, but if He did, it gives us an interesting look at the view of Jesus.

But doesn’t Colossians have a lower view of Jesus? It refers to Him as the firstborn of all creation. Isn’t that the verse the Jehovah’s Witnesses love to use? Doesn’t this demonstrate that Jesus was a created being?

Is there anything in the letter that can show us that Jesus is in someway equal to YHWH in the divine identity? Does Paul show a high Christology in the letter or not? What do the leading scholars in the field think?

My guest this Saturday is someone who has done his dissertation on the topic of Colossians and the view of Jesus in there. He has wrestled long and hard with this short letter and has come to firm conclusions. I will be talking with him about what his researched discovered. His name is Matt Delockery.

So who is he?

Dr. Matt DeLockery earned his Bachelor’s degree in Business from the Georgia Institute of Technology, his Master’s in Divinity from Luther Rice University, and his Ph.D. in New Testament from Radboud University Nijmegen (pronounced RAD-bowd and NIGH-may-hen). He is the founder and President of the apologetics ministry Why Should I Believe which has chapters at Georgia Tech and Cornell, and you can find his podcast and blog at mattdelockery.com.

A brief update also on the whole Facebook Live and such. We are still working on that. We had some technical difficulties last week and I am still trying to find out how to work out the software and have not had the time to really sit down and do anything. I hope to before too long so you all can get to interact with my guests that way.

But we will be discussing with Matt our questions about Colossians. What is Paul saying about Jesus in this letter? Do the Jehovah’s Witnesses have a point? What does it mean to say Jesus is the firstborn of all creation? Is there anything else in the epistle that would further prove a problem for the Witnesses?

I hope you’ll be listening and we will try to do what we can with Facebook live, but there are no promises. I really want you all to be able to see the guests that I have on the show and be able to ask your questions for me to share. Please also go on iTunes and leave a positive review for the Deeper Waters Podcast.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

Book Plunge: Why Christianity Is Not True Chapter 5

Can we trust the Bible? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

We’re continuing through David Pye’s book. This chapter is on the Bible and I was really looking forward to dealing with something more meaty. Much of what I have seen so far seems to be much more experience oriented. I came here hoping to get a lot more.

I hate to say that I did not get that.

So let’s go through and see what I did get.

Pye starts with the canon. In this, he asks some good questions Christians should ask. The problem is, that’s all he does. He asks the questions. The only scholarship he goes with is Elaine Pagels. There is no hint of interacting with Michael Kruger or Lee McDonald. Both of these scholars have written well on canonicity and the forming of the canon, but their works are absent. A good basic look can be found here.

Generally, a book had to be by an apostle or an associate of an apostle, it had to be received by the majority of the church as a whole, and it had to be in line with the tradition known to everyone that went back to the historical Jesus. Pye instead quotes Pagels who says

Contemporary Christianity, diverse and complex as we find
it, actually may show more unanimity than the Christian
churches of the first and second centuries….Before that
time, [the end of the second century] as Irenaeus and
others attest, numerous gospels circulated among various
Christian groups, ranging from those of the New
Testament, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, to such
writings as the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Philip,
and the Gospel of Truth, as well as many other secret
teachings, myths, and poems attributed to Jesus or his
disciples.

She goes on to say that

We now begin to see that what we call Christianity – and
what we identify as Christian tradition – actually
represents only a small selection of specific sources,
chosen from among dozens of others. Who made that
selection, and for what reasons?

For the latter, as said, these are good questions. Unfortunately, no answers are apparently sought for them. For the former, I challenge Pye to find me one time where these other Gospels were accepted on a major basis by the early church. You can find an isolated church that used something, such as the Gospel of Peter, but these are the exception. There was never any doubt about the four Gospels we have today.

In response to all that Pagels says, Pye answers that

I shall not here be pursuing answers to this question. I’m simply flagging up that there were many writings about Jesus, but only some of them were included into the New Testament. Christians may assert that it was the hand of God that determined this – that is, it was God Himself who ensured that only those writings that He had inspired were included in the New Testament. But we may reasonably speculate that in fact it was “power struggles” in  the early Church and/or historical accident that determined what was included and what
excluded.

Yes. Answers will not be pursued, but let us speculate sans history and make the judgment. I wonder if I would be allowed to do the same thing with the sciences. Perhaps sans evidence, I should say people who embrace atheism are just wanting to live sinful lives without having to face a judge one day. It is a reasonable speculation on my part, so why not?

Pye then goes on to say picking and choosing is a problem. Some people choose what they want to accept and what they want to reject. Absent is any consideration on looking at hermeneutics and how to examine a case and apply it properly or the relationship between the two testaments or even examining the cases historically and choosing to use that which holds up historically. Pye goes even further saying that even if you go with 100% in the Bible, you’ve still trusted your own fallible judgment.

