Book Plunge: Evidence Considered Chapter 19

Does Earth’s location show intelligent design? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

We’re returning to the work of Glenton Jelbert with Evidence Considered and today we’re going to be talking about Earth’s location. This is a response to Jay Richards and Guillerno Gonzalez. Now I don’t put much stock in intelligent design arguments and I don’t use scientific arguments, but let’s see what can be found in the response.

The ID argument is that we are in a place that is fine-tuned not just for life, but for observing the universe. They could be right about that. Jelbert’s work is to show either that we are not or that this doesn’t entail any kind of theism. Does he have any other problems though independent of the argument?

To begin with, Jelbert says perhaps there are other beings out there or even hypothetical beings who could have better ways of observing the universe than we do due to having certain problems with their atmosphere. This is a possibility, but just saying it’s possible doesn’t really do much to show that Richards and Gonzalez do have a point that with the lifeforms that we do know about, that we are in a good place that does seem to be fit for discovery.

They also tell us that humans understood the world empirically because God made it easy for us to do so, but Jelbert says that wasn’t shown in any of His books or prophets apparently. I find this statement puzzling. No one in the time of the Bible was doubting that God existed. Everyone knew there were deities of some sort. The questions were who are these deities? What do they do? How do they affect the world? How are humans to interact with them?

To say that the Bible doesn’t tell us how to explore the world is like complaining about the writings of Stephen Hawking because they don’t tell us how to perform open heart surgery on the sick. Before we even get there, Jelbert says that empiricists have fought superstition and religious folly throughout the ages, sometimes at the cost of their lives. It would be nice to know who these martyrs for empiricism were.

It should also be pointed out that the Catholic Church has been heavily influenced by Aquinas and Aquinas was an empiricist. The medieval church was happily doing science for centuries before Galileo and Copernicus ever came along. One could point to Bruno, but Bruno was not executed for doing science, but for a number of heretical views he held otherwise. That doesn’t justify his death, but let’s make sure we don’t make him a martyr for science. He wasn’t.

Jelbert also asks if we are in a place for discovery, why is there no evidence for God? Unfortunately, this is only convincing if you think there is no evidence. For people who think there is plenty of evidence and Jelbert’s arguments don’t cut it, then this won’t work. Furthermore, if the argument that is being made works, that could count as evidence.

We should also point out it’s quite ridiculous to say no evidence anyway. Evidence can exist for a position even if that position is false. Theism is not false, but someone can give reasons for them that count as evidence.  One can use evil as evidence for atheism. I think atheism is false, but that does not mean there is no evidence.

Jelbert also says the reasoning to a greater intelligence is invalid because all intelligence we have witnessed is attached to a physical brain. I find this interesting because at the start, Jelbert pointed to beings he has no evidence exist to show that maybe they could make different discoveries due to a make-up we don’t understand and they’re not like us. Now he is arguing that all intelligence must be such and such a way because of, well, us.

Also, NDEs I think have shown a form of intelligence outside the material body. If this is so, then that means that the brain is not necessary for intelligence. Jelbert has just given us a brand of inductive reasoning that doesn’t work. It’s like the case of finding the first black swans. One could have thought all swans were white, but that got disproven. Jelbert can think all intelligence has to be connected to a physical brain, but it can’t be demonstrated and if he says there could be other beings at the start of a certain nature that is unknown, he should be open here.

Finally, Jelbert says at the end that even if we got a deity, we don’t know if it’s the one of Christianity or perhaps Odin. Sure. But you know what we do have? We have a deity. If we have that, then atheism is false. Atheists always like to argue against an argument for the existence of God saying it doesn’t show which God. Why should anyone think this is convincing? It’s like saying that the victim wasn’t murdered isn’t convincing until you can show who did it or how or why or anything like that. If we know someone was murdered, then that is enough.

We’ll see what happens when we return.

Book Plunge: Why Christianity Is Not True: Chapter 1

What do I think of David Pye’s self-published book? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Justin Brierley asked around recently to see if anyone would be interested in engaging with a skeptic who wrote a book called Why Christianity Is Not True. If you know me from my work on here, you know I jump at the chance to read something like this. I got in touch with David Pye who was glad to share his work with me. It is free for all to read and can be found here.

