Yes. Mythicism Is Still A Joke

Should Mythicism be treated as a serious idea? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Over at New Testament scholar Larry Hurtado’s blog, for some reason, Dr. Hurtado began writing about mythicism. I was curious to see what was said because NT scholars rarely say anything about mythicism for the same reason geologists would rarely say anything about Flat Earthers. The idea is simply considered a joke.

There’s good and bad sides to this. The good is that NT scholars do have much more important things to do than to get involved in internet squabbles. One can understand them not wanting to take their time to deal with an idea that they do not think should be taken seriously, and they’re right. The bad is that sadly, people are uninformed and they do take it seriously. This is the kind of idea that spreads on college campuses and on the internet among people who don’t know how to do history.

Naturally, posting like this soon reaches the ears of prominent internet blogger Richard Carrier, the rare person who has a Ph.D. in a relevant field and holds to mythicism. Carrier takes the time to say that he wasn’t going to engage one day because it was his birthday recently and there were orgies to be had. Others had responded, but it was time for him to take on Hurtado.

“Surely you’re joking! You wouldn’t write a serious piece interacting with a highly established NT scholar and talk about having orgies would you?”

Well, Richard Carrier would.

Carrier also showed up on Hurtado’s blog, to which Hurtado didn’t even blink at it, but simply pointed out that his reading was highly off. That was last night and I have seen nothing new today about it and Hurtado has said that he has much more important interests to deal with. Who can blame him?

As I said, the theory of mythicism is popular on the internet, but I think Hurtado could be right in that this is a last hurrah for mythicism, at least for now. While Carrier is the best the mythicist case has, it’s not really saying much. Others in the field, both Christian and non-Christian, are looking and aren’t really impressed. The only people that seem to be impressed are those who are already mythicists and atheists who want to hear what they already think.

Such it is with conspiracy theorists. You can see conservative and liberal Facebook pages that will show claims that are easily shown to be false, but many people on each side want to believe what they already believe. Mythicism is just that. It’s a conspiracy theory for atheists. The evidence can sound convincing and persuasive if you don’t understand history, but once you do, the whole thing falls and we all see that the emperor has no clothes.

An interesting twist is that mythicism can be to history what solipsism is to philosophy. It’s usually thought that when you get to solipsism in your philosophy, you’ve made a mistake somewhere. Mythicism can show us how history should be done by showing us how bad history is done. Perhaps this will further refine our criteria of history which I don’t doubt will put Jesus in an even better light historically. After all, death could not defeat Him 2,000 years ago. There is no reason to think the historical method will today.

There have been stories of soldiers of Japan who were unaware that the war had ended decades earlier. So it is that we have many mythicists fighting a battle today unaware that the war is already over and that the historicity of Jesus is solid bedrock. Hopefully, more will see before too long that the battle is already done, but my concern is that there will still be eternal casualties with those who do not know realize the facade that they’ve been sold.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

What Is The Foundation?

What is the centerpiece of the Gospel? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Not too long ago, I wrote a blog post that was looking at a critique of the New Perspective on Paul. While I don’t sign on the dotted line yet on the NPP, I am certainly open to it and think it makes some cogent points. One reason I wrote it is also because of a claim I hear often that justification is the Gospel.

Of course, some people will immediately get defensive hearing that. Am I saying that justification is not important? Not at all. It is important that we are forgiven and that forgiveness is by grace through faith. What has to be asked though is if that is what our faith is built on?

When I go to bed at night, normally I read a short section of Scripture if I’m reading a narrative, like a Gospel, but if not, just a couple of verses to think about. Last night I did three to finish off Romans 4.  So what did I read?

The words “it was credited to him” were written not for him alone, but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness—for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.

Please note what is necessary for our justification. It was the resurrection of Jesus. Just dying on the cross was not enough. As Paul says, if Christ is not raised, you are still in your sins.

Part of the problem I have with the idea that justification is the Gospel is that justification is a result of something else happening. That something else is the primary thing. That is the message that changed the world. If that did not happen, we would not be able to talk about justification. That primary thing is the resurrection.

A secondary problem is that justification is important, but it also doesn’t go far enough. We can celebrate that we are forgiven, but God did much more than just forgive us. He could have forgiven us without offering us eternal life for instance, but He did do that. With every step, He could stop, but He doesn’t. As Luke 12:32 tells us, it is the Father’s good pleasure to give us the kingdom.

The kingdom is sadly lacking in our Gospel messages today. Jesus did not say as much about justification as He did about the Kingdom of God, but guess which one we spend the most time talking about today? Very few people have any idea of a doctrine of the kingdom. It’s sadly true that we often treat the Gospels as appetizers and the main course are the epistles of Paul. This is why it can often be asked if Jesus taught Paul’s Gospel. The more important question we should ask is if Paul taught Jesus’s Gospel, which he did of course.

If we want to see what’s further ahead, let’s see what Paul does say in 2 Cor. 5:19.

For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation.

Sure. The forgiveness of sins is in there, but the reconciliation is with the world. The world is not as it should be and that is to be corrected. We can be forgiven, but even forgiven people will still die. Death is still the enemy to overcome. Is God going to let the world be a casualty? Did the evil one ruin the world so much that it cannot be redeemed and it will fall from the purposes God created for it?

Absolutely not. The resurrection is as it were uncreation working backwards. The path of destruction is stopped and the path of restoration begins. Let us celebrate justification, but we are not the end of it all. Everything is to be reconciled. This does not mean universalism as some people will not be reconciled due to their own will nor will demons or the devil, but all that submit to God will be.

