Book Plunge: Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, Second Edition

What do I think of Richard Bauckham’s book published by Eerdmans? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

I want to think Eerdmans and Bauckham himself for making sure I got a review copy of this book. The first edition was indeed a classic and something all interested in the reliability of the Gospels should read. The second one is no exception and expounds further than the last one did.

Something that is striking to me about this book as I read through it is how different the argument is from most works. Most works will start with dating the Gospels and then argue from there by pointing to events like archaeological findings. Bauckham doesn’t do that, well not in the exact sense. Archaeology I think is only mentioned once that I recall and this concerning the destruction of Jerusalem and Josephus. The closest you get to dating is by looking at the names that show up in the Gospels.

Why would anyone do that? Because when we look at the Gospels, we see the names used in them match the commonly used names at the time and the ones that are exceptions match that same ratio as well. This is not the kind of thing that a later writer would easily produce. We can tell the common names today because we have a whole catalog available to us of all the names being used. Back then, you couldn’t jump on Google and see what popular names were so a writer would not know about that.

Interestingly to me, much of the time Bauckham spends examining Mark and John. Not much is said about Luke or Matthew, though some is of course. I find this surprising since for many of us, the place we’d go to the most for eyewitness testimony is Luke. He specifically mentions eyewitness testimony and there’s much archaeological evidence for Luke and Acts.

Meanwhile, John is usually seen as highly unreliable. Bauckham argues that the Gospel is likely from the perspective of the beloved disciple. He doesn’t believe this to be John, the son of Zebedee, but he does say that this person was part of Jesus’s entourage and was an eyewitness of what he reported. If this is so, then scholars really need to rethink how they see John.

But isn’t eyewitness testimony unreliable? You can see stories about how people got facts wrong about 9/11 when interviewed later about it. How can this be? These people were eyewitnesses. Bauckham does make a case for eyewitness testimony being reliable in many many cases.

Still, as I thought about this, I thought that many of these “eyewitnesses” were really “TV witnesses.” If we really wanted eyewitness testimony about an event like 9/11, what would be best would be to interview people like survivors who worked in the building, people who lost loved ones on that day, and firefighters and police officers who went in and got people out. These are all people who had skin in the game.

This would be the closest parallel perhaps to Jesus. If you want to know who to talk to about the life of Jesus, talk to the people who were active participants in it and not just bystanders. Sure, bystanders can get some things right, but they won’t remember long-term details. A college student watching 9/11 on TV won’t know as much about it as someone who had a loved one in the towers wondering if they would get out.

Speaking of this, many people like Carrier and others often talk about how the Gospels didn’t cite their sources like other writers did. One thing to say about this is there weren’t exactly many written materials to cite. A second thing to say is that ancient writers didn’t use footnotes and endnotes like we do and did not cite all their sources. A third thing is that if Bauckham is right, they did. When they named someone in the Gospels who was not a famous figure, this was a method of citation. Names could drop out then because that person had died and was no longer available.

One example I can think of immediately with this is the resurrection of Jesus in John. In his Gospel, only Mary Magdalene is named, but in the story she uses the word “we” to describe going to the tomb. Could it be that there were other women there, but only Mary is named because only she was still alive?

One other point worth mentioning is that according to Bauckham, form criticism is dead. One can certainly hope so. We have learned so much since the time of Bultmann and others that we should discard an ideology if it is no longer being used. Unfortunately, we do live in the day and age of the internet where an idea being dead doesn’t mean it can’t be used. (Those of you who argue Jesus never existed and is a copy of pagan gods? I’m talking to you especially.)

This book is full of many in-depth arguments, many of which are too in-depth to go into here. Anyone wanting to discuss the reliability of the Gospels owes it to themselves to check out this work. Bauckham is no slouch in the field and his reputation should not be taken lightly. I hope this study will be the start of many many more such studies.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Seeing Through Christianity Part 8

Is there a problem with judgment? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

The next chapter of Zuersher’s book is about the judgment. Zuersher starts by saying that few people will make it into Heaven and more will go into Hell. For this, he cites Matthew 7:14 with the gate being small that leads to eternal life and only few will find it.

In the interest of fairness, it’s understandable that people go here, but I don’t think it makes the case. There are some going back, and I think this even includes B.B. Warfield, who contended that this was a response to Christ’s immediate teaching. Few of the Jewish people living in Israel would respond positively to the message.

