Book Plunge: Resurrecting The Trinity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Does Religion Make You Stupid?

Does your brain improve if you get rid of religion? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

I was recently sent this article by Caroline Beaton about religion and what happens to one’s brain when they stopped believing in God. Of course, Beaton describes it as an improvement. Does her argument hold water?

It’s interesting that Beaton begins this with a personal testimony. She talks about losing her virginity at 16 and then living a life of disobeying the rules. I find it amazing that many skeptics of religion who used to be Christians always seem to start with a personal testimony. It’s like they can’t get away from their upbringing.

It also looks like for parents and throughout this article, that much of Christianity in particular is all about morality. Christianity has things to say about morality, but the purpose of Christianity is not to be a moral philosophy but a historical faith with moral implications. On a related point, the word true, or some variation of it, never shows up in the article. Apparently, that question didn’t really seem to matter.

Beaton says that 35% of youth show no religious affiliation. These are called the nones, but it’s a misnomer to think they’re necessarily non-Christians. Many people in a higher power. Many pray. Many have high views of the Bible. They just don’t care for something along the lines of “organized religion.” I recommend anyone wanting information on that read this book.

She quotes a radiology professor who says that religion acts like a drug. For some people, that is no doubt true. There are many people who will use their religion as a way to get spiritual highs. The goal of the religion then is to feel good about one’s self or to feel that one is close to God. In that case, the idea that religion can act like a drug is certainly true. That’s also part of the me-centered aspect of Christianity today. It’s my contention that true Christianity at times can make you feel good, but it can also make you feel miserable. In fact, it should make you feel miserable at times. You should feel sad about the suffering of humanity or the realization of your own sin or knowing that your friends and family are lost.

Beaton also says she believed in young-earth creationism and evolution for awhile both. At this, it never seems to occur to Beaton that maybe she was the problem and not the religion. Had she ever really thought deeply about her religion? She talks about losing interest in a picture Bible. What did she expect? Of course it wouldn’t bring the same interest. We can’t all be children forever and we need increasing awareness of our religion.

Beaton goes on to say

As I tried to reconcile my belief in God with my growing knowledge of the natural world, I drew arbitrary distinctions. God couldn’t see me poop but he could hear me pray, I decided. Eventually I couldn’t figure out how, physically, he could do either.

Absent is any mention of doing any real research. Instead, the lines are arbitrary. What were the grounds for this? You don’t want God to see you poop but you want Him to hear you pray? It sounds like Beaton had her religion for personal comfort. Beaton goes on to say

This scientific descent from religion is common. Pew’s 2016 survey on why now-unaffiliated Americans lost faith yielded explanations such as, “Rational thought makes religion go out the window,” “Lack of any sort of scientific or specific evidence of a creator,” and “I’m a scientist now, and I don’t believe in miracles.”

Part of the problem here is a scientism that has taken over much of our thinking. In fact, I would say the fact that we have debates on if the Bible teaches YEC or OEC is a demonstration that we read even the Bible through a scientific lens. It never seems to occur to some people that maybe science isn’t the best place to go to for this question. I also notice the idea of rationality. Let’s say something about that.

There are stupid Christians and there are stupid atheists. There are genius Christians and there are genius atheists. It’s not the point that you “become rational” and suddenly you change your worldview. One of the big problems I have with many atheists today is that they deem automatically that anyone who believes in anything religious is automatically irrational. This contributes nothing to a good debate.

She continues

When we get to college, however, cultural testimony changes. An analytical, scientific view reigns, and there’s little room for God. We staggered home from parties pontificating on the pointless evil of Western religion. We made friends by cynically confessing our doubt. College is “very likely to challenge the more conservative belief systems we have in our brains,” Grafman says. It deflates our adolescent faith.

Of course, parties where you stagger home, no doubt from drinking too much, are the perfect places to be thinking on Western religion. Apparently, the college library isn’t of much use. Beaton is accurate when she says that an adolescent faith is deflated. Perhaps it needs to be. Perhaps they need to look at these doubts and move onto an adult faith where they actually think about what they believe.

When we finally break up with religion, we rebound. Eventually, non-religious people who once had religious epiphanies get those same feelings from being in nature, or from seeing profound scientific ideas expressed, Anderson says. “The context changes but the experience doesn’t.” Most non-religious people are “passionately committed to some ideology or other,” explains Patrick McNamara, a neurology professor at Boston University School of Medicine. These passions function neurologically as “faux religions.”

And once again, there you have it. It’s all about the feelings. You could have feelings and emotional experiences with a religion based on your own temperament and such. For me, they don’t happen often because I am not a man of emotional passion like that. That’s okay. Still, if the purpose of your religion is to make you feel good or have pleasurable sensations, you’re doing it wrong. Your religion is meant to inform your life about who you are and the way the world is and your place in it.