Yet always remember, whatever your stance on justification, it’s not possible without the resurrection. The resurrection message is the Gospel. The king has come and He is taking His throne. That is the cause of everything else. Let’s not confuse the effect with the cause.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Deeper Waters Podcast 11/11/2017: Richard Bauckham.

 

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

Can we trust the Gospels? One of the questions that this comes down to often is the question of who their sources are. Were they written by eyewitnesses? Did they use eyewitnesses? Can we really trust anonymous sources like the Gospels? Did the Gospels even cite their sources?

Even if the Gospels are eyewitness testimonies, can we still trust them? Can’t eyewitnesses get things wrong? Why should we treat the Gospels as if they are serious historical works and their information is something that we can base our lives on?

In order to discuss this, I decided to have come on a second time a scholar who has done in-depth research on this. He has done so much that he has updated his great work on this topic. The work is Jesus and the Eyewitnesses and the author and scholar is none other than Richard Bauckham. So who is he?

I am a biblical scholar and theologian. My academic work and publications have ranged over many areas of these subjects, including the theology of Jürgen Moltmann, Christology (both New Testament and systematic), eschatology, the New Testament books of Revelation, James, 2 Peter and Jude, Jewish and Christian apocalyptic literature, the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, the New Testament Apocrypha, the relatives of Jesus, the early Jerusalem church, the Bible and contemporary issues, and biblical and theological approaches to environmental issues. In recent years much of my work has focused on Jesus and the Gospels. Probably my best known books are Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony (2006), God Crucified: Monotheism and Christology in the New Testament (1998), The Theology of the Book of Revelation (1993) and Bible and Ecology (2010). As well as technical scholarship and writing aimed at students and those with some theological background, I have also written accessible books for a wider readership, of which the best known is At the Cross: Meditations on People Who Were There (1999), which I wrote with Trevor Hart. A recent book is Jesus: A Very Short Introduction (2011), published in Oxford University Press’s Very Short Introduction series, and providing a historical account of Jesus for the general reader. Various of my books have appeared in translation in Italian, Japanese, Chinese, Russian, Korean, Spanish, Portuguese, French and Farsi.

Until 2007 I was Professor of New Testament Studies at the University of St Andrews, Scotland. I retired early in order to concentrate on research and writing, and moved to Cambridge. For more information about me, see my Short CV. On this site, you will find complete lists of my publications. You can find out about my forthcoming books. You can read unpublished papers, lectures and sermons. You can find out about the More Old Testament Pseudepigrapha project (directed by myself and James Davila).

You can also read some of my poetry, and two story books written for children (adults also enjoy them) about the MacBears of Bearloch.

I hope you’ll be watching for this episode. We’re going to get a good in-depth look at this important book that every student of the New Testament needs to know about. Please be watching for this one and go on iTunes and leave a positive review of the Deeper Waters Podcast.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

NYC Terrorism And Gospel Reliability

Can we really know what happened? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

On Halloween afternoon and early evening, there was a news story broke about a radical Islamic terrorist that killed multiple people in New York. My wife and I go to Celebrate Recovery on Tuesday nights at our church, so we only got to hear bits and pieces, yet as it turns out, I did hear different things. That evening on the news, I had heard that he got shot in the abdomen. Another report said he got shot in the stomach. Still, another said he got shot in the buttocks.

Yesterday, my wife and I had the news on and heard even more different stories. This time, we heard that he had been shot in the leg and then it was more specifically, the thigh. We could say that this is a later story that is more clear, but as an outsider, I can’t really know. I could hypothetically go to the hospital and see for myself, but that’s not really an option right now.

So what do I gather from all of this? If we were in the area of New Testament studies, there are some things that some people would conclude. For instance, there are some who would be consistent and conclude that there never was a shooting or even that there never was a terrorist. After all, shouldn’t there be agreement?

Some will point to the idea of eyewitness testimony being unreliable. To an extent, it can be, but there are cases where it isn’t. In a time of chaos when people are dying around you and you could be looking out to save your own life, you might not remember everything that happens well. There will be some things you would not be at all mistaken about. You would not be mistaken about being at the scene or seeing a terrorist mowing down people in a vehicle and you would likely remember the peace that came when he was taken down.

I also often think that if we want to see how reliable testimony is over time, we need to check with people whose lives were significantly impacted by the event in question. Consider 9/11. Who is more likely to remember and relive the events in their mind over and over? Is it someone who was a passerby on the street and knew no one who worked in the towers, or is it someone who lost a spouse on that day? I don’t know of any such study like this, but it would be good to see it done.

When we compare this to the Gospels, there can be times that there are supposed contradictions that do differ on minor details. I am not saying all differences are like this, but many are. These are differences much like the shooting of the terrorist. It might be unclear to those of us on the outside without direct proof to know where the terrorist was shot, but we all know that he was. (Well, aside from perhaps some fringe conspiracy theorists who are no doubt convinced this was all staged, but then that is an apt comparison with the mythicist community.)

Minor differences do not do anything to change the fact of the major events. Someone might be tempted to say that it’s different when we talk about the New Testament. It’s supposed to be the Word of God isn’t it? At this point then, one is treating the New Testament with an entirely different standard. You’re not doing history so much as you’re doing religion. There is no reason to have a position where either all of it is true or none of it is true.

Instead, one can approach it much like any other document. Sure, there might be a few differences, but does that detract from the major points? Note I am not saying you have to sacrifice Inerrancy at all. I am saying you do not have to make it everything.

So what happened in NYC? A radical Muslim terrorist killed several people and was stopped when he was shot. Do I know the minor details beyond that? No. Do I have any reason to believe the major ones are false? No. Do I have justification to believe they are true? Yes.