He also goes to John 14:6 with Jesus saying no man comes to the Father but through me. Again, this is a true text, but I wonder about the interpretation. All that is said here is that in essence, Jesus is the doorkeeper. If we compared it to a bar, Jesus is the bouncer and no man gets in unless He gives the okay.

Does that mean that one has to explicitly know the name of Jesus to be saved? No. Consider if we went to the text that says whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. What that means is that if you call on the name of the Lord, that is sufficient for you to be saved. What it does not say is that only those who call on the name of the Lord will be saved. While I do hold that God could admit many who have never explicitly heard of Jesus in the pagan world today based on what they do with the light they have, we know of many people already saved who did not know the name of Jesus. They are Old Testament saints.

Zuersher says that even if we accept the existence of an afterlife, an eternity where few will be saved and most won’t be is unfair. I question that that is what will happen, but even if it was, what is unfair about it? Does God somehow owe certain people an eternal bliss? If so, on what basis?

Zuersher also says that if his argument is true, those who lived before Jesus and those who live in places where they cannot know of Him and places where other religions dominate are all automatically lost. The problem is as I have shown, one can hold to the truth of the text and still think Zuersher is wrong. Zuersher again shows the case of not doing any study to realize there are multiple viewpoints.

Zuersher also regularly acts like people who are consigned to Hell do so through on fault of their own. Why should anyone think this is true? Romans 1 and 2 both tell us that there is sufficient reason to know that God exists and to know right from wrong. Someone will be judged not because of what they didn’t know about Jesus, but because of what they didn’t do right in their lives. A Christian like myself just says God will give everyone what is right. God does not owe anyone anything, but He is also going to be just and righteous in His judgments even if I do not understand how that works out and no one will be able to say “It wasn’t fair.”

Zuersher replies to this point and says that it is actually reasonable. (Of course, it brings me great joy beyond expression to know that Zuersher thinks the argument is reasonable) What Zuersher wants to know is why can’t God judge everyone on this basis? If knowledge of Jesus is not needed, then Jesus died for nothing.

That last part doesn’t follow. Just because one might not need to explicitly know about Jesus doesn’t mean Jesus’s death did nothing. Jesus’s death is what made it possible for people to have their sins atoned for. Having someone make a huge donation to a college makes it possible for people who do not know the person to go to that college, but that going would not be possible had it not been for the donation.

I also don’t think Zuersher would really want the idea of judging everyone based on their actions. This is the case in much of Islam and it can lead to living in a state of fear. It’s also rather arbitrary. Suppose each good action had a point system and gave so many plus points and each evil one took away so many points. Would that not be a totally arbitrary system? Instead, God has the same standard for everyone, perfection, and yet has provided a way to meet that standard.

We conclude again that Zuersher doesn’t really know what he’s talking about. He has only taken a surface level look at the claims and not gone any deeper than that. Sadly, this seems to be common in many circles, both atheist and Christian, and it leads to people arguing cases they think they understand, but that they really don’t.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Seeing Through Christianity. Part 7

What does it mean to have faith? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

It’s been awhile since I’ve done Zuersher’s book, which is mainly because having to review stuff like this after awhile feels like pulling teeth, but I think we need to get into it again. Today, we’re going to be looking at one of the favorite topics. Faith. This is one new atheists and internet atheists always get wrong. It won’t be a shock that that happens again.

We’re not disappointed. Right at the start Hebrews 11:1 is quoted and then we’re told that this is a substitute for evidence and admittance to Heaven. This is interesting because first off, heaven isn’t even mentioned in Hebrews 11:1. One could say the rest of the chapter does speak about looking for a heavenly city and such, but the notion is not equivalent to our whole going to Heaven when you die idea. Second, I faith is not seen as opposed to evidence and this is something I have written more about elsewhere.

Zuersher says the definition above means accepting something as true despite their being insufficient grounds. Of course, Zuersher could have bothered doing some actual research on the topic, but alas, that is too difficult. It’s better to just place faith in the new atheist mantra.

For Zuersher, this means faith is arbitrary. A person can have faith in anything and no one person’s would be better than another’s. Of course, this only happens to work if the claim is true about what faith is. It is not. One wonders that if this was what faith is, why do we even have the New Testament at all?