Ultimately, Beaton doesn’t really give us anything here. There is no question of truth. There is no question of research. All we have is really a long personal testimony with some scientific statements thrown in. It’s good to know that just by entering college Beaton thought she had all that she needed. Hopefully, Beaton will in the future visit a library and learn something about these systems she has been freed from. Until then, I do not know what happens when your brain gets freed from religion, but I know what happens when it gets stuck on your own experiences and doesn’t understand religion.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Salvation By Allegiance Alone

What do I think of Matthew Bates’s book published by Baker Academic? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Matthew Bates has written a book with a certainly interesting title. One can expect based on that that people on both sides will be tempted to go after him. (Cue James White having a twelve part series on his show about this.) That would be a shame if it happened because a lot that needs to be said is in this book.

Bates is not wanting to undermine grace, but he is wanting to get rid of a sort of system that is more centered on getting people to get saved instead of getting them to realize Jesus is their king, which would include salvation. We are at a point where we want to get people to sign on a proverbial dotted line and then lo and behold, our work is done. A church group will go out and witness in the streets and get one person to commit their life to Jesus, most likely to get his evangelists to shut up, come back to church shouting success, and that person will never ever darken the doors of a church. Discipleship is not a part of the process.

Bates starts with going after the term faith and that we really shouldn’t use it. I agree with him on this. Faith is a term that has been so misunderstood in our day and age that it leads to more problems. Bates looked at some bad definitions of faith. He wrote about Mormons who wanted someone to believe on faith based on the burning in the bosom. I would have liked to have seen in this section of bad usages of faith the fact that new atheist writers regularly describe faith falsely. People like Dawkins and Harris call it belief without evidence. Peter Boghossian called it pretending to know things you don’t know.

Another good one to look at would have been the Word of Faith movement. Bates looks at this some with saying some people think faith is positive thinking, but this is certainly that and going beyond in a more twisted way. This faith results in the death of children because, hey, you’re not supposed to go to a doctor. Have faith.

With this, it’s time to return to the full Gospel. The Gospel is not me-centered. It is Jesus-centered. It depends on what God has done in Jesus. He gives the Gospel eight parts. Not all have to be explicitly mentioned, but they are all part of the story. Jesus pre-existed with the Father, took on human flesh to fulfill the promises to David, died in accordance with what Scripture says, buried, raised on the third day again as prophesied, appeared to many, sits at the right hand of God as Lord, and will return to judge. This is indeed much more thought out than “Jesus died for my sins.”

It’s also important to realize Jesus taught this Gospel. Too many times when we want the Gospel, we jump straight to Paul. The Gospels pretty much tell us about how Jesus lived, but if you want to know about salvation, you really need to go to Paul. This is not to be anti-Paul or to say that Paul and Jesus contradict, but it is to say we should look at what Jesus said about the Gospel.

Bates then goes on to say that true salvation is allegiance. This is not to make people think of works salvation, as he gets into when he answers questions. We could say one does works not to earn salvation, but because one has sworn allegiance to Jesus as king.

Some of this part to me is still unclear. We do know that John wants us to know we have eternal life (1 John 5:13) and we don’t want to have people living in fear of their own salvation. At the same time, we don’t want to undermine obedience to Jesus. As someone in a ministry position, I do know for instance of many men who come to me and who want to be good Christians, and yet have the struggle of dealing with pornography. Bates does recognize we still have entangling sin and he himself has some sins he is struggling with, but I wonder how this would be handled in a pastoral situation, but more on that later.

The next major section is on new creation. Bates says we have too often made Heaven the goal of Christianity. I couldn’t agree more. Some of my biggest problems with funerals today has been the emphasis on Heaven. Don’t get me wrong. There is a glorious after-death waiting for us. The problem is that the grand coming of it is not until the resurrection and it’s not in a place far far away. It’s right here on Earth. God is going to recreate this world and it will be better than ever before.

Bates then says we need to restore the idol of God. Some people might wonder what he’s getting into with a chapter like this, but he’s entirely correct. Bates says that in ancient Hebrew terminology, we being in the image of God would mean we are the idol of God. We represent God. No piece of wood could ever do that. The main example of this is, of course, Jesus.

When we restore humanity to its rightful place, we will also treat one another better. Each of us is someone who bears the image of God. To treat your neighbor unjustly is to treat God unjustly. To love your neighbor rightly is to love God rightly.

The final chapters are much more theological and the systematic theologians will love it. This is looking at the ideas of righteousness and atonement. Those who are curious about the New Perspective on Paul will find an interesting look here at the material.

I would liked to have seen more on the pastoral side in the book as it is written for the lay audience. I could picture a mother reading this and saying “So does that mean when my son accepted Christ at a young age that it was illegitimate because allegiance was not sworn?” I do not think Bates would say this, but I think there needed to be something like that there. I do agree that we need allegiance brought in. We said the pledge of allegiance to the flag every day in school. Why not to our Lord every Sunday in church?

While there are points of clarification that will be brought out later, Bates book is full of good material that needs to be learned. It is a call to return to discipleship. It is a call to remember Jesus is indeed your friend and you have a relationship with Him, but He is your king and deserves no lesser treatment.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Breaking The Stronghold of Food.