When we come to the New Testament, we need to do the same. Let’s first see what the major outline of the story is. Then we can work on the minor details. Maybe we won’t even resolve them all, but we can still trust the major points.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

A Response to Phil Johnson on N.T. Wright

What do I think of Johnson’s critique of Wright? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

ETA: My first writing of this said R.C. Sproul. I was notified that this was by Phil Johnson so I have done necessary edits..

When I was in seminary, for a class on salvation for systematic theology proper, we were assigned to read The Future of Justification by John Piper. This was a response to N.T. Wright’s work on the topic of justification. I had heard about it some, but I never took the time to really look at it. As I read Piper, he would frequently quote Wright. When I read those quotes of Wright I would think “That certainly seems like a plausible way of looking at it more in line with Second Temple Judaism.” Before too long after finishing that book, I got Wright’s book on the topic and went through it and while I don’t sign on the dotted line yet, I do find it quite persuasive.

A friend asked me about this all yesterday. He has a fear that Wright has a position here that is heretical. Our discussion, which was friendly and I do like that, ended with him sending me this from Phil Johnson. So let’s take a look at this piece.

Johnson starts off with glowing praise of Wright and what a great scholar he is. Before too long, the clouds darken. Wright has a position that is not evangelical at all obviously. He has a position that denies Sola Fide.

Let me point out early on then that I am not a Calvinist. You can hold that against me if you want, but I’m just not, and that was before reading Wright even. I have never subscribed to Calvinism. I just do not find it a persuasive position on the Bible.

So let’s gon on and quote Johnson.

Wright begins by giving a sketch of the pedigree of twentieth-century scholarship on Paul. He acknowledges that the New Perspective is deeply rooted in the work of a line of scholars who were by no means evangelicals. Indeed, most of them were hostile to the evangelical perspective. He lists, for example, Albert Schweitzer, W. D. Davies, Ernst Käsemann, and E.P. Sanders as the main influences in developing the New Perspective.

Schweitzer’s contribution was to emphasize the fact that Paul was a Hebrew, not a Hellenist. Paul thought in Jewish categories, not Greek ones. Schweitzer therefore argued that the traditional Protestant emphasis on justification by faith missed the heart of Pauline theology. Paul’s emphasis was on our union with Christ [true enough], but Schweitzer argued that it is therefore wrong to think of justification by faith as a forensic declaration, the way historic Reformed and Protestant theologians always have. Here’s how Wright describes Schweitzer’s view on page 14: “What mattered [to Schweitzer] was being ‘in Christ’, rather than the logic-chopping debates about justification, [and therefore] one was free to live out the life of Christ in new and different ways.”

Notice, then: the historic Protestant understanding of justification by faith was under attack from the very birth of the earliest ideas that led to this new interpretation of the apostle Paul. Forensic justification was denied in favor of living out the life of Christ.

Please note that part of the problem with this and with later looks is that this is simply poisoning the well. These people were not evangelicals. So what? It’s good to read critics of our position. They can point us to our blind faults. If the evangelical perspective has not been correct all these years, maybe it’s the others who can show us that who are just as much trained in the field as we are.

What has to be asked is can the data be separated from those who hold it? If the answer is yes, then there is no problem, and I don’t see any other answer. Data is data regardless of who discovers it. We also have no reason to think Wright would be wanting to be in line with someone just because of who they are. Wright has in fact written a leading evangelical defense of the resurrection of Jesus. (You know, the central fact of Christian teaching.)

Wright’s point seems to be that the New Perspective on Paul has an impressive scholarly pedigree. What I want to point out is that these views are rooted in the kind of scholarship that has historically been hostile to evangelical distinctives, such as the authority and inspiration of Scripture. It is ironic, and I think not without significance, that the earliest exponents of this new expertise on Paul were all men who were happy to discard whatever portions of the Pauline writings did not fit their theories. So you have experts on Paul who reject large portions of what Paul actually wrote.

Okay. Did Wright do this? Has Wright jettisoned parts of Paul just because they disagree with his theories? It reminds me of how for a time thinkers in the medieval period were hesitant to take the words of Aristotle. He had been used by the Muslims after all. It was Aquinas who took this information and said it could be used by the church and in essence Christianized Aristotle. Did he take every belief Aristotle held? No. Still, he took his system of thought and said that it was in line with Christianity. He was also right.

I think Wright has done similar. He has not thrown out the material because it comes from non-evangelicals. Instead, he has looked at the data, said they might be on to something, and figured how it does work better with the Pauline corpus in his mind than the traditional interpretation. If this is so, the point of origins is irrelevant and just a big genetic fallacy.

Wright also claims that our misunderstanding of Judaism reached its zenith with Luther and the Reformers—in other words, historic Protestantism. Wright thinks evangelicals in particular have perpetuated the misunderstanding because of our systematic and theological approach to interpreting the New Testament. We’re guilty of thinking in Greek categories rather than Jewish ones. We have been too prone to read Augustine’s conflicts with Pelagius and Luther’s conflict with Rome back into the biblical text, and that has corrupted and prejudiced our understanding of the Jewish culture surrounding Paul.

Note what Johnson is saying about Wright. It is not our misunderstand of Scripture. It is our misunderstanding of Judaism. That did affect how we read Scripture. I think the Reformers were right in their stance on a problem in the RCC back in their day. They looked at the issue of their day and I think they gave the right answer. The problem was they also looked at what Paul was saying and thought Paul was dealing with the same issue. It was understandable why they would think that, but were they right? That is the key question.