When asked what determines faith, Zuersher points to where we’re born. There’s no doubt that if you’re born in Iran, you’re more likely to be a Muslim or if you’re born in India, you’re more likely to be a Hindu, but there are also noted exceptions. Many people do convert even at the threat of death. Do they do so with no reason whatsoever?

What about what we believe scientifically? If you are born in a third world jungle that is pre-scientific, you might think the sun goes around the Earth and that evolution is bogus. You’re much less likely to think that if you are born in America. If you are born in Alaska as an Eskimo, you’re much more likely to think that blubber of sea animals is part of a healthy diet. We could go on and on.

We have the quote of Tertullian on how it is to be believed because it is absurd, but it is bizarre to think that Tertullian was opposed to evidence. His claim was rather that this is believed because no one would make up something this ridiculous. It was a turnaround on Marcion thinking that the claim was ridiculous.

Zuersher also says that according to John, Jesus was with the disciples for three years and yet needed better evidence to believe in the resurrection and asks “Do we not deserve equally compelling evidence?” Well, no. Why should you? What is so special about Zuersher that he deserves a personal appearance from the Almighty? (One is sure he’d chalk it up as a hallucination anyway.) Zuersher instead discounts the account as hearsay, despite the claim being from an eyewitness in John 21, something Bauckham makes a compelling case for in Jesus and the Eyewitnesses. (Don’t expect Zuersher to go look for counter-evidence. It’ll challenge his faith too much.)

Zuersher also says faith is a problem because it elevates belief over conduct. As long as you believe, that’s all that matters. Has he never read the book of James?! Has he never read the condemnations of wicked practice in Paul, the one who would be seen as the great apostle of faith? In fact, Zuersher in this very section quotes James and yet ignores what he says about works and faith together. Zuersher paints apologists as saying that no one is good enough, which is true, but then that means that good and bad conduct don’t really matter. Where is the apologist that is arguing this please Zuersher? Please show him to me.

Zuersher then says that to turn belief into a salvific credential while denying a person’s conduct is morally repugnant. I agree. Would he please point me to the apologist who is saying otherwise? I know hundreds if not thousands of them. I don’t know a single one who would disagree.

Naturally, Zuersher does not understand Pascal’s Wager which he goes after. Pascal is not presenting this to the person as a reason to believe without evidence. He’s talking about the person who’s sitting on the fence and could go either way and just isn’t sure. Pascal says if you’re just not sure and think there’s evidence on both sides, go with Christianity! At least you have a gain there. We see he does not understand this because the wager does not tell you which god or goddess to believe in. It’s not supposed to. It’s for a specific kind of individual in a specific situation. I may not really agree with the wager, but I can easily wager that Zuersher has never read Pascal.

Sometime soon we will return to Zuersher. As one can see, it is difficult to read someone like this who actually thinks he’s informed enough to write a book on the topic.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Why Does God Allow Evil?

What do I think of Clay Jones’s book published by Harvest House Publishers? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

I want to thank Harvest House for sending me a copy of Clay Jones’s book. I consider him a friend and he has helped me through some personal issues of mine that I have struggled with before. I was thrilled to hear about this book and after reading it, I have to say I love it and I hate it.

This is a great book because it is a thorough look at the problem of evil. Many questions will be answered and questions one didn’t know were out there will be addressed. It is a challenge for anyone who wants to use the problem of evil as an argument against theism.

With that being said, why would I hate this book at the same time?

I hate it because this is more than a detached look at the problem of evil. This is an in-your-face look. It’s so much easier to talk about evil when it’s the people out there who are the problem. It’s easy to condemn genocide when you realize you’re not one of those people doing it. You’re a “good person” after all. It’s not so easy when you realize that many of these people we today call “good people” are people who are just as much capable of genocide. In fact, if we think we’re better than those who do commit genocide, we’ve taken the first step to being a person who will commit genocide.

Jones’s book shows that evil is not just a problem out there. Evil is a problem within. Regularly throughout the book, I would experience knowing that I contribute to the problem of evil and if I don’t in a major way, there’s not much that’s stopping me from doing so. It’s much better to talk about evil when it’s something out there, but Jones won’t leave it at that.

Jones also includes much about Heaven in this book, which is quite good. He also got me right here as I realized I don’t have the great desire for Heaven that I should. Part of this could be we just don’t know what Heaven is like. Jones says that the most common comparison between the eternal state and our world today is marriage.