What do I think of Michael and Nancy Brown’s book published by Siloam? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Let me be clear right at the start. I do not have this struggle. If it were possible to have all my meals in a pill form suddenly with some futuristic technology and still get all the nutrients and avoid hunger, I would have no problem with it. In my more literalist days, I could not get excited about the end of the age because people would talk about the Wedding Supper of the Lamb and I figured I’d just sit in a corner somewhere waiting until the meal was done. You can tell this looking at me. I weigh about 120 pounds and I’m a 5’7″ guy.

My diet, however, does not consist of a lot of junk. I do eat seafood and if I snack, I prefer things like granola bars and crackers and such. If we go out to eat, I would prefer to go to Smoothie King or Subway over a pizza place. I do have a fondness for something with peanut butter, but I do not have a food addiction at all. Why would I read this book then?

Because my wife does and I think part of being a good husband is understanding your wife.

Dr. Brown and his wife both struggled with a food addiction and they had to make a radical change. Dr. Brown writes about how this is also a spiritual struggle and for many people, yes, a sin struggle. It is mistreating the temple that one has been given and cutting their life short and robbing their loved ones of time with them for the sake of food. Dr. Brown is sympathetic in the book as is his wife, but he also just tells it like it is.

He’s also not preaching from Sinai. He tells about how he was one who struggled with this problem immensely. For him and his wife, much of what they did revolved around food. By removing the addiction to food, their whole lives became immensely better.

It wasn’t an easy struggle. Dr. Brown before he became a Christian was a heroin addict and once he gave his life to Christ, he went cold turkey entirely and is free. For him, giving up chocolates was harder than giving up heroin. He had to learn to change his palate radically and could not allow himself to cheat at all. Exercise was a part of it, but the biggest change was the change of diet.

Dr. Brown walks through how we tolerate often overeating, but we treat it differently from any other wrong. Who of us would say a little bit of pornography is no big deal? Who would say that a little bit of cheating on your wife is nothing major and hey, we all do it? Yet when it comes to food, we let all that fly out the window. Most of us don’t eat because we’re hungry, but because we want something else and we even have our bodies tricking us into thinking we’re hungry when we’re really not.

It also taught me that I need to be praying for my own wife in this. Granted for me, this is a challenge. I can spend a lot of time doing study and such, but prayer is hard since that’s a more relational act. Still, the idea was gripping and I hope that one day, my Princess will be free of the stronghold. I think she will be immensely healthier and happier and it will be better for the two of us.

Throughout the book, Nancy throws in her own helpful tips. One particular funny one is about how Dr. Brown saw an infomercial about another miracle weight loss product and was so excited. He really wanted to order it the next day and lose all their pounds. Nancy’s comment there begins by pointing out that this man actually has a Ph.D.! Yes. Sometimes Ph.D. can stand for phenomenally dumb. Even smart people, and Dr. Brown is certainly one, can fall for gimmicks like this. For him, there is no gimmick and the same goes for Nancy. There are no shortcuts on the way to success and there is no quarter with the enemy.

I do not struggle with this. Still, if you do or know someone who does, go through this book to open you up. I could read all about doughnuts and pizza and ice cream, which I can enjoy, and sleep peacefully not worried about temptation. (My wife says that the old adage of the way to a man’s heart being through his stomach would never have worked for me.) Dr. Brown’s book is less about diet and exercise I think than a look at the spiritual struggle with questions at the end of each chapter to make you think about the struggle more.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Dear Pastor….

Can I critique your sermon this Sunday? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

(Note: This post is not about my own church or our sermon Sunday. This is a hypothetical that could be used for what I think are the sad majority of pastors in any church on a given Sunday. No reference to any specific person or timeframe is intended.)

Dear Pastor,

I wanted to talk to you about your sermon. I think you did a good job of showing that the Bible tells us that God loves us immensely. I think you were correct in that we need to live our lives accordingly with what is revealed in Scripture. I think your sermon did have some excellent application to it. Unfortunately, while I agree with that, I have a problem with your sermon.

You see, I write in the area of Christian apologetics and defending Christianity. All that you said is true, but I kept wondering, what if someone doesn’t believe the Bible is true? What does it mean to them? What about someone who could be even wondering if the Bible is truly a revelation from God?

If someone wants to believe in the love of God, can they believe in the message of love if they don’t know if they can trust the messenger of that love? Suppose I go see a doctor who is right, but he’s right 90% of the time. He tells me I have cancer and I need to undergo intense chemotherapy to treat it. Would it make sense to sign up immediately? Should I not consider a second opinion just to make sure? His message could be right, but I would want to know if it was right. If I knew he was right 100% of the time, I would sign up, but what if I have that 10% of doubt? What if he’s right and I have that 10% and never go get a second opinion? That doubt could kill me.

Pastor. Your congregation is encountering this doubt. Now of course, many people are firmly in a position where they will not wrestle with these questions. Many are not. Many of them are watching the History Channel and the Discovery Channel and National Geographic and reading the magazines and they see these specials about the Bible. Every time Easter and Christmas roll around, you have these specials coming out undermining something about the Bible. You had a movie like the Da Vinci Code come out and the book itself was quite popular and even a skeptical scholar like Bart Ehrman had a best-selling book on textual criticism calling into question the reliability of the Bible.