For instance, if we look at the Gospels, we don’t find this being discussed that much. There is not really discussion on justification. It could be damaging that one time Jesus is asked about this topic, he tells the questioner to follow the commandments and then go and sell everything he has and give to the poor. He hardly gave the answer of justification by grace through faith.

Does that mean that it is false? No. It means that Jesus knew the heart of this person and this person was not willing to sacrifice to be a disciple. Jesus often speaks about the cost of discipleship. The strong words in Luke are highly misunderstood but they are the ones about hating your own mother and father and brother and sister. It doesn’t mean to literally hate, but Jesus is saying “Don’t become a disciple unless you are willing to give up everything.”

And let’s face it, we’re all still working on that one!

Let’s go to Jesus’s message in Mark. He starts by saying the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand. Repent and believe the Gospel. Question. What was He telling people to believe? If He was saying justification by grace through faith, on what grounds? No one other than Jesus had the foggiest idea that He would die on a cross and rise again, yet there was something in Jesus’s message to already be believed. What was it?

His baptism had had Him displayed as the Son of God which would be implicit evidence that He is the Messiah. The good news then is that the Kingdom of God is here. God is becoming king. Jesus regularly spoke about the Kingdom of God in His messages. Jesus spoke of it often. We barely say a word about it in church today.

How does this tie in with Paul? Go to 1 Cor. 15. Paul says that the Gospel is that Jesus Christ died and was buried and rose again for our sins. For Paul, this was the sign that the kingdom had come. Jesus being the promised Messiah meant something. The promise to the patriarchs of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, had come to pass. The one whom Moses wrote about had arrived. By raising Jesus from the dead, God had vindicated Him and shown that this man is His chosen king to rule the world. It was a new age. Our modern new age culture is wrong. The true new age began when Jesus was declared king of this world. Christ does not find His identity in us. We find ours in Him.

Let’s also keep in mind we have something the Reformers did not have. We have access to Jewish writings they were not aware of that have changed the way we see the culture and we can see that we were wrong in some understandings. I am sure that if the Reformers were here, they would be eagerly wanting to look at these writings and learn all they could from them and if they were wrong about something, they would want to be the first ones to know it.

Please note also that you can say all of this and still say the Reformers were right in their struggle. You can still say that faith alone is all that one needs to be saved. We will get into more of this as we go along.

He goes on to say (still on p. 32), “This point is clearly of enormous importance, but I cannot do more than repeat it in case there is any doubt: Jews like Saul of Tarsus were not interested in an abstract, timeless, ahistorical system of salvation. They were not even primarily interested in, as we say today, ‘going to heaven when they died.’” (By the way, that is a ridiculous statement, and if you want to see how ridiculous it is, read Hebrews 11:13–16. Those who had true faith were interested in going to heaven when they died. Hebrews 11:16: “they desired a better country, that is, an heavenly [one].”)

Except it’s not a ridiculous statement. What we have apparently is one text in the Bible that Johnson thinks makes his point. We don’t even have anything from Paul who this is supposed to be about. When Hebrews speaks of a heavenly country, what were they thinking? Going some place else when they died? No. They were thinking I think about God making this world His abode. This world is not an accident. It is not an afterthought.

Unfortunately, we have done this so much that we think going to heaven is the point of Christianity and then it’s not often so much about heaven as it is a get out of hell free card. You can have a call to salvation in a church service that talks about heaven and says absolutely nothing about the resurrection. It has no call to repentance. It says nothing about discipleship. Instead, it all becomes about how do I get to heaven.

If Johnson thinks that one passage can make something a ridiculous statement, then I have one passage from Jesus (Said three times) about selling all you have and giving to the poor to have eternal life. Therefore, it would be “ridiculous” to think that Jesus would believe in justification by faith. Do I think that? Not at all. I think all the passages have to be properly understood. The same with the Hebrews passage.

Johnson quotes Wright saying

Despite a long tradition to the contrary, the problem Paul addresses in Galatians is not the question of how precisely someone becomes a Christian or attains to a relationship with God. (I’m not even sure how Paul would express, in Greek, the notion of ‘relationship with God’, but we’ll leave that aside.) The problem he addresses is: should ex-pagan converts be circumcised or not? Now this question is by no means obviously to do with the questions faced by Augustine and Pelagius, or by Luther and Erasmus. On anyone’s reading, but especially within its first-century context, [the problem] has to do, quite obviously, with the question of how you define the people of God. Are they to be defined by the badges of the Jewish race, or in some other way?

At this point, the question to ask is “Is Wright right?” Let’s go back to the sources and look and see. Let’s look at those writings we have now that the Reformers did not have. Let’s look at the research. Johnson responds with

Wright is explicitly acknowledging that if the New Perspective is correct, and first-century Judaism had no issue with works-righteousness, then all the traditional interpretations of Romans, Galatians, and the other Pauline epistles must be thrown out the window, and we must go back to square one in our exegesis of the apostle Paul.

Wright’s critics, including me, have pointed out that this is a pretty audacious claim. Wright is claiming, in effect, is that he is the first person in the history of the church—or at least since the time of Augustine—who has correctly understood the apostle Paul (and hence the majority of the New Testament). Wright is pretty careful not to state explicitly that he thinks this would require a complete overhaul of Protestant confessional standards. And some of Wright’s Presbyterian advocates in America have denied with great passion that Wright’s beliefs pose any threat whatsoever to the historic Protestant creeds. But it would seem patently obvious to me that if the whole foundation of our Pauline exegesis is brought back to square one, then we can throw out every creed and systematic theology ever written by anyone who adhered to the old perspective on Paul, and start over with our theology as well. And in practice, that is precisely what is happening. That’s the very upheaval you see in the various controversies that are being addressed in this conference this weekend.