This also I concur with. For a young man especially growing up, he finds that he knows two things normally about sex. First, he has never really had it before. Second, he knows that he wants it and that it’s very good. This is the same with heaven. In fact, the desire for both is enjoyable itself. Ask any husband who knows that tonight is the night. He has something to look forward to all day.

Fortunately, Jones does help someone change their outlook. He does say that if Heaven was the way the popular media depicts it, it would be understandable to not look forward to it. Heaven will not be an eternal church service nor will it be just sitting on a cloud playing a harp forever. Heaven is a place where we will be doing the work of God and some will be leading others and ruling cities. Yeah. Think about what it would be like if all of a sudden Seattle was placed under your control.

If there was something I would have liked explained more in the book, it’s natural evil. I really don’t think the fall is sufficient to explain it all. After all, if our scientific history is correct, there were earthquakes and such before the fall. There also is the case of animal predation. Why does a porcupine have quills except to defend it from predators? Dembski argues that God made the world knowing about the fall in advance, which is true, but also raises the question of what did happen there. I would have liked to have seen more from Jones on this front as natural evil is usually one of the biggest hurdles that is raised.

Jones’s book is not just good apologetics. It’s also good for Christian practice. Jones doesn’t just equip you with answers and understanding, but he also shows you where you need to develop and how the problem of evil really begins with you. He also reminds you to put your hope in the future promise of God.

I recommend Jones’s book, but be prepared when you read it. Be ready to take look at yourself. You might not like what you see. Again, evil seems easy to complain about when it comes to people outside of you. It’s not as pleasant when you realize you are part of the problem.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Deeper Waters Podcast 7/22/2017: Sam Andreades

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

Gender. What is it? Is it a social construct? Is it just this idea that culture has thrown onto us? Or could it be something that is an objective reality in each of us? Is there something really to being a man and something really to being a woman?

And what about our sexuality in response? Is homosexuality just another lifestyle, or does it point to a problem that a person has? If a homosexual man were to marry a woman, would he be living a lie? Does loving the homosexual mean that we don’t desire any change for them? Is that what acceptance is about?

I decided to bring on someone who really understands gender and sexuality. He also understands how this story plays out in the Bible. His book on the topic of gender and sexuality is one of the best I’ve read on the topic. His name is Sam Andreades and the book is Engendered.

So who is he?

According to his bio:

“Rev. Andreades is senior pastor of Faith Reformed Presbyterian Church in Quarryville, Pennsylvania, serving a congregation in what he affectionately calls The Shire. His previous pastoral work put gender issues front and center. He was pastor for ten and a half years of the Village Church in Greenwich Village, New York City, and is the founder of Higher Ground (originally called G.A.M.E. [Gender Affirming Ministry Endeavor]), a New York City ministry of Christian discipleship serving men and women with unwanted same-sex attraction. He went on to do a doctoral dissertation on emotional intimacy in Christian marriage in light of gender distinction, a qualitative study of men with a history of same-sex attraction and unions who are now in long time marriages to Christian women. He has counseled scores of engaged and married couples as well as church members in their relationships with one another.

Dr. Andreades draws on an extensive formal education in his teaching. He holds a B.S. in Geology & Geophysics with a minor in Biblical Studies from Yale University (1984), where he was awarded the Yale Geological Hammer Award for Thesis Research in sonic wave measurement through granite. He earned an M.Div. in Pastoral Ministry from Reformed Theological Seminary (2001), as well as an M.S. in Computer Science from New York University – Courant Institute (1997). Building on historical geography study at Jerusalem University College (2008, 2014) in Israel, he obtained a D.Min. in Urban Mission and Ministry at Covenant Theological Seminary (2013).  In 2015, he wrote a book, enGendered, to fill the need he saw to speak about gender as God’s gift. It is described on the “The Book” page of this website.  But most valuable is how he has brought this education to four decades of serious study of the Bible.

Sam grew up with three older sisters who have constantly challenged him in his understanding of what it means for him to be a boy. He has been married for twenty-six years to his wife, Mary K., whom he describes as the truest woman he knows, and without whom he says he could not do what he does. Together they have raised three sons and one daughter, and now have a daughter-in-law. Submission to the body of Christ has always been an important part of Sam’s Christian walk. As a member of a local church since becoming a Christian at seventeen years old, he has bonded to brothers and sisters in the family of God.