If that doesn’t leave you concerned, you’re not paying attention.

You see, you talked so much about what the Bible says and how to apply its message, but you said very little about the Bible itself. I’m not suggesting your sermon be apologetics, but wouldn’t it be a good opening to explain a little bit about the book you’re exegeting, when it was written, and some historical facts about it? This would not take long and it would also bring the text more to life. As it stands, if people don’t know the history of the Bible and when it was written and such, it’s essentially a text floating in air and it won’t take much to bring it down.

I understand you want to reach that person who is there for the first time also, but what if that person is an atheist? What if they’re a Jew? A Mormon? A Buddhist? You don’t know who they are. I don’t either. I do know that they won’t just blindly believe the Bible. They need some reason to do so.

Application is good and important, but is that all there is? Is the whole point of Jesus dying and rising again just so that we could be good people? I’m all for marriage enrichment and beating your personal problems and so many other things, and we need them, but you can have many of those things without Christianity. Christianity is not about giving good advice. It certainly will give good advice, but Christianity is about Jesus being the King of this world and how we must submit to Him.

If all we have is good advice, well Pastor, we can turn on Dr. Phil or Oprah or anything else and get advice. We’ve also never really been prone to follow good advice. I daresay that most people will leave the church and forget all that they heard in an hour if all they heard was good advice. If you give them a question that could be a thorn in their side that suggests that the Bible could really be from God and God could really have some authority on their lives, that is something that will not be easy to cast aside.

That’s something I want to hear. I don’t want to just hear moralizing from the pulpit because I can get that from anywhere else and from most any other religion. I want to hear what Christianity alone can tell me. I want to hear about King Jesus dying and rising again from the dead and not just what this means for me, but what it means for the future of humanity and the world that we live in. No other belief system can offer that.

Pastor. Let’s also not forget you have young people in your audience. Let’s even suppose the youth are growing up in good Christian homes, which is more and more becoming questionable since even many Christians are compromising in areas of morality, such as living together before marriage or endorsing homosexual practice. Is this young man or woman growing up in a devout Christian home safe? Not on your life.

Imagine them in their bedroom one day on the computer. No. They’re not watching porn, though you should also be concerned that many in your congregation are, but they’re doing something like listening to a song from their favorite Christian band. What do they see on the related videos on the side? “Ten Questions Every Christian Must Answer.” Pastor. What if that’s a video put out by an atheist? What if they get curious and click it? Have you prepared them for what they will see? If you know the answers to these questions and don’t prepare them, do you not bear some responsibility when they fall away? If you don’t know the answers, how can you get up and tell people the Bible is a revelation from God if you yourself have no reason to think that? Are you not the blind leading the blind?

They also won’t fall away for intellectual difficulties. I’m not sure if you watch any TV or movies pastor, but sex sells. It’s big on the big screen nowadays. We just had Fifty Shades Darker come out and I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of women from your church went to see it. Believe it or not also, young men and women are greatly tempted to have sex. Women want to have that love and acceptance from a man. Many young men just want to have a good time with a woman and think sex makes them a man.

Do they know enough to know why they shouldn’t? Yeah. We can tell them what Paul said. If they can resist what Paul said on lesser things, such as talking back to their parents or overeating or buying things they can’t afford, why think they will be able to overpower the sex drive? Do you know how strong that is? If you don’t, I think you’ve just said a lot more about your marriage than you intended.

So you might say that when they engage, they’ll feel great guilt and will repent. Maybe they will. Maybe they won’t. If they don’t, then they will think the church lied to them. What else did the church lie about? Do you know how many of them are being told the church is trying to restrict them? Do you know how many atheists talk about liberation from the church’s teachings?

Pastor. Would it really hurt your church to know the historical reasons for believing that Christianity is true? Again, you don’t have to do a whole sermon on this. In fact, I don’t think you should, but you should at least touch on it. Now if you want to have a class separate from the sermon on this, by all means go ahead. That would be wonderful.

You still have an obligation to prevent your flock from falling away. Please also don’t tell them to just have faith. I cringe most every time when a pastor says that we need to have faith. Faith is a badly misunderstood term and one that an atheist will pounce on in a second.

Pastor. You might want your congregation to be safe and not put in danger from contrary thought. First off, they aren’t safe. Second, they will encounter contrary thought be it in the classroom or on TV or on YouTube or at the water cooler in conversation. Third, we are not called to be safe. We are called to do the Great Commission and the historic Christian church was not safe. They still aren’t. I just saw a highly reliable friend post a study showing that 90,000 Christians were martyred for their faith in 2016. 90,000 are martyred and you’re thinking your church needs to be shielded from contrary thought? These weren’t. They had to live in it regularly and they were incredibly faithful. In fact, they were probably more faithful than even you or I are. When your life could depend on if the Jesus question is true or not, you probably take it a lot more serious and you know, you probably live out that application a whole lot better.