One can picture what it would be like if R.C. Johnson had been in a position of power in the RCC at the time of Luther.

“Can anyone believe this monk? He thinks he is the first one in church history for 1,500 years to truly understand the Scriptures and the rest of us have got them wrong! This is surely an audacious claim! If we follow him, we will have to go back to square one in our understanding of Paul!”

I remember years ago someone sent me a conversation with Al Mohler and others talking about Wright’s perspective. One speaker on this panel said “Wright may think he’s found something new in the Scripture, but he’s going against the tradition.” Yes. We as Protestants should have a problem with someone going with what they think they found in the Scriptures when that goes against our traditional understanding. Pardon me, but isn’t that what happened in the Reformation?

It’s happened elsewhere too. Galileo went against the tradition at the time as well. I also do think Galileo was arrogant. There was something else about him too. He was right. If we just say “Tradition!” then we always risk just being wrong. We dare not say we want skeptics to be open to Christianity if we are not open to being wrong.

We go on.

Of course, the apostle Paul uses that phrase repeatedly. In Galatians 2:16— in that one verse alone—he uses it three times: “Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified.” According to Wright, when Paul spoke of “the works of the law, he did not have in mind the moral requirements of the law of God. Rather, he was speaking of the badges of Jewish nationalism—circumcision, the dietary laws, the priesthood, the holy days, and whatnot. In other words, he’s talking about the ceremonial law. Quoting again from page 120, Wright says that the question Paul is addressing in Galatians is “the question of how you define the people of God. Are they to be defined by the badges of the Jewish race, or in some other way?”

In this, I think Wright is definitely on to something. Peter’s main issue was not what must I do to be saved. His issue was how he would be perceived by the others. People living the Gospel do not need to eat according to the Law. The Law does not show that they are Christians. It is faith in Christ. Peter’s actions were a denial of that. Peter’s salvation was never an issue.

Paul is then saying to the Galatians that the Judaizers think that to be a Christian, you must keep the law. It is not so you can be saved, but to show that you are saved. All true Christians will keep the Law. How can you recognize a Christian? He keeps the law. Unfortunately, this would catapult us right back to Judaism. How do you recognize a Jew? He keeps the law. How do you recognize a Christian? He keeps the law. Christ becomes useless then.

So what is it that sets a Christian apart? Faith in Christ. How do you know someone is a Christian? They have faith in Christ. If you want to say the law is what identifies you, then you indeed have to keep all of it.

Wright insists that in the true Pauline theology, justification by faith has almost nothing to do with a person’s standing before God, but it has everything to do with the corporate makeup of the covenant community. To quote Wright again (p. 119),

Justification” in the first century was not about how someone might establish a relationship with God. It was about God’s eschatological definition, both future and present, of who was, in fact, a member of his people. In Sanders’ terms, it was not so much about “getting in,” or indeed about “staying in,” as about “how you could tell who was in.” In standard Christian theological language, it wasn’t so much about soteriology as about ecclesiology; not so much about salvation as about the church.

So in Wright’s view, justification is not about how we relate to God; it’s about how ethnic and cultural groups relate to one another. Page 122: “What Paul means by justification … is not ‘how you become a Christian’, so much as ‘how you can tell who is a member of the covenant family.’ … [Justification] is the doctrine which insists that all who share faith in Christ belong at the same table, no matter what their racial differences.”

Is Wright right? I don’t think Johnson is. Wright is not saying it is about how we relate to one another. It’s about indeed who the community is. How the community treats itself is a good question, but the question is who is a part of the community. Whose community is it? The community of God.

This fits in very well with Judaism at the time. We in our world are much more individualistically based. To say to march to the beat of your own drummer and be your own man would make no sense to them. We often have the habit of reading our questions into Scripture thinking the Scripture is addressing the same questions when it is not. I think this is what is often happening in our reading of Genesis 1 as an example.

Is there no soteriological or personal dimension in Wright’s understanding of justification, then? There is, and this is one of the most troubling aspects of his work. Like many today who are proposing new understandings of justification, he bifurcates justification into immediate and future aspects, and pushes the personal and salvific dimensions of justification into the eschatalogical future, in a final judgment. Page 129: “Present justification declares, on the basis of faith, what future justification will affirm publicly … on the basis of the entire life.”

That’s troubling for two reasons: first, it makes a person’s covenant faithfulness—obedience—the basis of final justification, thus grounding the ultimate declaration of righteousness in the believer’s own works, rather than grounding justification completely in the finished work of Christ on our behalf.

And it does no such thing whatsoever. Last I checked, we all seem to think that works are a part of the evidence of salvation. James is right. If you say you have faith and you have no works, then you do not really have faith. How is this a problem? I don’t know any evangelical who wants to say you can say the sinner’s prayer, live like a heathen, and still get eternal life at the end. Faith in Christ ought to result in some works.

And even though Wright’s defenders have tried desperately to exonerate him from this charge, it seems clear to me that throughout his book, he is selfconsciously and deliberately rejecting the main distinctive—the material principle—of the Protestant Reformation. In Luther’s words, this is the article by which the church stands or falls. In Calvin’s words, it is the principle hinge of all religion.

If Johnson thinks this is convincing, then I’ll use the same principle. It seems clear to me that Johnson has encountered a new idea and it goes against what he has always believed in his mind, so he has started pushing the panic button. I think this is also what Geisler did when Licona came out with his ideas and it is sadly a common evangelical tactic.

I also think it’s odd to say the church stands or falls by this. What happened to the resurrection? Do we really think the world was hearing in the first century “Good news! You can be justified by grace through faith!” and that was the contorversial message? The controversial message was about this dead man named Jesus who was alive and God’s Messiah through whom He would rule the world.