Heads he wins, tails you lose. So apparently if you don’t believe everything, you’re picking and choosing. If you do, you’re also picking and choosing. Absent is any notion that someone could choose to believe the Bible because they have studied it and seen that it holds up.

From there, Pye goes on to talk about moral problems. He treats the Bible as if it was an instruction book on how to live the good life. It contains instructions on that, but that is not the purpose. The ultimate purpose is how to know about Christ and His Kingdom. Living a good life is tied into that, but the Bible is much more than that.

Pye then gives us Deuteronomy 21:18-21

When a man has a son who is rebellious and out of
control, who does not obey his father and mother, or take
heed when they punish him, then his father and mother are
to lay hold of him and bring him out to the elders of the
town at the town gate, and say ‘This son of ours is
rebellious and out of control; he will not obey us, he is
a wastrel and a drunkard.’ Then all the men of the town
must stone him to death, and you will thereby rid
yourselves of this wickedness.

So how many people have applied this to their lives? Pye says this thinking that the rules of a political nation in a covenant relationship with YHWH as their king and set apart from the rest of the world as a political institution and as an old covenant must surely apply to us the exact same way. It doesn’t. Today, there are great works to read on this like William Webb’s Slaves, Women, and Homosexuals or John Walton’s Old Testament Theology For Christians here. It’s understandable Pye did not read these if they were not yet written. It is not understandable that it appears that nothing was read. My own response to this can be found .

Sadly, Pye continues with listing some other passages. All he gives is the references. It strikes me more as “This offends me and therefore it’s wrong.” There’s no attempt to understand the culture. There’s no attempt to show that Israel was supposed to be a utopia on Earth for all time. Nothing.

I can happily say Israel was not the perfect society. It was not meant to be. It’s a stepping stone. Slavery, for instance, was a reality for everyone in the ancient world. If you go to someone today and tell them you support slavery, much of the world will look at you aghast. If you go to the ancient world and say that, they will do the same.

One wonders what people like Pye expect. Was God supposed to create a Wal-Mart immediately for everyone to work at? The reality was that in the ancient world, if you didn’t have money or resources, you had to serve someone who did. Actually, if we thought about it, that’s still the way the world is.

Still, let’s humor him. First, Exodus 21:7-11.

If a man sells his daughter as a servant, she is not to go free as male servants do. If she does not please the master who has selected her for himself, he must let her be redeemed. He has no right to sell her to foreigners, because he has broken faith with her. If he selects her for his son, he must grant her the rights of a daughter. If he marries another woman, he must not deprive the first one of her food, clothing and marital rights. If he does not provide her with these three things, she is to go free, without any payment of money.

Today, a woman can often work for herself and doesn’t have to marry. Not so in the ancient world. A woman would be provided for by a man and one of the best ways also was making sure she had descendants. A man who sold his daughter was not getting rid of her. He was trying to assure a better life for her by giving her to someone who could provide for her and to unite two families together. In this case, the man must provide for her. He is not to deprive her even of marital rights, a good way to make sure she can still have children. This is a system to protect the woman in that society.

Exodus 21:20-21

Anyone who beats their male or female slave with a rod must be punished if the slave dies as a direct result, but they are not to be punished if the slave recovers after a day or two, since the slave is their property.

This is again a society that out in the wilderness does not have a jail and also since slaves were day-wage earners, depriving them of financial income would mean starvation of some kind. Physical discipline was what was done. Why is the slave owner given the benefit of the doubt? Because the slave is his property. The slave represents his income. The owner wants to keep his income. Note also as we see later that if even a tooth is knocked loose, the slave goes through. This is set up to put limitations on things and protect the slave.

Deuteronomy 7:1-2

When the Lord your God brings you into the land you are entering to possess and drives out before you many nations—the Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites,seven nations larger and stronger than you— and when the Lord your God has delivered them over to you and you have defeated them, then you must destroy them totally. Make no treaty with them, and show them no mercy.

Again, this is common in acts of war and also hyperbolic. One only needs to go through Joshua and find out that the land is described as having the inhabitants driven out and lo and behold, there they are. Pye could see this as a contradiction. It’s not. It’s hyperbole. Ancients spoke this way. Keep in mind also these people knew Israel was coming. If they wanted to escape, just pack up and move. Again, Pye could bear to read people like Copan, Flanagan, and Walton.