Your congregation is not meant to live in a bubble. They’re meant to do the Great Commission. How can they do it unless they are equipped to do it? It’s not enough to get them to tell their personal testimony. Everyone has a testimony. Even atheists in debate will often open with their personal anti-testimony. We don’t live in a time where testimonies have the same effectiveness. Consider instead combining them with a good apologetic, and you could be on to something.

Pastor. Please take these words to heart. I encounter atheists most every day that used to be Christians and they are often extremely evangelistic and antagonistic. If you’ve ever heard of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, they were established by someone who used to be in ministry as well. The sad thing is many of these questions are easily answered if you just have a congregation that is at least semi-informed. You’re the only one who can determine that. Think about your own standing before God one day. Do you want to be responsible for people falling away and the damage they do? Do you want to risk that you could be?

I’m at your service if need be, but the ball is in your court. Please consider giving us something different. Give us a reason to believe and then to live differently.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

Deeper Waters Podcast 2/18/2017: Peter Leithart

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

History throughout time has presented a share of villains for us. Right now, we’re seeing several political statements indicating that Trump is Hitler, and there’s even a law on the internet that the first one to bring up Hitler in a debate loses. For many of us, if you want to say someone is a wicked individual, Hitler is the go-to person to compare them to.

Church history also has a villain. That is Constantine. Constantine was the Roman Emperor who supposedly became a Christian and made Christianity legal, but he’s said to have dominated the Council of Nicea, controlled the process, put together the NT by his arbitrary command, and murdered his family. In many cases, when people talk about matters going wrong in church history. It’s Constantine. He’s even accused of inventing the deity of Christ from the pagan religions and forcing it to be the belief at Nicea.

Perhaps we are looking back from too far ahead. Maybe Constantine wasn’t the villain that he seems to be portrayed as. That’s not to say that we are going to go around and start talking about Saint Constantine, but could we have got Constantine wrong in history? Could it be the king while flawed, wasn’t the villain that we make him out to be?

My guest says that is indeed the case. He is so sure about it, he wrote a book in defense of Constantine. That book is aptly titled Defending Constantine. The author’s name is Peter Leithart. Who is he?

Peter Leithart

According to his bio:

Peter J. Leithart is President of the Theopolis Institute, a study center and leadership training institute in Birmingham, Alabama. An ordained minister, he serves as Teacher at Trinity Presbyterian Church in Birmingham. He is the author of several books, including Defending Constantine and, most recently, the End of Protestantism. He and his wife Noel have ten children and nine grandchildren.

We’ll be talking about who Constantine was. He didn’t exist in a vacuum. What was going on in his time? How did he come to power and what was the Roman world like before him?

What impact did Constantine have on Christianity? Did he radically change everything? Is there reason to believe that he was a Christian himself or was this something that he did that we could say was just somehow politically advantageous?

Then, what about the charges against him. Did Constantine really murder his own family? Was he really involved in the worship of Sol Invictus? What really did happen at the Council of Nicea. There is so much to cover in looking at this figure in ancient Christian history that we need to understand.

I hope you’ll be looking forward to listening to this new episode. There are a lot of myths built up around Constantine and hopefully we can clear away some of the cobwebs that have come about over his history. Please also consider going to ITunes and leaving a positive review of the Deeper Waters Podcast. I love to see them!

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Do We Think About Sex Too Much?

Do we need to change our minds? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

I remember years ago seeing someone on Facebook put up a status saying that the problem with our society is we think too much about sex. One can see his point. You turn on the TV and before too long, you see sex. You listen to our political debates, you hear sex. More and more people are living together before marriage. Sex is seen as a rite of passage for many men to show that they are indeed men. Sex is practically our national obsession. So surely the answer to the question is obvious.

The answer to the question is, no. We don’t think too much about sex. I contend just the opposite. We think too little about sex.

“What? Are you crazy?! Look at what you just said! Look at what’s on our TV sets! Look at what you see in the movies! Look at how sexually active our young people are! Look at how much people are having sex! Surely we’re thinking too much about this!”

No. Not at all. We dream about it. We fantasize about it. We hope about it. We desire it. We just outright do it plenty. All of this is true, but we don’t spend a lot of time really thinking about it. We don’t really examine what the national obsession is and why we care about it so much.

To be sure, let me state I am never at all condemning strong sexual desire. I am a happily married man. You think I’m going to condemn sexual desire? No way. One of the great gifts of marriage is that you get to experience the fulfillment of this sexual desire. In fact, if you have strong, strong sexual desire, you should go and get married.

The question we need to ask is what is this great wonder that we are so amazed about? I find it amazing that we have spent so many years developing great tools for our entertainment. We have more channels on TV, more games we can play, more gadgets we can be amused with, etc. What is it that we still find ourselves so obsessed with? Sex. That is just what our great forerunners thousands of years ago were obsessed with. All the pleasures of the world and we still can’t top the one from the beginning. Why is that?