And you see this most clearly in the fifth distinctive of Wright’s position that I want to highlight for you. Here is idea number five, if you’re making a list of these: According to Wright, Protestant and Reformed exegetes who in the mainstream of evangelical theology have all misread what Paul meant when he spoke of “the righteousness of God.” According to Wright, divine righteousness is not an asset that can be imputed from God to the believer. It has nothing to do with virtue or excellence or moral rectitude that can be imputed. Instead, God’s righteousness is simply His covenant faithfulness. And when Paul speaks of the believer’s righteousness as a righteousness that comes from God, he is talking about covenant membership, our status in the covenant, which ultimately must be maintained by our own faithfulness.

Now if that sounds to you like implicit denial of the classic doctrine of imputation, I believe that is precisely what Wright is saying. He downplays or denies or redefines the principle of imputation at every turn. Page 98: “If we use the language of the law court, it makes no sense whatsoever to say that the judge imputes, imparts, bequeaths, conveys, or otherwise transfers his righteousness to either the plaintiff or the defendant. Righteousness is not an object, a substance or a gas which can be passed across the courtroom.”

According to Wright (p. 123), 1 Corinthians 1:30 is “the only passage I know of where something called ‘the imputed righteousness of Christ,’ a phrase more often found in post-Reformation theology and piety than in the New Testament, finds any basis in the text.” Wright then goes on to argue that if we are to claim 1 Corinthians 1:30 as a proof text about the imputation of Christ’s righteousness, “we must also be prepared to talk of the imputed wisdom of Christ; the imputed sanctification of Christ … “ and so on.

Say what you will about Wright; he himself makes it abundantly clear that he does not like the notion of imputation, because he does not believe divine righteousness is something that can be reckoned, or put to the account, of the believer. And he is equally silent—ominously silent—about the biblical teaching that the believer’s guilt was imputed to Christ and paid for on the cross.

We can wonder if Johnson has changed any of this since Wright has now a whole book on the atonement, but I am doubtful that he has. Wright is correct that only one text explicitly says anything like that. It’s strange that Johnson would seem to have a problem with Wright saying he only has one text that can be said to argue for this position when that’s exactly what Johnson did earlier in this article with Hebrews 11:13-16.

Therefore, he says, we have got the gospel all wrong. And he says this repeatedly. Page 60: “‘The gospel’ is not, for Paul, a message about ‘how one gets saved’, in an individual and ahistorical sense.” Page 41; here is how Wright 10 describes what he is convinced is a misunderstanding of the gospel: “In certain circles within the church … ‘the gospel’ is supposed to be a description of how people get saved; of the theological mechanism whereby, in some people’s language, Christ takes our sin and we his righteousness.”

Some people’s language”? Wright himself disdains to use such language. He is careful to insist that he is not intolerant of people who do use that language. He goes on (p. 41): “I am perfectly comfortable with what people normally mean when they say ‘the gospel’. I just don’t think it’s what Paul means.”

But if that’s not what Paul means, it’s not what Scripture means. Is Wright suggesting that Protestants have historically proclaimed a “different gospel”? It would certainly be uncharacteristic of Tom Wright to anathematize anyone, but he does rather clearly imply that he thinks Protestants have been getting the gospel wrong since the 16th century.

And many Calvinists have been saying the same about others. Anybody seen that saying “Calvinism is the Gospel”? If that is really meant, then that would mean anyone who is an arminian is holding to a different Gospel. Wright has not denied the Gospel. Instead, He has broadened it. It’s not just about the individual. It’s about the community of God and God Himself.

Johnson says Wright thinks we’ve been getting it wrong for a long time. So did Martin Luther. If we followed Johnson consistently, we would have to get rid of the Reformation.

Now I promised to give you as many biblical answers to Tom Wright’s New Perspective as time allows, and in the time that remains, that is what I want to do. Let me try to answer each one of the five ideas I have outlined with at least one or two biblical arguments:

First, there’s the notion that we have misunderstood first-century Judaism. I answer that Tom Wright has erred by lending more credence to secular scholarship than he does to the testimony of Scripture. We ought to draw our understanding of the first-century religious climate from the New Testament itself, and not from the disputed conclusions of a handful of skeptical twentieth-century scholars who refuse to bow to the authority of Scripture.

And I say Johnson has not looked at the data that has been presented. Is the data wrong because some non-Christians came up with it? Do we really want to present an echo chamber approach? We tell non-Christians they should learn from Christians and non-Christians both, but we will not do the same?

And what about Johnson? Is he going directly to Scripture? I contend that he has pointed to tradition in this piece far more than he has to Scripture. Once again, I thought the Reformation had something to do with questioning long held traditions because of the truth of Scripture, but maybe I was wrong.

And what does Scripture say about the religion of the Jews, and the Pharisees in particular? Scripture clearly teaches that their central error was that they trusted too much in their own righteousness rather than resting their faith in the Old Testament truth that God would cover them with the garment of His own righteousness. Paul says this explicitly in Romans 10:3: “They being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and seeking to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted to the righteousness of God.” Jesus also said it repeatedly. He constantly criticized the Pharisees for trying to justify themselves. Remember the parable of the Pharisee and the Publican? Luke 18:9 says Jesus told that parable “unto certain which trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others.” And the whole point of Paul’s testimony in Philippians 3 was to show that he once had “confidence in the flesh”—those are Paul’s precise words in Philippians 3:4. But Paul turned from that, jettisoned his self-righteousness, regarded it as dung, and testified that his one hope now, as a Christian and a believer, was “To be found in [Christ,] not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith.”