Pye is in the U.K. so people here are probably not as familiar with Nicky Gumbel. In the U.K., he runs a course called Alpha. This is a sort of introductory course for new Christians to Christianity and for those willing to explore it. I do not know much beyond that.

One problem I have with this first chapter is so much is said as if Pye wants to do everything he can to avoid offending someone. That could be noble at times, but here, it just got tiresome. I kept wanting us to skip ahead to the meat of the discussion.

So let’s go through and look at some highlights.

“At the mention of the word ‘evidence’ the reader might want to say “But surely religious belief isn’t based on evidence – it’s all about faith isn’t it?” ” I can sincerely hope that this book will not go down that route of the same modern misconception of what faith is. I want to hope it, but I have seen it happen so many times I am quite certain I will be wrong. We will see when we get to that chapter.

Pye also does say that even religious experience counts as evidence. I agree, though it is not a piece that I normally use. He does also have some brief statements about the Inquisition and the pedophile priest scandal. On the Inquisition, I look forward to seeing if there are any references as sources that talk about hundreds of thousands of people dying in history during the time are simply false.

From here, we also get a bit on the question of if we should be asking if Christianity works. I agree with Pye that this is not the key question. I am not even sure by what we would mean by saying Chrisitanity works. Is Christianity supposed to always make you happy or something like that?

Pye also says he is using Christian as a noun. He lists the following beliefs a Christian will have.

There is one God – eternal, all-loving, all-powerful and all-knowing.
 God’s nature is triune. This is sometimes expressed as The doctrine of the Trinity or
“three persons in one God”. These are the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
 There exists a spirit world – angels and demons – that was created by God. This
includes the devil (also known as Satan or Lucifer).
 The universe was created by God.
 Mankind is sinful and sin deserves punishment.
 The man Jesus, in his life on earth some 2000 years ago, was God manifest in the
flesh – fully God and fully man.
 Jesus was born of a virgin, Mary, and was the Messiah.
 Jesus was crucified to death but was resurrected “on the third day”.
 As a result of Jesus’ resurrection, sin and death have been defeated.
 Although there is some controversy amongst Christians about the nature of salvation,
most Christians would say that salvation is a gift offered by God that an individual
can receive – or reject.
 When a person becomes a Christian he/she has therefore been saved by Jesus.
 As a Christian a person is a new creation, filled with the Holy Spirit and expressing
God’s love in and to the world.
 Jesus shall return to earth – this is known as The Second Coming.
 There shall be a final judgement of all people.
 People who are saved are destined for eternity in heaven.
 Those who are not saved are not destined for heaven – and, according to many
Christians, are destined for hell.
 The Bible is the authoritative word of God.
 On occasions God intervenes in the natural world through miracles – including
miracles of healing – often in response to prayers by Christians.

Some minor points here, I would disagree with. I think we can make an emphasis that Christianity is all about heaven instead of the resurrection, and I would prefer to speak of the return of Christ instead of the second coming. I prefer to call the Bible, Scripture, instead of saying the Word of God since I tend to reserve that for Jesus. Still, this is a good list.

I also agree with Pye about possible problems with the idea of Christianity being described as a relationship with Jesus Christ. This is language I do not use. I also agree with him that Christianity is not just about what happens after one dies, but how one lives their life here and now and what God is doing here and now.

Pye also says that he is writing to just show Christianity is false. He is not writing to show any other position is true. This is fair enough and I have no problem with it.

However, we have a huge problem when we get to a point where he says, “I have no expertise in either history or mythology and therefore make no attempt to evaluate whether the Resurrection of Jesus is a historical event.” If the resurrection is the defining event in history that shows Christianity is true, then one cannot really show it is not true without dealing with this topic. I do not know how Pye thinks he will be able to demonstrate that Christianity is not true without giving a better explanation for the rise of the early church than the one that rests in the resurrection of Jesus being true.

I also agree with Pye that truth must be our goal. I do not hold to any relativism in truth such as if you feel it, it must be true, or to any idea of true for you but not for me. As a Christian, I am making a claim about the way reality is. I fully accept that.

I also think Pye has made a wise stance saying we are not concerned with proof but with evidence. Very few claims can be proven 100% true with absolute certainty. What we have to ask is where does the preponderance of evidence lead us.