Being a Presbyterian pastor means ministering in relationship. It requires working closely with his session (the church’s board of elders), which affords Sam some of the most meaningful friendships of his life. Chairing the Shepherding Committee of his presbytery (a collective of local ministers and elders) in New York also afforded him important people-linking lessons. His favorite Bible verse is Luke 23:43, Jesus’ words to the thief on the cross. Sam hears through these words the Lord’s amazing forgiveness of Sam’s own sins.”

I hope you’ll be looking for the next episode of the Deeper Waters Podcast. I’m looking forward to this interview in getting to talk about marriage, gender, and sexuality. Please also consider leaving a positive review on the Deeper Waters Podcast.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Seeing Through Christianity Part 6

Is there a problem with revelation? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Christianity is a revealed faith in that some things we know only because God has revealed them to us. In this section, we’ll look at Bill Zuersher try to take on revelation in his train wreck Seeing Through Christianity. If you’ve been with us this far, you know to not expect much.

The first thing he says is one person’s revelation is just as valid as another’s. At any time a new revelation can show up that will overturn the others. It would have been nice of course to see some substance to this claim. All he says is determining the truth is undeniably a political process. Perhaps he should engage in political processes more often then. 1 Thess. 5 in fact tell us to test everything and hold to what is true and it is done in the context of speaking about prophecy.

Zuersher also asks why God would allow competing revelations. Once again, apparently Zuersher is too lazy to bother examining the claims and wants to blame his laziness on God and say “You should have clearly answered me.” Obviously, something like binge watching The Walking Dead is of more importance, or at least taking time to write a book without bothering to understand the substance of what one writes about.

His other solution is God should have made His revelation overwhelmingly true if He wanted people to come freely. Had Zuersher bothered to look at the evidence, maybe he would have found that. If someone will not look for truth, then they cannot expect to find it.

He also says God could have come up with a better technique than books. Apparently, we’re back to the idea of a fairy on one’s shoulder constantly telling them the truth. This would destroy any real seeking of the truth and have one become a Christian just because God is a belligerent nag. Zuersher apparently lives in a world where intellectual assent is the most important thing.

He also says the Bible hardly seems like a stellar book. He says it should be equally accessible to every culture. While I hold to understanding the original culture, without that understanding, one can still grasp the basic message of the Bible. He says the meaning should be unambiguous. Why? Who knows? He says it should remain unchanged over time. Perhaps some looking at textual criticism would have helped him out. As Bart Ehrman says (And no, it is not Barton Ehrman as Zuersher consistently says):

In spite of these remarkable [textual] differences, scholars are convinced that we can reconstruct the original words of the New Testament with reasonable (although probably not 100 percent) accuracy. Bart Ehrman, The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings 3rd ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003), 481.

He also says we would expect consistency. I would argue we do have consistency. The same story is told throughout the Bible of the Kingdom of God coming on Earth based on the ministry of Jesus. He also says it would possess the highest moral and scientific content. While I would say the Bible contains many moral teachings, it also does so starting out from a specific point. A book like Slaves, Women, Homosexuals would have helped Zuersher out. (Unfortunately, research is something he’s not interested in.)

As for scientific truth, why? Seriously. Why? Are we to think Scripture is concerned with turning us into scientists? Zuersher just takes what he thinks is the most important truth and makes it central.

Of course, his favorite way to demonstrate the latter is to point to the fact that the Bible says the Earth is 6,000 years old. Naturally, he will acknowledge there are Old-Earth creationists, but he won’t bother to look at their arguments. It all comes down to “You’re not taking the Bible literally.” It’s amusing to me where we have this idea that because the Bible is Scripture, it’s to be “literal.” What we most often mean is literalistic. No one does that. Like any other literature, the Bible contains metaphor, simile, allegory, hyperbole, satire, sarcasm, figures of speech, irony, etc. We can also be sure that Zuersher won’t bother with the fine work of John Walton on Genesis 1 nor consider scholarship on the genealogies from which he makes his case.

And of course, Zuersher still says the problem is the deity didn’t make Himself clear. I would have to ask again clear to who? There are many cultures and times that we know of. Somehow, something was supposed to be clear to every single person ever? This is quite a stretch.