Joshua 6:20-21

When the trumpets sounded, the army shouted, and at the sound of the trumpet, when the men gave a loud shout, the wall collapsed; so everyone charged straight in, and they took the city. They devoted the city to the Lord and destroyed with the sword every living thing in it—men and women, young and old, cattle, sheep and donkeys.

This is more of the same and we need not say more. We could say that these acts of war are not mandated for all people in all times and all places. They are for a specific people in a specific place at a specific time in a specific situation.

Pye goes on to list contradictions. He gives two. How did Judas die and what about the genealogies of Jesus? I will happily grant the genealogies of Jesus is one that has had much wrestling done with it. The early church itself had a number of solutions to the problem. For Judas, many say that Judas hung himself and later the rope broke and his body fell and burst open. Even if this is not what happened, it is still something possible and plausible. Finally, none of this shows Jesus did not rise from the dead. Christianity does not depend on inerrancy.

Pye also brings up the whole “Dear Dr. Laura” letter. My ministry partner has a great video on that. By the way, just on the side here, I think the lady who does the voice work for the main female character in the video sounds totally hot!

But now, Pye comes to what he thinks is the most important section of the chapter and one of the most important ones of the book. This is where he is going ot show the Trinity is unbiblical. As one who has interacted with cults in the past, I came here hoping for a great metaphysical argument.

Instead, I got a question.

Where does the Bible say to worship the Holy Spirit?

That’s it.

No. Really. That’s it.

So because this command is not there, then it doesn’t matter if the Holy Spirit is called God, speaks as God, is personal, and does everything else. The Bible has to explicitly say that you are to worship the Holy Spirit. Without that, every other piece of data can be there, but it’s somehow incomplete.

The only reference he makes here is to Billy Graham. Billy Graham was indeed America’s pastor, but he would have been one of the first to tell you he wasn’t an academic. There are a number of scholarly works on the Trinity that are available to be read and these by academics. Why weren’t they sought out?

Pye goes on then to say that

The absence of authority in the Bible for worship of the Holy Spirit should be a cause of disquiet for all Christians. And for those Christians who are adamant that the Bible alone is their authority the problem is enormous. Such a Christian faces the following choice:-

1. He must find a passage in Scripture in which the Holy Spirit is worshipped (ideally several – to avoid reliance on a single “proof text”)

or

2. He must stop worshipping the Holy Spirit given that there’s no authority for this in the Bible

or

3. He continues worshipping the Holy Spirit – but thereby accepts that the Bible is not his sole authority for what he believes.

To begin with, a Catholic or Orthodox Christian would say the Bible is not the sole authority and have no problem. Do Protestants have one? Not at all. Pye has confused Sola Scriptura with Solo Scriptura. No Reformer ever said the Bible was the only authority. None of them said the church fathers or tradition were irrelevant.

What Pye is doing is taking the position of the Bible as the ONLY authority. Anyone who has ever attended a church service and heard what the pastor said would have already violated that rule. The Reformers said that nothing could be accepted as Biblical if it contradicted Scripture.

Does worshiping the Holy Spirit do that? No. The Holy Spirit is shown to be God and it is proper to worship God. That would not even be saying the Bible does not say that. Look at it this way.

We are to worship God.
The Holy Spirit is a person of the Trinity with the full nature of God.
Therefore, it’s okay to worship the Holy Spirit.

Pye goes on to say that anyone then who believes in the Trinity is doing something unbiblical because we are never explicitly told to worship the Holy Spirit. Again, this is not a big problem. It is also a false understanding to say that any Christian says the Bible is the sole authority. Even from the beginning of the church, some were given to be teachers.

The next chapter is on narrative formation, but I find this one still extremely weak and wish Pye would have interacted with more real scholarship.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: In Search Of Ancient Roots

What do I think of Kenneth Stewart’s book published by IVP Academic? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Historically, many times different denominations have not gotten along. Today, there is much more communication and with the internet here, many people are coming across other belief systems they would have no access to before. Many an orthodox Protestant can be wondering about their belief system. Where did it come from?

Stewart’s book is written to help those searching Protestants. While not for any one particular denomination, he does work to show that many of the beliefs and such that we have today go back to our ancestors. Not only that, there was great theological development even on core doctrines. One quick example is the Trinity. It’s not that Jesus rose from the dead and immediately the apostles got together and wrote the Nicene Creed. The outworking of that event took at least three centuries to get to Nicea and today we can look back and see the development of the doctrine.

One great theme of this book is that the Fathers matter. I remember asking someone well over a decade ago in talking about apologetics if they could name an early church father. The only name that came to mind was John Wesley. That’s why we have to do a better job educating. So many people know so little about these great people that many times gave their lives for the Christian faith. We not only don’t know our doctrines, but we don’t know the history behind those doctrines.