Pye also has a listing of what the chapters will cover. The seventh is on the existence of God. Pye says we can wonder why that topic comes so late. He doe say theism does not prove Christianity. I agree. Theism is necessary, but it is not sufficient.

Finally, he gives a little bit about himself. Pye says he came to be a Christian at 23 and abandoned it three and a half years later. Reasons are not given yet for his abandonment or even his coming to Christianity. There is also some disappointment in that he says that he will cite Wikipedia articles. At least he tells when they were referenced, but readers know my stance on Wikipedia and it being a horrible source for any claim remotely controversial.

When we return to this book, we will be looking at the chapter on miraculous healing.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

Book Plunge: The Lost World of the Flood

What do I think of this book by John Walton and Tremper Longman published by IVP? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

I always get excited when I see that a new Lost World book has come out. Walton’s books are always very enlightening and this time, he’s teamed up with another great Old Testament scholar, Tremper Longman. They are discussing the great flood of Noah in this one and what the text says about it.

The first proposition put forward is the most important one in my opinion. This is that Genesis is an ancient document. Sounds obvious. Right? We all know it, but few of us seem to remember it. We read the text thinking it was written to people like us with a culture like us. That explains our tendency to read science into the text.

They also make the point that it’s not God’s purpose to teach us science in the Bible. We get a message about God’s work in the world. We do not get a message about how the world works. The message transcends any false beliefs that the ancient culture would have, such as the sky being solid and there being a body of water above.

This does not affect inerrancy. Inerrancy is about what the text affirms. The text speaks about thinking with our entrails, but that is not the teaching of the Bible. We do not go there to learn how our bodies work in thinking. We can learn some things about what to think and how to think, but not a scientific assessment of thinking.

The writers also do believe that there is a real event in the past being described. We often make a distinction between the metaphysical and the empirical. They can be different, but for the ancients, the interpretation of the event was much more important than the event itself. For the pagans, that would be their gods were showing their will through the events. For Israel, it was YHWH.

It’s also important to note that with the Genesis flood, we have a divine interpretation of the event right there. We do not have this with events today. Sorry, but we cannot speak with divine authority on why it is that a hurricane or a tsunami happened.

The writers also stress that hyperbole was a part of ancient writing. This goes on in the flood. It is no doubt that the flood is being described in terms that seem global. That does not mean that the flood itself was global. The ark itself is a huge wooden boat even by today’s standards. One can look at Ken Ham’s ark and think it’s possible, but keep in mind that was built using all manner of modern technology. Noah did not have that.

The writers also have a section on other flood accounts in ancient literature. They are there and while there are similarities, there are also vast differences. The biggest are not in the historical details, but in the theological interpretations of the events. These are the most important ones and yet, they’re usually left out.

The next section deals with the flood itself and in the context of the narrative. They show the connection it has to the sons of God passage in Genesis 6 and to the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11. All of these reflect on the role of order and the importance of the covenant.

The final section relates to how to approach issues of our day with the text. There is a section by another author who argues about the lack of evidence of a worldwide flood. As with many scientific issues, I thought it was fascinating and yet I found it very hard to understand. There’s also questions about how science and Christianity work together today. I agree with the authors definitely that we need never fear science. If it shows an interpretation of Scripture is likely false with good data, then we should really consider it. They rightly cite this informed opinion.

Often, a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other parts of the world, about the motions and orbits of the stars and even their sizes and distances, … and this knowledge he holds with certainty from reason and experience. It is thus offensive and disgraceful for an unbeliever to hear a Christian talk nonsense about such things, claiming that what he is saying is based in Scripture. We should do all we can to avoid such an embarrassing situation, which people see as ignorance in the Christian and laugh to scorn.

The shame is not so much that an ignorant person is laughed at, but rather that people outside the faith believe that we hold such opinions, and thus our teachings are rejected as ignorant and unlearned. If they find a Christian mistaken in a subject that they know well and hear him maintaining his foolish opinions as based on our teachings, how are they going to believe these teachings in matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven, when they think these teachings are filled with fallacies about facts which they have learnt from experience and reason.

Reckless and presumptuous expounders of Scripture bring about much harm when they are caught in their mischievous false opinions by those not bound by our sacred texts. And even more so when they then try to defend their rash and obviously untrue statements by quoting a shower of words from Scripture and even recite from memory passages which they think will support their case ‘without understanding either what they are saying or what they assert with such assurance.