Before I was married, there was something I thought odd about sex. Many of my fellow friends and I who were all waiting for marriage had this great and intense desire for something we were sure was very good, and we had no idea why we just seemed to instinctively know that. How can you have an intense longing for something that you’ve never had before? This is part of the mystery.

And what is it that we really want? A lot of women have a really simplistic view of men for instance. This is the view that all a man cares about is physical release and not emotional connection at all. The Unveiled Wife site had a recent article about an interview with her husband and it says “His answers will surprise you.” You can read it here.

They might surprise you if you’re a woman. Most husbands I know were reading it and going through and saying “Yeah. That’s exactly what I would have said.” As I read the article, I knew that that was exactly what I would have said as well. It wasn’t breaking news. That a lot of women consider this a shock is something that I do find concerning.

Could it be we really want what could be called a transcendent experience? Could it be we truly want to be accepted by another totally? Could it be that sex is really built in so that each of us gets something we deeply desire? A man desires to be strong and respected and wanted. A woman desires to be loved and seen as beautiful. Sex gives us both.

We have spent so much time doing sex and treating it like just a hobby, instead of really thinking about it. This is especially so for us Christians. After all, sex is not our idea. It’s God’s. He made it. He set everything in motion. He built in the desire. He even gave us a book in Scripture all about the celebration of sex.

Earlier in the post, I indicated that we see sex everywhere and talk about it everywhere. Unfortunately, that isn’t true. There is one place we don’t do that. That is the church. In the church, sex is very often that forbidden topic. Sure, many of our men and some of our women are spending the week struggling with pornography. Sure. Many of our young people are thinking that any sexual expression is okay as long as it’s in love and you don’t hurt anyone and are living together and sexually active themselves. Sure, our church members are thinking about this topic and seeing it all around them and the public school system and the rest of the world has a message about sex, but that doesn’t mean we need to talk about it.

There’s a word for that. That word is “stupid.”

If anything, the church should be talking about sex more than anyone else. We worship the God who created it. It is His gift to us. We are to handle it properly. We ought to be taught about the sacredness of sex. It’s not something dirty, like many people believe. It’s also not something just for men that women are to suffer through. Sex is holy and we as God’s people ought to treat it as holy.

Unfortunately, many of us don’t really think about sex at all, which is sadly the way we go through our Christianity. We go and sing songs and listen to sermons and read our Bibles, but we don’t really think about what is going on. We go through the experience and we want the experience, but we don’t think about it.

Perhaps today we should begin thinking better about both. If we’re married, how can we better treat sex with our spouses? If we’re single, we still have to honor sex properly, such as by realizing that unless we marry, we have to abstain from all sexual activity. We also have to promote sexual holiness with our fellow man, as in helping to build up marriages and come along side couples when thy have problems.

You know, be the church. We are to be the church in every area of our lives.

Even sex.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

The Draw of the Sensational

Are Christians buying into ideas they shouldn’t? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

My wife recently heard about something called the Marine Kingdom. I had never heard of this either, and then I found out what it was. I immediately shook my head in disbelief thinking “Here we go again.” So what is this? Is this a new branch of Sea World? Is it a theme park? No.

It is supposedly an underwater kingdom that the devil has set up in the Atlantic Ocean.

I’m not making this up.

This is supposed to be a place where he and his demons are doing work on their computers and such to try to ruin our world. By the way, one report I did hear on this, from an “ex-satanist” or ‘ex-occultist” or whatever it was, talked about how you can’t see this with natural eyes. You have to see the kingdom with spiritual eyes. (No wonder no one has ever found it using normal methodology!)

And yes, there are some Christians who really believe this stuff.

Now I know we Christians believe some stuff the rest of the world thinks is odd, just as every worldview does, but we need to make sure our cases are backed with the best evidence. Unfortunately, many Christians I know are drawn to the sensational.

Because, you know, apparently the Son of God, the second person of the Trinity, being born of a virgin, which I affirm, living among us, dying, and rising again, is just not exciting enough. No. We need something more. That incarnation and resurrection stuff is just so passe.

So what do we have? We have Christians believing every conspiracy theory that flies down the chute. We have the Illuminati being warned about. (You know, this group that secretly controls all the media but can’t handle YouTube videos and have to communicate in ways only their own members will understand but by golly, these Christians have cracked the code!) We have a fascination with anything related to demons or angels or anything like that even if the account is flimsy. We have an obsession with finding out who the antichrist really is. All of this goes on.

Somehow, Jesus seems to fade into the background the more this stuff comes up.

By the way, this doesn’t stop with us. I think this is a universal tendency. Consider mythicism, the idea that Jesus never existed. I know a lot of atheists who will buy into this idea and think that they know better than all the scholars out there. They are on the inside track. They know the wool has been pulled over our eyes. In every case, the reason is the same ultimately.

Pride.

Now, of course, some people buy into these ideas because they have never learned enough and an authority says something they trust and they believe it, but if they are shown the truth to this kind of thinking and go on anyway, then that is when pride has taken over. It’s like being part of a secret club that really knows what’s going on. (Ironically, it’s kind of like being the Illuminati these people warn against) It makes you think that because you know all this stuff, then by golly, you are one of the special people.