Naturally, Zuersher has a whole problem with what he calls the supernatural realm. Readers of this blog know I don’t use that term. Zuersher says that if God wanted to make His presence known, He would be successful. He actually says “If such a deity wanted me to know something, I would know it. Period.”

Translation: Since I’m not bothering to do the research and study of a claim, I’m just going to blame my lack of belief on God.

How does Zuersher know this about God? How does he know that God’s great goal is to get people to give him intellectual assent? From whence does he get this knowledge?

As we can expect, Zuersher says that if there were sufficient evidence, we would not need faith. I have written on this in another post. Zuersher will go after faith in another chapter so we will save that for then. He also says the fact is that the God of the Bible does not make himself known to billions of sincere seekers.

I had no idea that atheists were mind readers. This is quite astounding. Somehow, Zuersher knows all these people out there are sincere seekers? People might think they are, but Zuersher is not. Zuersher is one that is demanding that God show Himself on Zuersher’s terms. A sincere seeker will move Heaven and Earth to find the truth and will be willing to sacrifice anything he holds dear for it. In fact, few of us who are Christians would qualify at this point as we all still have little idols in our own hearts.

Still, Zuersher uses this in the end to make his formal argument. If the Christian God existed, He would make Himself known to sincere seekers. He has not done this. Therefore, He does not exist. Doubtless, Zuersher will discount any who say they were sincere seekers and found Christianity to be true. Zuersher looks to be one who blames his own unbelief on anyone else he can, except the person he sees in the mirror.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Seeing Through Christianity Part 5.

Does Zuersher present a good argument against the Afterdeath? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

In the sixth chapter, Zuersher argues against the afterlife. I prefer to call it the afterdeath because after all, one is still alive in the “afterlife.” At any rate, let’s go and examine what he says to see if any of it is convincing.

At the start, he tells us that the true heart of Christianity, like most religions, is that humans are terrified of death. It would be nice to know how he backs this claim. Does he think some Jews who already had a religion were still terrified of death and decided to make a second one on top of that? These people didn’t live in fear of death if anything. We do. They saw death around them every day.

If Zuersher provides no data, then we have nothing to refute. In fact, we could just as well make our own baseless assertion. “The basis of atheism, as we all know, is to avoid having to serve a holy God.” Do I think that’s a ridiculous argument to use? Yes. This is the kind of argument Zuersher gives us.

He tells us that Christians hold to a two-part existence with the body and a magical soul thing. He also says only humans have this soul. I’m not sure where he gets that because many of us if not most of us with a dualist perspective hold that many of the higher animals that are relational to us have souls as well. Again, no one is cited on this whatsoever.

It also doesn’t work to just say something is magical. It’s like atheists live in this world so often where the word magic is magical and if you use it, you automatically refute the notion of whatever it is you’re talking about. Has Zuersher looked at the philosophical arguments of dualists? Has he examined the evidence of such events as near-death experiences?

He also holds to a rather literalist view of the resurrection saying that if an atom belonged to multiple people in a lifetime, who gets it in the end? This assumes that God has to use the exact same atoms. Why think that? This was something the early church wrestled with, but we don’t so much today. We just figure God is able to recreate the body.

He asks why not issue a new body? He tells us it is because of Jesus. Of course, our resurrection is to be like that of Jesus, but the new refers to quality. There is continuation, and I’d say the soul is the basis of this, but there are similarities as well. 2 Cor. talks about us being a new creation. The newness is in quality. We don’t become a Christian and then God literally kills us and makes us a new creation.

After this, Zuersher does attempt to argue against souls by pointing to consciousness. He says that the problem is that if you damage the brain, then the functions of the mind are damaged. It never occurs to him apparently that dualists do have their response to this. Mainly, it’s that the body is the instrument the soul works through and if the body is damaged, the instrumentality of it by the soul is as well. If a body loses two arms, the soul is not able to magically to reach out and grab something because the tools it would use don’t work as well. Similarly with the mind and the brain.

I leave much more of this to those who have studied in this area. Books like Machuga’s In Defense of the Soul or Habermas and Morleand’s Beyond Death (also called Immortality) are also recommended. As we can expect, Zuersher has just done armchair philosophy without really looking at the issues and yet still thinks he’s knowledgeable enough to write on them.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Seeing Through Christianity Part 4

What do we do with the atonement? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

As we continue through Zuersher’s work, we come to a chapter on atonement. Now I’ll state this upright. I have not spent much time looking at a lot of theories of the atonement. I have read Wright’s recent work on the cross. I think it’s an excellent work. Still, I cannot speak as an authority on the atonement, but that could be in some ways an advantage here.