Reading that, you could think it was written today. It wasn’t. It was written over 1,500 years ago by Saint Augustine. You can read it in his book The Literal Meaning of Genesis. If we believe God offered both the book of nature and the book of Scripture, we need have no fear of any scientific endeavor.

Differences of opinion I have with the authors are on minute points of interpretation of passages and not on major issues. Like all other Lost World books, this one is incredibly eye-opening and enlightening. I highly recommend it and I look forward to the next one.

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

 

Book Plunge: The Bible Doesn’t Say That!

What do I think of Joel Hoffman’s book published by Thomas Dunne? Let’s Plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out!

Someone sent me an email about this book wanting me to look through it and shred it. I ordered it at the library and went through and really, there is some stuff in here that is pretty good. The author is right that the Bible does not condone slavery for instance, which is a breath of fresh air to hear since so many people get that one wrong. Some passages are quite interesting and there is much to learn from this.

One obvious downside from the book unfortunately is the lack of notes. There are none whatsoever. Other scholars are not referenced. There is no way of knowing where exactly Dr. Hoffman gets his information from. Sure, he holds a Ph.D., but that doesn’t stand alone. One is not infallible for having one.

So if there were any sections I would want to comment on, most notably would be the one on the Bible and homosexuality. Does the Bible say homosexual practice is a sin? According to Hoffman, no. One wishes we could have moved past the arguments by now such as mixed fabrics and such. Hoffman realizes the passages in Leviticus are sandwiched between bestiality and incest, but that doesn’t seem to matter.

Hoffman also looks at Romans 1 and says Paul doesn’t say the behavior that the people were doing was wrong. It was just the result of what happened. God punished people with unnatural sex, but we don’t know what the term unnatural actually means.

In reality, we do. Paul uses language from Genesis 1 quite regularly such as speaking of the creator and using terms male and female. This is all a way of saying Paul has Genesis 1 in mind without explicitly saying such. Paul says that from what is seen, everyone knows that there is a God. It is a denial of the vertical reality to instead worship idols and the creation. The best example of a denial of reality on the horizontal level Paul can come up with is homosexual behavior. Male and female go together and belong together.

Nowhere in this does Hoffman interact with Matthew 19 and Jesus talking about marriage Himself. Note that Jesus does not just go to Genesis 2:24, but He also goes to Genesis 1:26-27 where it talks about mankind being created male and female. That is the foundation.

Hoffman does say elsewhere in the book that the Bible never condemns polygamy. Explicitly, this is so, but it warns of the danger of it and when polygamy takes place, it leads to problems. Polygamy was a borderline practice that was allowed for the time being, but did not represent the ideal. Genesis 1 and 2 have the ideal. One man and one woman for life.

Hoffman then says we should consider that there are people who could only find companionship with the same sex and they didn’t know about homosexuality like we do today. I highly question both. The latter is quite simple. They knew about homosexual behavior. Just read the Symposium and see that some people are paired up with the same sex. This isn’t new.

For the former, we have this strange idea that the only way you can find love is through sex. Yet even between men and women, this is not so. I love my mother, my sister, my aunt, and my mother-in-law. There is no thought of sex there at all. I share a special love with my wife and that is the relationship that my sexual thought is supposed to go to.

The idea is that to have true companionship, one must have sex, and this is false. Who is the homosexual supposed to love? The same person as everyone else. His neighbor. That does not have to be sexualized. There are plenty of people who live fine and happy lives without having sex. Those of us who are married should realize the Bible’s prescription that we do have regular sex, but those who are not if they are submitting to Christ will accept a lifestyle of celibacy until they get married.

I also want to look at abortion. The passage used is Exodus 21. Nowhere does he go to Psalm 139. Nowhere does he go to Jeremiah 1:5. Nowhere does he go to Luke 1 with John the Baptist leaping in the womb.

Even still at Exodus 21, the passage doesn’t work. The man is not trying to kill the child. He is doing something on accident and the death penalty is not there for accidental death. Even in the cases of it happening, the man could always go to a city of refuge and stay there.

Hoffman also concludes the whole book saying there are no miracles in the Bible. Miracles are extra-scientific after all. It is true that they have wonders, but Hoffman describes wonders as freedom from slavery or a sense of the divine or beauty or family or anything like that. These are wondrous things, but not acts of God directly every time.