Unfortunately, quoting a Scripture does not mean your interpretation of it is correct. The Jews in Romans 10 were rejecting Christ and saying “We will show our righteousness by the Law.” That would fit in just fine with what Wright says. In Luke, the Pharisee is not righteous because he keeps the law. The tax collector is because he lives by faith. Again, this is just fine with Wright. In Phillipians 3, Paul was one who kept the law blamelessly by his words, but his righteousness was not in keeping the law, but by identifying himself as a believer in Christ. Again, Wright would have no problem.

Wright tries to do away with the force of that text by removing the word righteousness, and suggesting that Paul was talking about “covenant membership.” But both the context and the very words of the passage prove that what Paul was describing was the difference between two contrasting ideas of righteousness—one he calls “my own righteousness,” and the other, an alien righteousness—the righteousness of God in Christ.

Not at all. Paul being faithful to the old covenant would not save if God had made a new covenant. The righteousness of the new is superior to the old for it is based on the fulfillment of the promises of Christ. That Johnson has not considered what someone who works to understand this can come up quickly shows me that Johnson is just pushing the panic button.

Wright is simply wrong—egregiously wrong—when he suggests that self-righteousness was not a problem in first-century Judaism.

Johnson is simply wrong—egregiously wrong—when he suggests that self-righteousness was a problem in first-century Judaism and maybe he should have read those scholars that Wright read instead of dismissing them.

By the way, Wright is making a caricature of the historic Protestant position when he suggests that most interpreters have equated first-century Judaism with Pelagianism, the notion that sinners can pull themselves up by their own bootstraps and save themselves through their own works.

Just quoting this to say the irony of a caricature here is amazing.

Of course Judaism had a major emphasis on grace, and the mercy of God. The Pharisees knew the Old Testament, and the idea of grace was plainly prominent in the Old Testament. But the religion of the Pharisees, and the bulk of first-century Judaism, had corrupted the Old Testament notion of grace. Their religion wasn’t like Pelagianism, which is utterly devoid of grace. But it was much like semi-pelagianism, which has a watered-down notion of grace, and still places too much stress on human works. Semi-pelagianism suggests that grace is enough to get your foot in the door of salvation, but you have to maintain your salvation, or your covenant membership, by your own faithfulness and obedience to the law.

And Johnson bases this on….what? What scholarship on Second Temple Judaism is he reading to tell us that this is the way Jews thought? Your guess is as good as mine.

Listen, even in the way Tom Wright describes first-century Judaism, it is clear that there was a semi-pelagian tendency in that religion. And frankly, one of my great concerns with Wright and others who have followed his lead (as well as people like Norman Shepherd and the Auburn Avenue movement) is this: Their notion of “covenant faithfulness,” where a person maintains his membership in the covenant by legal means, through obedience, and looks for a final justification grounded at least partly in their own works—smacks too much of neonomian legalism for my tastes. It turns the gospel into a “new law”—a toned-down legal system where the requirements are diminished so that imperfect obedience counts as true obedience. And that makes the sinner’s own works either the ground or the instrument of final justification. That kind of thinking frankly has the stench of semi-pelagianism all over it. It is a subtle form of works-righteousness.

Except Johnson is reading his individualism into this. The Jew would not say I am doing the works of the Law so that I can be saved. They would say they are doing it because they are saved and this is what people of the covenant do. How do I know I am in the covenant? I fulfill my part of it! God is my patron! My role is to do what He has commanded me to do!

My reply is that if Wright is correct and the only issue Paul was concerned about was racial and cultural divisions in the Galatian churches and elsewhere, the force of Paul’s response is a little bit hard to understand. If Paul’s plea was merely an echo of Rodney-King theology (“Why can’t we all just get along?”) it’s hard to see why Paul himself pronounced such harsh anathemas against the Judaizers in Galatians 1. In effect, Paul banned them from the table Wright insists ought to be open to everyone who acknowledges Christ as Lord.

Actually, Paul’s response is pretty easy to understand. If the Galatians go the way they are doing, then Christ is useless because it’s being part of the community by the old standard as I said earlier. This is not about getting along. Again, Johnson has made, dare I say, a caricature, of the situation.

What about this third distinctive? Wright says we have mistaken what Paul meant by the expression “works of the law.”

Romans 3:20 alone blows that argument to smithereens. Paul says, “By the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin.”

It’s the moral law, not the ceremonial law, that puts our sin under a bright light and condemns us. Paul is not talking about ethnic badges here; he is talking about the moral demands of the law. And he is saying as plainly as possible that the law, with all its high moral standards, cannot possibly justify us, because it condemns us as sinners.

Romans 3:20 hardly blows it to smithereens. Johnson speaks about the moral law and not the ceremonial law, but we have to ask if a Jew would have made that distinction. Paul in fact in the passage that talks about the morality of those who follow the Law also talks about circumcision. Does Johnson think that circumcision is part of the moral law? Is a Gentile man immoral if he does not get circumcised?

Does the Law show what sin is? Yes. The Law then could not be the final basis for justification. It would have to be something else that would show someone is justified. That would be faith in Christ. Again, this is not a problem for Wright’s view. Johnson strikes me as someone who does not want to learn what his opponents believe. He’s quick to find something he thinks makes the case and then declares victory.

Wright’s definition of justification (as “covenant membership”) downplays and almost completely eliminates the ideas of sin and forgiveness from the doctrine of justification completely. But forgiveness and redemption from the guilt of sin are the very issues Paul is dealing with in Romans 3 and 4. And Paul’s illustrations and Old Testament proofs make it clear that what he is talking about is first of all individual, not corporate, justification. He is dealing with guilt, not merely covenant status. Romans 4:4–5: “Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as grace but as debt. But to the one who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted [“reckoned”; “imputed to him”] for righteousness.”