You see, the reason I don’t see this as a defeater here is this is my situation. I have enough evidence to convince me that God exists. I have enough evidence to convince me of the full deity of Jesus. I have enough evidence to convince me that Jesus rose from the dead physically. I have enough evidence to convince me that Scripture is reliable. Does it make any sense to anyone to say “I’m not fully clear on how atonement works, so therefore I should doubt that Christianity is true.”?

Of course not. Any area of study will always have some unanswered questions. Consider for instance in science, when we see creatures that seem incredibly advanced. Does this mean every evolutionist will just throw in the towel and abandon the theory wholesale? Not at all, nor would I expect them to. One looks at the primary data they have for a position even if secondary details aren’t exactly clear.

Zuersher says first that there is disagreement means that this is being made up as we go along. He says that this means we do not have some privileged path to the divine. If by that He means that God is not obligated to answer all of our questions for us, that is entirely correct. If He means that we do not have the way to God in Christ, that would be wrong, but believing we do doesn’t mean we have perfect atonement knowledge.

The next part is one that Zuersher gets so close to the truth of matters, but then He rejects it for theological reasons. Zuersher says that satisfaction says that God’s honor must be restored, but if that’s true, then God has personality traits unworthy of a morally perfect being. It’s truly tragic how close Zuersher gets to good theology but then allows his cultural prejudices and lack of understanding of honor to get in the way.

To begin with, I don’t think it’s right to speak of God as a morally perfect being. A morally perfect being is one that does that which they ought to do always. God has no ought. He does not owe anyone anything. God is instead a good being. He is perfect and lacking nothing in Himself.

So how could God be lacking honor? It’s not a lack in Himself. It’s rather how God is perceived. There were two kinds of honor in the ancient world. One was one had based on who they were and their lineage and such. God’s honor is untouched here. The other is their reputation. How are they perceived in the eyes of others? Here, God’s reputation is tied to how He is seen in the eyes of humanity and how we treat Him. We can live lives that honor God or not. Zuersher rejects this without bothering to understand the culture or the theology.

Third, he says that God could just forgive. After all, we do it. Sure, but we are not the ones that are perfectly good and holy. If God just lets it go, He is saying that our well-being is of greater importance than His goodness. In other words, the good of man outranks the good of God. God is treating sin as no big deal, when every sin is really an act of divine treason.

He next says that if Jesus had a fully human nature, then what happened on the cross was murder since it was a human sacrifice. Well, he is right that it is murder. Jesus submitted to the ruling authorities. This is also not the same as suicide. The authorities did not realize what they were doing, but many holy men in Judaism dying would see themselves as dying for the sins of the people.

He also says that a willing death does not excuse the executioners. Of course not. Whoever said that it did? They were fully convinced they were doing right. My statement about this has been that either Jesus was the wickedest man who ever lived and the crucifixion was the most just and righteous act of all to stop Him, or He was the most righteous man who ever lived and the crucifixion was the most wicked act of all time.

He then goes into the claims of how Jesus was an invalid sacrifice. I recommend the works of Michael Brown here on answering Jewish objections to Jesus. Brown has looked at this a lot more than I have.

Next, he argues that this was not a real sacrifice since Jesus did not stay dead. One wonders how this is so. Once the offering is given to God, God can do with it what He wants. If He wants to resurrect Jesus, then He can resurrect Jesus. This would be God’s vindication on the life and claims of Jesus.

He also argues that the theory is immoral since it undermines individual responsibility by having someone accept Jesus’s sacrifice. On the contrary, it upholds it. When presented with the claims of Christ, one must accept their responsibility for the sins that got Him there.

Finally, Zuersher ends with saying that educated men and women hold to atonement thinking today should require no further comment. I instead think that someone can bother to write a book responding to a view without interacting with the best scholarship on it should require no further comment. Sadly, Zuersher does this consistently.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Leading Lawyers’ Case For The Resurrection

What do I think of Ross Clifford’s book published by 1517 Legacy? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Lawyers are people who specialize in evidence and making the best case they can. They’re meant to examine their side and the other side and be prepared for the best objections. They stake their reputation on presenting the best argument and being able to best their opponents with evidence and argumentation.