It also doesn’t mean we have to give up miracles as they are understood. We can have both. Can I not appreciate the former things while still holding that God acts in the world? I see no reason I cannot.

Hoffman’s book again is a hit and a miss. Some things are good, but some things are not. A reader could gain some wheat and let the chaff go its own way.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

 

Book Plunge: Evidence Considered Chapter 17

Does atheism have a case with evolutionary computation? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

We’re continuing our look today at the work of Glenton Jelbert. We’re still on the science section which many of you know is not my forte. On this chapter, I cannot comment much because I do not claim to understand the science. What I will comment on is a couple of claims that Jelbert makes that I think can be worth discussing.

Jelbert does rightly say that a goal is central to biological evolution. The goal in biological evolution is the passing along of genes with the end result being reproduction, survival, and food. Jelbert in the chapter says he puts the word goal in quotation marks because goal implies an intent.

The fascinating thing about this is that this is something that fits exactly in line with classical theism. When classical theists talk about teleology, they do not mean intelligent design. Instead, what they mean is that things do indeed act towards an end. This does not mean rational things or divine things. It means anything that is created acts toward an end.

Edward Feser gives a summation of what this means here. Too many atheists will be too quick to jump on their own assumptions. Feser tells us we have to drop everything we’ve heard from the modern ID movement and just look at the argument of Aquinas for what it means to him, not understood in light of modern ideas of teleology. I leave it to the reader to go through Feser’s article as he explains it much better than I can and those intrigued can get his books.

What this means then is that if we have a goal in evolution, then we have a basis for the existence of God. This does not mean that evolution is some entity that has this intent in mind. It just means that if creatures tend to, all things being equal, act toward a certain end, then there is a reasonable case for theism.

At the end of the chapter then, we get to another claim of Jelbert’s that bears relation to this. Jelbert is right that the removal of biological evolution would not require the acceptance of a creator. I agree. One could be an atheist even before Darwin. On the other hand, the acceptance of biological evolution does not require the negation of a creator. (If this is so, and I am sure it is, it makes me wonder why we’re arguing this so much.)

Yet Jelbert says something problematic when he says that Robert J. Marks II, his opponent in this chapter, has not connected a creator to any specific claims theists make, then he has not established theism. At this, he is definitely wrong. Suppose we could take the classical arguments like Aristotle did and establish there is some sort of deity, which is what Aristotle did. Even if we don’t know the nature of this deity in connection to an established world religion, we still have a deity. It seems to be a bizarre universe in which we can say a deity exists and atheism is true. Establishing theism does not mean establishing an Abrahamic religion. It means establishing theism. Establishing theism is necessary to showing an Abrahamic religion is true, but it’s not sufficient. Still, it is sufficient in itself to refute atheism.

We’ll deal with chapter 19 when we return.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

Deeper Waters Podcast 3/24/2018: Edward Wright

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

The Gospels are the greatest source we have on the life and teachings of Jesus. These four books have changed the world since the time they have been written and they have been tremendously debated. Christians and non-Christians for a long time have not known exactly how to classify them.

For the most part, the verdict is in. The Gospels are Greco-Roman Biographies. We owe a great deal to Richard Burridge for his excellent work in this area. It would be nice to say that answers a lot of questions. As a fan of the show Monk I can’t help but think of when the captain met Adrian’s brother and said it was nice to meet him and “It answers a whole lot of questions. Raises about a 100 more.”

So we do have a lot of questions now about the Gospels and what it means for them to be Greco-Roman biographies. How does this impact our study of the Gospels as Christians? What does it mean to have the Gospels be of the same style of literature as the pagan writers of the day? Does this do any damage to the doctrine of inerrancy?

Fortunately, a volume has been presented looking at many of these questions. Dr. Keener is one of the main editors of this volume, which alone is enough to tell you it’s excellent, but we are having the other editor on our show today. He will be telling us about the research behind the book and what we can get from it. His name is Edward T. Wright.

So who is he?

According to his bio:

I grew up in Austin, TX and attended Baylor University for my undergraduate work. I majored in Business Administration w/ a specialization in Management. I worked in the private sector for a few years in the steel industry before deciding to attend seminary. I did my M-Div at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. Upon completion of that I was accepted into Asbury where I am currently a candidate in the dissertation phase of the PhD in Biblical Studies w/ a specialization in New Testament. I am studying/working under Dr. Craig Keener as his TA/mentoree. My dissertation is on the historical reliability of ancient biographies and I hope to complete this work by the fall of this year.