If you are a Christian, I can assure you that if you are worried about the devil, I’m sure he would be happy with you avoiding what you think is a big sin if he can get you on some little thing that would lead to pride. Pride is easy for all of us to fall into. In the apologetics ministry, it also is. It’s easy to think because you know so much intellectually, you are so far above that person in the pew who probably doesn’t have a clue about the minimal facts approach or the arguments of Aquinas.

Until you realize that person could run circles around you when it comes to holiness.

My advice to Christians to avoid all of this is to learn something from our friends who are skeptics and be skeptical. Check those claims on Facebook. Check those claims on YouTube. Investigate them by reading the best minds in the field. I’m a strong political conservative, but if someone shares something about the other side in politics, even if it would help my cause greatly if it was true, I check it out first. We have to be people of truth.

If you will believe things that people can easily determine to be nonsense by just basic fact-checking, why should they believe you in what isn’t basic fact-checking, the resurrection, a topic that demands much more research? Keep in mind also that while being a skeptic, make sure you are not an unreasonable one. Set a fair standard as much as you can across the board for claims. Don’t just be “I will believe this claim if it lines up with what I already agree.” For instance, I meet many skeptics who say “Yeah. You believe in miracles, unless they happen outside of Christianity.” I always reply that this is not the case. I am open to miracles going on outside of Christianity. (I can say there are other powers out there like demons for instance) All I ask is provide the evidence for the claim.

If the claim seems sensational though, please be cautious about it. Of course, there are wonderful and unusual things that happen out there, but make sure to be informed the best you can. If the only place you see something is on the internet and outside of there, no one takes it seriously, it’s probably a good idea to not believe it.

The resurrection is awesome enough for us to marvel on the rest of our lives. Don’t lose sight of that while chasing after everything else.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

It Is Okay To Enjoy Your Life

Can enjoyment help spread the Kingdom? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

When I did my senior sermon in Bible College, I chose to talk about the theme of wonder. Why is it that we don’t seem to have wonder in anything? Christian philosopher once said the great tragedy for the ancients was that they worshiped the sun, moon, and stars. Our great tragedy is we’re not even tempted to.

Don’t get me wrong here. I’m not opposed to the scientific enterprise, but we’ve reached a point where if we think we can explain anything scientifically, it loses its fascination with us many times. Dan Barker relates an experience in Godless where he is riding with a relative who is trying to convince him of God and points to the beauty of the mountains. Barker responds by giving a scientific explanation of how mountains are formed. The relative takes this as a defeater. Why should it be? Cannot the mountains be the beautiful work of God that hold us in wonder and still be the result of a scientific process?

When I preached the above sermon, someone beforehand hearing about what I was speaking on had told me about a then recent cover of Moody magazine with the question “Is it right to enjoy my life?” Yes. Someone had to honestly ask that and someone had to honestly write an article saying it is no sin to enjoy your life.

Of course, this doesn’t equal traditional hedonism. Don’t go and do something just because it’s fun. At the same time, don’t think something is sinful just because it’s fun. Dare I say it, but one of the great slams you could give to the evil one would be to rightfully enjoy your life?

Why? Because we believe every good and perfect gift comes from God. That means that we ought to enjoy these things. 1 Tim. 6:17 even says this explicitly. God supplies us with all things richly for our enjoyment. This applies to the natural world that we see, but it also implies to the things that we create. We can enjoy a good movie, book, TV show, artwork, hobby, etc.

When we enjoy them, we are delighting in the gifts of God. There is so much around us every day and we are showing the proper gratitude for them. Boredom is not the idea of God. Boredom is more the idea of the evil one. It is the idea of saying that there is nothing here worth being excited about.

It’s odd because we think the devil is behind pleasure. He’s not. Pleasure is a tool for the enemy only if it will keep us from the greatest pleasure, knowing God. This is because we usually see God as a killjoy who is opposed to our fun. If there’s any area of life where this is shown clearest, it’s in sexuality.

Something about sex is that while it has many purposes, one such purpose is pleasure. Sex was meant to be enjoyable for a man and a woman. A woman even has a clitoris just for the purpose that she can enjoy sex. I remember hearing years ago the saying that the devil will do anything he can to make a couple have sex before they’re married, and after they’re married he’ll do anything he can to keep them from having sex. Loving sex in a committed marital union that binds the man and the woman together is something that builds up trust and intimacy and something the evil one would not want. One of the best gifts you could give the Kingdom of God if you’re married is a happy and thriving marriage.

Sadly, Christians have earned the reputation of being opposed to anything enjoyable. How many of us have heard this kind of testimony? “Well, I used to go out and party, get drunk, hang out with beautiful women and have a lot of sex, but now I am a Christian and I don’t do any of that stuff.” A lot of non-Christians in the audience would be saying “Sounds like you lost out.” They’re not right, but can we understand how when we phrase it that way, that they could have a point?