Stewart definitely wants us to return to the Fathers. He tells us that early Protestants were known for doing this. Today we think of other traditions scouring the Fathers, but he says in the past the Protestants were the ones doing this the most. There’s no reason Protestants today can’t be doing in-depth research on the Fathers.

He also speaks about examples of debates that we have today. The two he chooses are the frequency of the Lord’s Supper and if we should participate in infant baptism. Both of these chapters bring up points that will be of interest to anyone in these debates.

There’s also a chapter on the history of Newman with the look at the claim that to study church history is to cease to be Protestant. Stewart contends that there are two different Newmans. One is the one presented in many popular writings. The other is one the Catholic Church itself was unsure about.

Towards the end, he starts looking at the harder issues. Many of these chapters I thought would actually work better at the beginning of the book. These include the claim that the Roman Church does have the highest authority due to the seat of Peter being occupied. Stewart argues that the data for this is not as strong as would be like and the claim is not helped by the fact that many times there were rival popes and each pope was busy excommunicating the other.

There’s also a chapter on the history of justification by faith. I find the fact that so many have written on this to show that the early Fathers taught this as fascinating, but there was one blind spot here. I did not see any quotations from the Fathers. I would have liked to have seen some of those at least. One could not get an encyclopedic look of course, but something would be nice.

Finally, it ends with why people abandon Protestantism and go the other way. Again, the message is that we need to really study our history and our doctrine. We have had a sort of anti-intellectualism come over the church and too many have the idea that everything just fell down from heaven and the history is irrelevant. We need to know not only where we are and where we are going, but how we got here.

Those interested in church history will benefit from reading this. It would be good for those on all sides of any such debate. I hope we can return to some serious look at our history. In an age of greater skepticism, we need it more and more not just because of the constant changing of churches, but because of outside attacks on all churches.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

Deeper Waters Podcast 12/30/2017: Michael Heiser

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

The year coming up is a new year, but sometimes, it’s good to look back on that which is old. How about the Old Testament for instance? Many times in the church we can get really focused on the New Testament and that is important, but sometimes, we have to be reminded that there is that other collection called the Old Testament.

Could it also possibly be that that Old Testament might have something to say to even new situations today? We have a lot of situations today that are new to us as we have seen a changing world around us. Some situations today are the new cults that we have. Even if they have old doctrines many times, there is a new twist to them. Two such groups are Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses.

There is an Old Testament scholar who has been doing some work on an argument to answer them. Not too long ago a friend recommended that I get in touch with him and have him come on the show. That opportunity came and he has agreed to come on and we are going to be talking about his argument concerning Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses. His name is Dr. Michael Heiser.

So who is he?

According to his bio:

Michael S. Heiser is a scholar of the Bible and its ancient context. Mike is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania (M.A., Ancient History) and the University of Wisconsin- Madison (M.A., Ph.D., Hebrew Bible and Semitic Studies). He has taught biblical studies, theology, and ancient languages for over twenty years in the classroom and online distance education. He is currently a Scholar-in-Residence at Logos Bible Software, a company that produces ancient text databases and other digital resources for study of the ancient world and biblical studies. Dr. Heiser maintains three blogs that focus on biblical studies (The Naked Bible), fringe beliefs about the ancient world (PaleoBabble), and modern conspiratorial belief systems (UFO Religions). He is host of the popular Naked Bible Podcast and writes science fiction that draw on all these areas of interest. His homepage is drmsh.com.

Dr. Heiser has published over one hundred articles in trade magazines and peer-reviewed academic journals. He is author of the best-selling book The Unseen Realm: Recovering the Supernatural Worldview of the Bible (Lexham Press, 2015) and its shorter, distilled companion work, Supernatural: What the Bible Teaches about the Unseen World and Why it Matters (Lexham Press, 2015). Dr. Heiser’s other books include I Dare You Not to Bore Me with the Bible, The Bible Unfiltered: Approaching Scripture On Its Own Terms, and Reversing Hermon: Enoch, the Watchers, and the Forgotten Mission of Jesus Christ, and the three volumes of the 60-Second Scholar series, due out in May, 2018: Brief Insights on Mastering Bible Study, Brief Insights on Mastering the Bible, and Brief Insights on Mastering Bible Doctrine. His supernatural fiction thrillers are The Façade and its sequel, The Portent.

I hope you’ll be tuning in. This should be an interesting episode to hear as we discuss what the Old Testament has to say about Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses. Please also go on iTunes and leave a positive review of the Deeper Waters Podcast.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Is Jesus An Idol?