We’ll be talking about the Gospels as Greco-Roman biographies. Does this change the way that Christians approach the text? How should we study them? Does it really make a difference to say that the Gospels fall into this genre and why should anyone really think they’re in this genre beyond “scholars think so” to begin with?

I hope you’ll be watching for this episode of the Deeper Waters Podcast. The nature of the Gospels is an important one for study. Also, if you have not done so, I urge you to please go on iTunes and leave a positive review of the Deeper Waters Podcast. I look forward to your feedback!

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Origins, The Ancient Impact And Modern Implications of Genesis 1-11

What do I think of Douglas Jacoby and Paul Copan’s book published by Morgan James Faith? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

If the writer of Ecclesiastes had said that of writing books about Genesis there is no end, he would have been quite right. It looks like often in discussions of the Bible, the two most debated books are Genesis and Revelation. Now another book has been added to the Genesis column.

I want to thank Douglas Jacoby for sending me a review copy of the book. I went through it in about a week’s time or so I’d say. The opening sections are incredibly helpful with discussing how to read the book and discovering what it would mean for the ancient audience. This is something that’s too often forgotten as we look at these kinds of topics. We are so stuck on our Western perspectives. Revelation we read literally because, well, that’s how you’re supposed to read the Bible isn’t it? Genesis we do the same except we read it scientifically literally, as if the ancient writer and audience really had questions of science in mind.

The writers also introduce the readers to pagan thought of the time and other epics about creation and the flood that were around. When you read this book, you will not only get an education in the Bible. You will also get an education in the pagan systems of the time and how they thought.

In some ways, the work reads as a commentary. In others, it doesn’t. This is a work more interested in answering questions from an apologetics perspective. That isn’t to say that other issues don’t come up, but Copan and Jacoby want us to try to understand how we can communicate the message of Genesis to our audiences today.

The writers also do right what they should do and that’s to rely on great scholars in the field. There are a plethora of endnotes and there is a bibliography section with recommended literature. Those who want to know more will have no lack of places to go to find more information.

The writers also tend to stay out of many of the controversies we have today, such as the age of the Earth, evolution, and the range of the flood, although sometimes endnotes do give their positions. Those aren’t the messages they want to have emphasized. Instead, it’s much more focused on what the ancients would have thought about the text as they read it.

The authors also do present interesting theories on many of the questions we have. You can even find arguments about the genealogies. Why is it that there were such long life spans in the book of Genesis? I’m still thinking about their interpretation of that which is worth looking into. Basically, their view is that the base root is 6 and the numbers should be seen differently. There’s a lot more involved and it’s best explained by getting the book.

What I like best is that the sections end by having a look at what has been established, then a look at how it relates to the New Testament, and then application is last of all. What a wonderful method this would be for pastors to take! Don’t take a text and jump straight to application! Instead, take the text and tell us what it meant to them, how it relates to the Bible as a whole, what it means to us, and then give the application!

Jacoby and Copan have given us a fine work to contribute to our study of origins. It is a work that is very reader friendly and the chapters are short enough that they would be appropriate for small group discussion. I recommend getting this one if you care about debates about Genesis.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Finding The Will Of God, A Pagan Notion?

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

I’ve long been questionable of the idea we have today of finding the will of God. I largely consider it part of the me-centered idea of Christianity. In seminary, I remember my roommate and I hearing some missionaries talk about going overseas and having people ask them questions after their lessons along the lines of “How can I hear the voice of God?” No one ever seems to question if this is a normative practice or not.

I was curious to see what Bruce Waltke would have to say about these ideas and especially any ways the pagans tried to do such things. While Waltke does have some good points in his book, it sometimes looked like the idea of a pagan notion was an add-on to get readers. There is a little book about the things pagans did to find the will of the gods, but most of the material is how Christians should make wise decisions.

There is nothing wrong with this, but I would like to have seen more. Still, Waltke does go to the right places. He takes us to Scripture and points out that we need to apply wisdom to our decisions. I find it amazing that so many people think God would give us a timeless book such as Proverbs to encourage us to make wise decisions, but then He would turn around and say, “But hey, forget all of that in the new covenant. I am going to make your decisions for you.”