So what about a case like the resurrection? Could legal argumentation be used to back that case? Would any lawyer really take on the case that Jesus rose from the dead and argue in a court of law that that is what happened and expect that a rational jury would conclude that they were correct?

Apparently, Clifford has found seven who would. The eighth, Morrison, with his book Who Moved The Stone? is not a lawyer, but used many of the same techniques. He used them so well he is often thought of as being a lawyer. Clifford takes each of these lawyers on a cumulative case step by step to establish the verdict that Jesus rose from the dead.

Clifford is a lawyer as well and so he knows how to examine the case and see that there’s no funny business being pulled. He has brought together a quick resource that can be read easily and doesn’t use a lot of legal terminology that would confuse the layman. It’s also a short work. You can read it in a day or two, quite possibly a date if you really work at it.

He also has not found slouches in the field. All of the men here were recognized in their own time including if that time is our present. Clifford includes an introduction to their life and their legal practice. He then goes through each one and gives a brief summary of the case that they especially argued for.

Also useful will be the appendices in the back. One particular one involved a claim that is often heard today and that was dealing with the charge that the Gospels would be seen as hearsay evidence. Clifford shows that this is not the case and then points to a resource that can be used to show other cases that were solved on similar grounds. One difference he gives is that the cases that do not allow hearsay are more about a particular individual and not a particular truth claim. An individual would get to face his accuser in court after all.

Clifford’s book left me impressed with the legal case and thinking that legal apologetics is something I need to take a lot more seriously. If anything, I would have liked Clifford to have added in his own case. A brief chapter would be good on how Clifford would have gone forward in making a case that Jesus rose from the dead. Perhaps sometime in the future Clifford could write out a dialogue of sorts where he would describe a court case and the case for the resurrection being made to show how this would be done.

Those interested in defending the resurrection owe it to themselves to get this book. It is a good and small introduction and will point you to other leading lawyers who can make a case. The defense of Christ is helped by having the best from all fields after all.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Why God?

What do I think of Rodney Stark’s book published by Templeton Press? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Religion has been told it’s on its last legs. Atheists today are predicting its demise and many are getting set to celebrate a world without religion. Could it be that their cries of triumph are a bit early? Could it be that despite the best efforts of atheists, religion is not on its way out?

Rodney Stark has written this book recently to analyze religion, what it is, and why it is that it stays with us. The book is loaded with propositions and definitions put forward. It does not argue for the truth or falsity of any religious position whatsoever, including theism. It just tries to state the facts about religion, what it is, and why it seems to endure, and what difference it makes to its followers.

There is plenty of helpful information and food for thought in here. I think the first chapter is one of the best with defining what religion is and especially helpful is the differentiation between many religious practices and magic. Stark describes as well in the book how people approach God and the way that religious growth takes place in a society.

On the other hand, sometimes I thought things weren’t given the time they needed. 87 definitions can be understood, but in a book with 236 pages, 192 propositions about religion means that many of these propositions will not be given the attention that they deserve. Some of them will seem to be thrown out without as much backing as one would like.

I also wondered how much of this relies on modern sociology. We could look at how new religious movements start today, but would it have been the same in the past? Has Stark compared how a religion grows in an honor-shame context as opposed to our more Western guilt-innocence context? How would that affect religions like Christianity? How does it change the dynamics for Islam when one realizes that Islam spread by the sword?

What about people coming to a religion because they think that it is true? While Stark is not wanting to defend the truth of any one religion, it seems hard to avoid the notion that many people come to a religion not just for sociological reasons, but also because they think the religion is true. No doubt, many do join because their friends and family have joined the religion, but not all of them do. How do these people affect our study of religion?

There is also information about how for many young people, their friends today are not necessarily part of their same religious heritage. Perhaps what is needed the most for today is a study on religion in the age of the internet. How does something like Facebook affect the way that a religion is spread? Today, we can even hear people talking about the church of Facebook. Are internet debates changing the way we view religion?

Stark’s book is worth reading, but at the end, while I got some helpful definitions and such, I couldn’t help but think that I was given a quick tour. I would have liked to have seen the question of truth raised more often. That doesn’t mean I expect Stark to defend or attack any one religion, but deal with the idea please about people who come to a belief because they think it’s true. Still, those wanting to understand religion should try to understand this book.

In Christ,
Nick Peters