Do we make an idol out of Jesus? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

My wife shared something that it was thought it would be good for me to respond to and, well, as you all know my wife gets first priority. A lesbian Methodist bishop, something to think about in itself, has said that we make an idol out of Jesus. Now I wanted to see what was said to make sure it was being understood. We don’t need any “Jesus is my boyfriend” type of messages out there. If that was the kind of thing being said, that would be fine, but no. Karen Oliveto has something different in mind.

For her, Jesus was indeed fully human, which we would all embrace as part of orthodoxy, but part of His humanity includes growing in moral character. It would be false to say that Jesus never grew as He walked this Earth. Luke 2:52 tells us that He did. It would be false to say Jesus came out of the womb knowing Greek, Hebrew, Aramaic, how to do quadratic equations, the distance between here and Alpha Centauri, and pontificating the Summa Theologica.

It would also be false to think that Jesus because He was God and man was superhuman in everything that He did. While Jesus could walk on water, if you were to have a swimming race between Jesus and Michael Phelps, your smart money is better spent on Michael Phelps winning. Michael Jordan would beat Jesus in a game of basketball. If you want to talk about physics, someone like Stephen Hawking would know more about that than Jesus would have. Jesus came and played by the rules after all. We dare not think He was God so much that it eclipsed His humanity. His humanity was entirely real.

The difference is with moral behavior. Jesus did not grow morally because He was the only one who never sinned. He was born without a sin nature. He did not become a more holy person throughout His life. He was pure and spotless from the beginning.

Oliveto’s main text to show Jesus growing supposedly is the story of the Canaanite woman who had a demon-possessed daughter. In the interest of fairness, this is a difficult passage to understand. It is easy to see how some people could see the account and think that Jesus is awfully cold. This is a woman with a demon-possessed daughter. Why not help her out? Why speak to her in such a way to refer to her as a dog?

What I think is going on is that Jesus is not just helping the woman, but He is also teaching His disciples. His disciples would have known about Jesus’s willingness to help out Gentiles seeing as he’d helped the Centurion’s servant and He’d delivered the man with the Legion inside of him. Still, old ways of thinking die hard. The Disciples would have grown up with an inherent distaste for the outsiders. Even after the resurrection, it took a vision to get Peter to share the Gospel with a Gentile.

So when this woman comes to Jesus, Jesus I think was playing along with what the disciples were saying who just wanted her sent away. The account starts with the disciples seen as being in the place of favor since they are the chosen ones of Jesus and the woman being a shameful figure seeing as she is an outsider. Jesus tests the woman to reveal her not to Him, for He knew what was in her heart already, but to reveal her to the disciples.

So what happens? This woman turns out to have greater faith than the disciples. The result is a complete turnaround. The woman is honored and the disciples are seen as the shamed ones. Jesus did not honor their request, the MEN who were closest to Him, but honored the request of the woman. This would have been a hard lesson for the disciples to learn that day.

Oliveto is certainly right that Jesus stood against the cultural norms and prejudices of His day. She is wrong in thinking this was a new revelation to Him. Jesus regularly shattered the viewpoint of those around Him. His own ministry was a challenge seeing as He was not one of the educated elite. He regularly interacted with women, would speak to Samaritans, dined with prostitutes and tax collectors, etc.

Oliveto is quite likely reading too much of herself into Jesus. It is true that we can put Jesus into roles He was never meant to be into, such as Jesus being your boyfriend, but it is false to say that we are in danger of making too much of Jesus. In reality, we are likely not seeing Him as He uniquely was and is. Skeptics today are regularly trying to find similarities between Jesus and other figures in ancient history. What is far more interesting is noting how Jesus is different from all other figures. Jesus is in a class by Himself.

It’s not Jesus who is prejudiced and bigoted and needs to be informed by us. It is the opposite. We have our prejudices and bigotry, and the main one many of us have is the assumption that we in our cultural milleu are enlightened and in the right entirely. If our moral stances disagree with Jesus, we really need to look at those moral stances.

Oliveto has certainly opened us up to something though. Jesus is far more different than we realize. In reality, this article reveals nothing new about Jesus. It sure reveals a lot about Oliveto.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Deeper Waters Podcast 7/6/2017: M. James Sawyer

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

The Trinity. It’s one of our core central doctrines as Christians and yet one of the most misunderstood. Many of our church members are confessing Trinitarians and yet practicing Arians. When it comes to their discussion of the Trinity, they top it off by becoming modalists for the time.

Does the Trinity really matter? Is it just this esoteric doctrine for the theologians to debate back and forth but makes no difference to us? Do we only need to think about it when Jehovah’s Witnesses show up so we can show them that they’re wrong on a doctrine that we don’t understand the point of ourselves?