Waltke is also right that too many Christians have a notion of God hiding something from them and they have to work to discover it. The very premise behind this is that God has an individual will for the life of each and every Christian. Then after that is that this will is something that we are supposed to find out. Then after that comes that if we use certain techniques we will find out what that will is. All of this is highly questionable.

I would have liked to have seen something more also on our emphasis on feelings today as determining the will of God. I recall several church services that had pastors telling me to give as a I felt led when the offering plate went around. Nothing from 2 Corinthians 8-9 is ever said about how God loves a cheerful giver. If anything, many times when the plate is passed around, many of us don’t feel like giving anything. Maybe that’s why so many people don’t and think that they can in the end justify their bad decision by doing what I call “Punting to the Holy Spirit.”

If you’ve never read something like this, Waltke’s book is good, but I think honestly a far greater treatment can be found in a work such as Decision Making and the Will of God. I do still think that this is an area Christians need to really discuss. The modern paradigm seriously needs to be called into question.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Zealot

What do I think of Reza Aslan’s book published by Random House? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

My wife is an anime fan and when we go to the mall, she always wants to stop at the anime store there and see what they have. During a recent visit there, we somehow got started talking with the guy working there and the topic of religion came up. He asked me if I had read Reza Aslan’s Zealot and if so, what were my thoughts on it. I told him that what I had heard wasn’t good, but I would be willing to read it myself.

So I went to the library web site and ordered it. Aslan’s book has a generally good enough writing style to it. A difficulty is all the referencing is in notes in the back instead of properly footnoting or even endnoting what is found. I do want to make some statements about some matters early on in the book.

Aslan starts with his personal testimony (It’s like some people never get the fundamentalism knocked out of them!) and how he became a Christian before abandoning it. On xix he says “The bedrock of evangelical Christianity, at least as it was taught to me, is the unconditional belief that every word of the Bible is God breathed and true, literal, and inerrant.”

I wish I knew who it was who was teaching this stuff to him. The bedrock of evangelical Christianity should be the death, burial, and resurrection of the God-man, the Messiah Jesus Christ. Unfortunately, too many evangelicals do place a premium on Inerrancy and too many do so on literalism as well. This is largely an American phenomenon as well.

He also says on the next page that if you have a well-attested, researched, and authoritative argument for a position, someone on the other side has one just as well done critiquing yours. Of course, people on all sides do research well, but this would end up in an epistemological relativism if it was really believed. If this is the case, why should I believe Aslan instead of his opponent?

But I need to get into the meat of the work. For a surprise, much of it was well-researched, although there are a few blunders and such. It’s certainly not on the level of the zaniness of Jesus mythicism. I went through for awhile wondering what all the fuss is about.

Aslan is certainly off on Jesus being a zealot since that movement as he recognizes did not come till later. If all he meant was that Jesus was zealous for God, then He certainly was a zealot and may all Christians be. Unfortunately, Aslan takes one side of God, the side of the Conquest specifically, and then says this is the God Jesus worshipped, completely ignoring other passages in the Old Testament on love and grace.

Aslan’s book as I said starts off fine enough, but the further you go, the more strange it becomes. Aslan never offers an explanation for the rise of the Christian church or tries to explain the resurrection. In many cases, he acts like a naturalist in explaining the text, especially when it comes to miracles. Somehow people have this idea that reasonable people can’t believe in miracles. It is a wonder why this is. They do not contradict science or logic. They actually presuppose both as you must have a working order to recognize the exception.

The main stuff I want to hit on is really in the center of the book. Aslan writes about the Kingdom of God and how it was revolutionary. Indeed it was, but it was not a kingdom that would come by the will of men or by political might. As an orthodox Preterist, I believe the Kingdom of God has been established. Jesus did it by His death and resurrection. I am writing this right now in a location thousands of miles from where Jesus lived and in another language and 2,000 years later. I’d say his message spread well as did His kingdom.

Aslan does not see this as eschatology seems to play no major role in his work. It could be he has a hang-up on the literalism he spoke of earlier and reads passages like Matthew 24 in a literalistic sense instead of seeing them along the lines of Old Testament prophecies that were not to be seen as literal.