To this day, I can remember being in a Sunday School class with a friend of mine and hearing the teacher say with a finger pointing and in the most monotone way that I can imitate to this day “The Christian life should be the most exciting life of all.” He was right in what he said, but horribly wrong in how he said it. There was nothing exciting about it. The dry tone made us think that he couldn’t have been listening to himself.

I’m not at all advocating a materialistic hedonism or anything like that, but I am saying we Christians need to do some serious thinking about the role of pleasure in our lives. It is no sin to enjoy the world God created. It is no sin to delight in the things He has made. We could say if anything is sin, it is the opposite. It is sin to not appreciate and delight in what He has made.

So for me, I want to make it that part of my witness to the world is that I enjoy being a Christian and I delight in it. I love what I do, including being in the field of Christian apologetics, and I love that I’m married to the woman that I love. These give me enough reason to wake up and be thankful every day. My life has meaning because I am part of the grand story that God is creating and my life is not a punishment. It is a gift.

I think I’ll treat it like one.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

What’s The Point?

Why are we living the Christian life? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Yesterday, I saw one of my Facebook friends had a status where she was told by someone else that her time in Bible College being educated in the Bible was a waste. After all, will that help you to go to Heaven? I hate to say it, but I have encountered this attitude many times before. It’s a dangerous problem for the church.

I could focus a lot on the point that the Bible doesn’t really talk so much about going to Heaven as it does about the resurrection and the Kingdom of God, but that’s another point. The problem is that our Christianity today has made the goal of life be to get to Heaven. Unfortunately, in our descriptions, getting to Heaven seems to be the goal and God is often kind of secondary there.

What is the relationship between God and Heaven? Few people seem to think about this. That’s because few of us seem to really think about God anymore. Well, that is aside from thinking about all the stuff He ought to be doing for us. Isn’t it strange we don’t think as much about all that we should be doing for Him? God is often seen as someone there just to meet our needs.

This also causes us to ignore this world. I still think back to what one lady said in a Bible Study I was at with a church we used to attend. “I’m saved and my children are saved so we’re just waiting for Jesus to come.” Apparently, their Bible said, “You’re saved, but if you want to you can go into all nations and spread the Gospel, or you can just wait until I return one day.” Yes. Jesus needs to return to relieve our suffering, but what are we going to do for the suffering of others meanwhile?

Sadly, an education is often seen as a threat. Couldn’t your learning get in the way of knowing God? I did write about this in an earlier post. To say that it is is like saying “I want to be married to my wife, I just don’t want to waste time on all that stupid stuff like getting to know her as a person. Oh yes. I want to make sure that she also has plenty of sex with me.” Of course, most any husband will want plenty of sex, but what would we think of the man who wanted it absent of really knowing who his wife is as a person? Such a person is essentially just using his wife to meet his own desires. Are we guilty of doing that with God?

It’s easy for us to sit back and talk about all that God owes us. Let’s make it simple. What does He owe you? He only owes you that which He’s already promised He will give you. If He has not promised it, He does not owe it. He doesn’t owe you perfection this side of eternity. He doesn’t owe you feeling good about yourself every day. He doesn’t owe you money or fame or anything else? Now let’s reverse the question. What do you owe God? You owe Him everything you have and it’s the selfish tendency of you and me to want to hold on to things that we have no rights to as if our true happiness is found apart from God. Of course, God gives us many things that can help bring us some happiness, but none of these will bring us ultimate happiness. When we start treating them like they will, they become idols and they quickly become our masters. (This is called addiction in extreme cases.)

The sad part is a greater education could help with this. One of the greatest boosts of mine to Christian living is to know the things that I believe and why and what a difference they make. Christianity has something to say about every aspect of life. It speaks about money, leisure, sex, friends, family, etc. Nothing I do is untouched by Christianity, or at least it shouldn’t be.

When we fail in our evangelistic duties and start thinking about how Christianity can help us, we become increasingly self-centered. For all of us, our tendency is to look out for #1. Aren’t we all thankful Jesus didn’t do that? Had Jesus done that, the crucifixion would not have happened. Jesus chose willing suffering to bring about redemption and the glory of God. Many of us think we can reach the glory by bypassing the suffering. It just won’t happen. The Bible regularly connects suffering with righteousness. We often connect it with the idea that we’re not living Christianity right.

I applaud my friend for wanting to have a greater education in the Bible. I wish we all did. We have too many sermons and Bible studies where we skip straight to the question of “What does the text mean to my life and how do I apply it right now?” instead of asking what the text meant to them and about the situation when it was written. We will not properly understand the latter without having some understanding of the former. We also increase the likelihood of a self-centered Christianity.

It’s my sincere hope that we return to a faith that is lived out well but understood well in the mind as well. We won’t all be intellectuals, but whatever intellect we all have we should focus some of it to understanding Christianity and what a difference it makes. We can look forward to Heaven, but let us not ignore the world around us as if Heaven is plan B because God’s just given up on this world. Greater knowledge of what we believe will not hurt us. It is the ignorance of the knowledge and the defiance of it that will.

In Christ,
Nick Peters