My guest this Saturday says no. The Trinity is a gift to us and it is a doctrine we all need to understand. In many Eastern churches, the Trinity is essential to them and their practice. If the Trinity was wrong, everything would be changed. If you can abandon the Trinity in your Christianity and nothing or little changes, then that shows you how much the Trinity really means to you. My guest is coming on to hopefully help us all appreciate it more. His name is M. James Sawyer.

So who is he?

M. James Sawyer got his B.A. from Biola in 1973. He got a Th.M. from Dallas Theological Seminary in New Testament in 1978 and went on to get a Ph.D. from there in 1987 in Historical Theology. He has published numerous books and articles and contributed to them as well and is the author of the book Resurrecting The Trinity.

This Saturday, we’ll be talking about that last book. M. James Sawyer wants the church to wake up to the doctrine of the Trinity. It is not something that just needs to be brought out when Jehovah’s Witnesses come by. We need to really study the Trinity and learn what a difference it makes in our faith and practice. I have long been an advocate of the idea that our churches are sadly way too shallow. Part of that is that we don’t really do theology much anymore. It’s all application. Part of that theology includes the doctrine of the Trinity.

We’ll be discussing defending the Trinity, the history of the Trinity, and we will also get into personal application. There is nothing wrong with personal application after all, but there is something wrong if that is all that you have. We will have a show on not only about how the Trinity is true, but also what difference it makes. Hopefully in the end, you will have your eyes greatly awakened to the truth of the doctrine of the Trinity and know why it matters.

I hope you’ll be listening to the next episode of the Deeper Waters Podcast. I also hope that you’ll go on ITunes and leave a positive review. It lets me know that you appreciate the show and it makes it easier I understand for others to find it so please consider doing that.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Jesus, The Eternal Son

What do I think about Michael Bird’s book published by Eerdman’s? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

I should point out at the start that the copy I am reviewing is an unproofed and unedited review copy sent to me courtesy of Eerdman’s. I thank them for their generosity. This was done in advance so I could interview Dr. Bird as soon as possible on this book.

There are some ideas that are tossed around so often that most of us accept them without going back to check the evidence. Did Christopher Columbus believe that the Earth was round in contrast to people who thought it was flat? Obviously. Did the Spanish Inquisition kill millions of people? Definitely. Many of us heard these ideas growing up so much that it never occurred to us to question them.

It’s not just the man on the street that has this. Scholars can have this as well. There’s often no need to reinvent the wheel after all. There have been landmark works written to argue that the early Christology of Christianity was adoptionist in Jesus, that Jesus was chosen to be the Son of God at His baptism. So the scholars are referred to, it’s an idea set in stone, and we move on.

Fortunately, there are scholars like Michael Bird who think that even old ideas need to be examined and perhaps it could be that the emperor of adoptionism really has no clothes. Dr. Bird has made it his goal to show this in a book that is relatively short, but don’t let the size fool you. What is said in a smaller number of pages should have enormous impact.

Bird looks at the classic texts used and raises powerful questions about them. For the start, these includes Romans 1:3-4 and Acts 2:36. I know the latter is one I have also seen unitarians and Jehovah’s Witnesses use to argue their viewpoint. It looks sadly like many scholars have the same kind of misunderstanding that these people do.

From there, we go to the book of Mark. How does Mark present Jesus? If one looked at the baptism in isolation, perhaps one could get an adoptionist viewpoint, but then one needs to consider the introduction, the conclusion, everything in between, the Jewishness of the author, the culture it was written in, you know, the little things like that.

Bird takes a look at the way YHWH was seen in Israel along the lines of the creator/creature divide. Then the question has to be how does Jesus fit in. There’s much more than just the pre-existence of Jesus as Mark regularly shows Jesus in a unique position in relation to YHWH. One other such example is the forgiveness of sins in Mark 2. Bird realized that too often he was looking at that and thinking in a post-Christian sense where for instance, in many traditions, including Protestant, a priest can pronounce forgiveness. I attended a Lutheran church in Knoxville. The pronouncement of forgiveness was common.

This might be common for us, but it was not for Jews of the time. Jesus did something incredibly unique in that. Bird goes on to look at other instances like Jesus walking on the water and what the Olivet Discourse means for Jesus and the introduction of Mark. I could go on, but you get the idea.

He then looks at how adoptionism arose looking at key suspects in the second century like the Shepherd of Hermas and the Ebionites. He’s still not convinced either of these is the key. Somehow though, the belief obviously did arise.

Bird’s work is excellent and I must quote the very last paragraph in full.