This problem shows up again when he gives references to Jesus saying He did not come to bring peace but a sword. Sure, but this is not a literal sword. Jesus knew what His kingdom would do. Jesus was the dividing line. You are either for Him or against Him. That would tear one’s very household apart. The sword is a metaphor.

On 121, Jesus also says the idea of love your neighbor applied only to a fellow Jew. Aslan leaves off interaction with the parable of the Good Samaritan where Jesus specifically addresses the question of who one’s neighbor is and goes with someone completely reprehensible to His fellow Jews. This was so much the case that in the end when Jesus asks who it was who was the neighbor, the lawyer says “The one who showed mercy.” He cannot bring Himself to say, “The Samaritan.”

Aslan also says on 122 that if one thinks Jesus is the begotten Son of God, His being Jewish is immaterial. WOW! Really? I think Jesus is that and His being a Jew is essential. That’s the only way He can be the promised Messiah and in the lineage of David. Jesus has to fulfill the promises of the Old Testament to truly be the revelation of God.

This also explains Aslan’s puzzle that the Kingdom never came in 135. The Kingdom Jesus preached is not what Aslan thinks it was since he is hung up on the literalism. Interestingly, Aslan gives no Scripture references in describing the Kingdom on this page.

Aslan writes about how the Gospel writers wanted to blame the Jews for the death of Jesus moving further and further away from the Romans, yet on 156 he’s quite clear the Romans killed Jesus and this was clear to Luke. Luke also doesn’t present Pilate as a saint in Luke 13.

Some ask why Pilate would seem to be so weak and light on Jesus when he had a reputation for being a cruel leader. Cruel sure, but that doesn’t mean he held execution parties whenever the Jews wanted someone executed. Pilate knew it was just the Jews being jealous and was thinking, “Yeah. Not going to be your person to do your bidding.”

Furthermore, there is debate on when Jesus was crucified, but it could have been around the time of Sejanus who had been executed for treason. He and Pilate had had a close relationship. Pilate could have been walking on thin ice and didn’t want to upset Rome by causing any more riots.

Aslan also makes much out of the trial of Jesus being totally out of sync with how Jewish trials were to be done. At this, most every conservative scholar wants to say, “Duh!” That’s the point. The Jewish courts were breaking laws left and right to get rid of Jesus. Something like this isn’t news if you’ve been reading scholarship.

At 166, I have to wonder if Aslan meant Daniel 9:26 instead of 7:26. On this page, he also says Peter uses Acts 2 to say it’s about Jesus when it’s really about David. Aslan ignores that in the very passage of Acts 2, Peter says it could NOT be talking about David since David was still in his tomb.

On 168-9, Aslan looks at Stephen’s vision of God and says he no longer sees the Messiah, but a God being coming in judgment. Aslan never seems to consider to ask if there was any reason Jesus would be standing instead of sitting which He was supposed to do. Perhaps there is a simple one. That simple one is Stephen is before the Sanhedrin to be judged by them, but when He sees Jesus standing, the standing is because Jesus is pronouncing judgment. The Sanhedrin is putting Stephen on trial, but Jesus has put them on trial and found them wanting for killing the first Christian martyr.

Aslan tries to deal some with the resurrection on 174 saying that obviously a man dying a gruesome death and rising again 3 days later defies all logic, reason, and sense. It does? In what way? The only way is if you rule out ipso facto miracles, but this has not been done. All that has happened is the question has been begged for naturalism. Aslan does admit that people were convinced they had seen the risen Jesus, but He gives no explanation for this.

It’s also clear that Aslan really has it in for Paul and wants nothing to do with him. Aslan doesn’t look at how the church fathers treated Paul and it is bizarre to think that Paul would be able to distort Christianity so badly and yet the people who wrote the Gospels seemed to give messages that according to Aslan would contradict Paul. One wonders what is going on here.

Aslan’s book can be interesting reading, but it is not a theory that has caught on well and for good reason. Aslan has Jesus as a zealot, but then the zealots weren’t really around, and has just begun with what he wanted to find. He also still has a fundamentalism in him found in his introduction that shapes his approach. Scholars long ago abandoned the idea that Jesus was a zealot. Aslan has not brought back the idea enough to have it be considered by scholars again.

A fuller review can be found by my friend David Marshall here.

In Christ,
Nick Peters