A Christology that presents us with a mere man who bids us to earn our salvation is an impoverished alternative to the God of grace and mercy who took on our flesh and “became sin” so that we might become the “righteousness of God.” I prefer a Christology where the Son was crucified on the cross for us, was glorified in the resurrection for us, and was exalted to heaven for us—so that on the appointed day, we all would attain adoption as children of God and the redemption of our bodies in the new creation.

If I had one criticism, it would be this, and I do have an unedited and unproofed version so that could change, but I missed something in this book. Bird usually writes with a lot of his Australian humor thrown in that makes me laugh regularly and I was looking forward to more of that. I do hope a final release will have all of that. It’s become iconic for Bird’s writings and makes his much more of a joy to read than others.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

God As An Afterthought

Does God really play any role in our Christianity? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

I was thinking just now on what to blog on today when I was scrolling through Facebook and saw someone post something about how there is only one way to get to Heaven. I’m not about to deny that Jesus is the only way. I just want to ask, what is Jesus the only way to? Some of you are thinking the obvious answer is Heaven, but is that what Jesus Himself said?

If we go back to John 14:6, Jesus says “No man comes to the Father, but through me.” Jesus didn’t describe Himself as the way to Heaven, but as the way to the Father. You will find very little in the Bible about “Going to Heaven.” You will instead find plenty about resurrection and the Kingdom of God. Oddly enough, much of the focus in eschatology in the Bible is not on Heaven, but is on Earth.

The meek will inherit the Earth, until God just decides He wants to do away with the Earth. Let your will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven, until once again, the Earth is done away with. It will be even harder to come up with something for Revelation 21 where the city of Jerusalem comes down from Heaven to Earth. We have things exactly reversed! We think we go up from Earth to Heaven.

I cannot say for sure when this happened in church history. Perhaps someone who has studied all of church history better could give an answer to that. At this point, we can hear many an altar call where someone gives their lives to Jesus. Why? Because they want to go to Heaven someday. In this case, God is an afterthought. You believe in God not because He’s there and you trust Him not because of Jesus per se, but because you just want to go to Heaven when you die. God becomes many times a means to get to Heaven.

Think of how you would hear Heaven being described anyway. How often does it really include something about God? It could include something about Jesus, and don’t think I’m denying the Trinity or full deity of Christ or anything like that, but there is nothing really said about the Father. Jesus emphasized the way to the Father. We don’t do that.

Heaven is often just one example. God is often an afterthought in anything that we do. God is there to fill in the gaps when we have a need. There is a real problem with the God-of-the-Gaps argumentation. The problem is when you put God in a gap, what happens when that gap starts getting filled by something else?

What about suffering? In the past, the things that we consider hard suffering could often be commonplace to people. Diseases that are far and away from us were everyday realities to them. We cry when a small child dies, which we should, but for them, that was a real risk taken every time you had a child as the chances of a child dying were far greater.

It’s fascinating that the problem of evil is much more often a problem to people who are in well-off societies instead of people who actually have suffering around them all their lives. Many of these people are far more grateful and appreciative for what they have. We today have a lot in the West and we don’t really appreciate it. Many of them in these societies have very little and appreciate everything that they have.

Why is evil such a problem to us? Because we think if God was there, He wouldn’t allow XYZ to happen to us. Everyone seems to think that they’re special. (Isn’t it fascinating that the self-esteem movement produced a generation that has immense ideas of entitlement and yet low self-esteem?) When suffering comes in our lives, we don’t have a way to explain it because reality isn’t supposed to be like this. God isn’t doing His job, because, you know, His job is obviously to make sure life is good for us.

We talk very little about what we are supposed to do for God. That’s one reason we’ve probably lost so much the idea of the Kingdom of God. We don’t talk about the resurrection save as a means of showing that Christianity is true. What difference does it make? That’s a deeper question and one that the surface is hardly scratched on. (It’s also like how we stand up for the Trinity, but normally as a tool to answer Jehovah’s Witnesses on a point we don’t really understand the point of.)

Ultimately, this all leads into our once again “me-centered” Christianity. You should become a Christian not because it’s true that Jesus rose from the dead, but because you want to go to Heaven and/or you want God to do something special in your life. You can hear an altar call after a sermon where the resurrection of Jesus isn’t even mentioned. Sadly, many of these people who come forward will never be discipled. They will never be taught about the basics even of Christianity and what a shock when they apostasize and become angry atheists because Christianity failed them, a Christianity that they hardly understood to begin with. (Some of the most uninformed people you can meet on Christianity are apostates.)

What’s it going to take? Let’s start with the pastors. Give your congregation something more. If you think some people will walk away because they don’t like firm teaching, oh well. Better to have a few extremely dedicated than to have a multitude that is wishy-washy. Let your church know about the resurrection. Let them know the Christian life is a sacrifice. It’s not sunshine and rainbows. Jesus told us to take up our cross and follow Him. We are promised in fact suffering and trials and tribulations. Of course, give them the good news that God is with them in everything, but let it be known that not everything that happens is something that they will like.

To the layman, if your pastor won’t educate you, one thing you might want to consider is finding a new church. If you can’t find one in your area, then educate yourself. You’re not dependent on your pastor. Read blogs like this one and read good books and listen to good podcasts. (I do recommend mine, but I could be biased.) Study to show yourself approved. If you think Christianity is the most important thing in your life, live like it is. We often say Christianity is the most important reality in our lives, and then spend more time studying our favorite sports team than learning about Christianity.

To those of us out here in the field, we need to find a way to engage others around us. We need to engage unbelievers and give them a real challenge. Don’t give them the light Christianity, but give them the hard evidential Christianity and let them try to tell you why it’s not true. For our fellow believers, equip them. Train them. Teach them about the cross and the resurrection. Show them that they are supposed to be all about God and not the other way around.

I look forward to a day when I scroll my Facebook page and I find more about the resurrection and the Kingdom of God than I do about going to Heaven. It might be a long time coming, but it will be worth it. Are you and I going to do anything to change that?

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

 

Book Plunge: Resurrecting The Trinity

What do I think of M. James Sawyer’s book published by Weaver Book Company? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

The Trinity is something that many people do not really pay attention to in Christianity. Sawyer is certainly right that for many Christians today that if the Trinity was proven false, their church services and worship style would be little changed if any. We are often mere monotheists, confessing Trinitarians but practicing Arians.

Of course, we do lip service to the Trinity, but that’s where it usually ends. The only other time we open up the Trinity box is when Jehovah’s Witnesses come by so we can beat them up with it and win in a battle that we don’t often see the importance of and then the Trinity goes back on the shelf. Sawyer wants us to see the Trinity as a life-changing doctrine.

In our modern secular world, we can often view God through a scientific lens where He often plays no active role in our universe except for an occasional miracle. This is why deism is such a possibility for so many people. The universe can run on its own power with laws of nature being active. God is not really necessary. The universe is just a big machine.

Go back to the past and in fact to many other traditions today like the Orthodox church and the Trinity is a living reality to them. We can make many statements about God that would be easily agreed to by a Muslim or a Jew. To some extent, this is understandable. There is no philosophical argument that can prove the Trinity. If we have just reason alone, we can get so far, but the problem is we often act like reason alone has got us as far as we can go.

Instead, the Trinity is to show us what God is like mainly through Christ. Christ doesn’t appease an angry side of God. Christ shows us what the Father Himself is like. If we think the Father is eager to judge us, then we have to ask why Jesus doesn’t seem the same way. There is no dark side of God. What you see is what you get. When you look at Jesus, you see what God is like.

Sawyer also shows that we can have those false views of God such as the kind of name-it, claim-it God or the God who is eager to smite us all. To some extent, we all have these ideas of God at some time in our lives I suppose. It has been rightly said that whatever your idea of God is, it is inadequate. Still, we should strive for as truthful a view as possible.

Sawyer also says that this has often led to a certain moralizing in our walk. Holiness can become a burden when it needn’t be because we are trying to appease the angry God. There is no problem with being moral, but the issue is did Jesus really come to establish a new morality, or did He come to give us God? By all means, He showed us a better way, but did He not show God as well?

When we look at our theology, it is too easy to not have it really be informed by Jesus. The God of the philosophers is tempting to stick with, but the God revealed in Christ is a huge step forward. Too many of us are too tempted to stick with all the omni traits, which we should not deny, and just leave it at that instead of interacting with the whole theological picture.

There isn’t as much in defense of the Trinity here against objections, but that’s fine. There is some grounding of the idea and how it contrasts with Rabbinic thought and about what happened in the Arian controversy, but I think the whole of the work doesn’t seek to defend the Trinity as much as it seeks to show why the Trinity matters. This is indeed something that we need restored to the church today.

The only major area I think I’d disagree with is that Sawyer does seem to hold a higher view of The Shack than I would like. It’s quite interesting that one of the main reasons I didn’t like that book was because of the way it treated the Trinity. If you are like me, you can still get a lot out of this as it doesn’t play a major role in the book.

I hope a book like Sawyer’s is appreciated. The church needs to reclaim the revelation that has been given in Christ. Our doctrine has become largely about morality and such instead of really about a revelation of who God is so that He can often seem just as distant to us as He would have been before the revelation of Jesus. There is a better way.

In Christ,
Nick Peters