Verses 6–7: “Just as David also describes the blessedness of the man to whom God imputes righteousness apart from works: Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, And whose sins are covered.”

There’s no way to be faithful to the meaning of that text if you try to evacuate the notions of individual guilt and forgiveness from the idea of justification.

No way? Challenge accepted!

In fact, it is quite easy to be faithful to the text. Why is Abraham cited? Abraham is exhibit A in all of these. Abraham was the friend of God. Abraham was the person God made an original covenant with. If Abraham was justified by works, then the Jews would have a case. What does the text say though? Abraham believed in God and it was credited to Him as righteousness. Abraham’s identity marker then was not circumcision. It was faith to the covenant. We today are declared righteous by faith in the covenant. The difference is we see the covenant afterward.

David says the same. There is no need for individualism here. Community minded people certainly know individuals exist. Their focus is just not on the individual. It is on the community. The group comes first and then the person comes second.

I could go on, but time is short. Let me just give you one other example, from the teaching of Jesus. That parable of the Pharisee and the publican in Luke 18 teaches the very thing N. T. Wright wants to deny about the doctrine of justification. This is the one place where Jesus expounds most clearly on the principle of justification. And he is fully in agreement with the classic Reformed interpretation of Paul. He ends that parable by saying in Luke 18:14: “I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

There you have the principle of justification apart from works of any kind. It deals with individual guilt and forgiveness, not merely corporate relationships. One man was justified; the other was condemned.

And this passage I also explained earlier. Each individual has to show how they are a part of the community, but the question is what establishes the community? Many of us are interested in what establishes the individual. The ancients were not.

But Scripture nonetheless does speak of the imputation of righteousness to the believer. Jesus commands us in Matthew 6:33 to “seek” God’s righteousness—a notion that doesn’t fit with the New Perspective definition. Ephesians 4:24 connects the notion of righteousness with “true holiness.” In other words, it is a extensive moral attribute, not merely “covenant faithfulness.” Any definition of righteousness that does not include those concepts is an impoverished definition.

But why not? This is again simple enough. Jesus’s point is that God will be faithful to His people. Seek that when seeking God. Remember His promises and trust Him. Ephesians is about our being faithful to the covenant on our end. Again, this is not a problem.

Righteousness is a much bigger concept than Tom Wright will acknowledge, and herein lies my chief complaint with his approach to theology: he has made righteousness a smaller concept than Scripture does. He makes sin a minor issue. He downplays the idea of atonement. He barely touches on the sinner’s need for forgiveness. He diminishes the doctrine of justification by declaring it a second-order doctrine. What he ends up with is a theology that is destitute of virtually all the lofty concepts that the Protestant Reformation recovered from the barrenness of Medieval theology.

Yes. Next we’ll be told that he kicks dogs when he walks across the street and takes candy from babies. Not at all. Johnson is pushing the panic button here. In fact, I think many on the other side diminish the resurrection by making it a second-order doctrine. Justification is a result of the resurrection. The resurrection is not the result of justification.

There is nothing in Wright’s perspective that downplays sin. Sin is the reason the Kingdom of God has to come on Earth. There is nothing that downplays forgiveness. One cannot enter the Kingdom without it. There is nothing that denies the atonement. One cannot be at peace with God without accepting His covenant.

From here we go on to a look at Steve Chalke and that this is where Wright is taking us. We will downplay sin and the atonement and everything else. If downplaying is the problem, then let me make a suggestion. Only twice in this article does Johnson mention the resurrection. When he does, he is talking about Wright’s defense of it. Nowhere in this piece does Johnson in any way tie justification to the resurrection.

Now if I was talking about justification, I would have to go to the resurrection. The cross is not what justifies us because if Jesus had remained dead, there would be no forgiveness. Jesus would have been just another sinner who died for His sins. It is because He rose from the dead that everything is different.

In fact, I’d go back even further. Too often when we give our talks about the Gospel, we start with Adam and Eve and then jump straight to Jesus. Maybe it’s just me, but I think that stuff in the middle that we call the Old Testament could be important. Just saying!

Like Johnson, I am not a prophet, but I do think I see where the wind is blowing here. We can expect that evangelicals will once again push the panic button when a new idea comes up and refuse to look at the claims and go into protection mode instead. Such is a disgrace for us. It is better to debate a question without settling it than to settle it without debating it.

What do I encourage you to do? Do what should be done. Read both sides. If you think these secular scholars are just trying to undermine evangelicalism, read their work. See what they say. What is their claim? What is the data behind it? Does the data back the claim? Read Piper, but read Wright as well. Learn from all. Come to your own conclusion.

And let it be clear also I am not pronouncing any anathemas on those who disagree. I stand with any who proclaim that Jesus is the Lord of all who rose from the dead bodily. That is the essential for me. I don’t expect my theology to be right in everything. When my time for judgment comes, I will say that I placed my trust in Christ and that is all.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Evidence That Demands A Verdict

What do I think of Josh and Sean McDowell’s latest book published by Thomas Nelson? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

The Evidence books have been classic staples of apologetics for some time. When I found out the latest one was coming out and there was an advance launch team, I decided I would try to be a part of it. Since I have a good relationship with Sean McDowell, it wasn’t too difficult to get that done and spent the next month or so reading on my Kindle the copy I had.

So I figured this time I would put my thoughts down in the form of pros and cons.

Pros — This one is definitely thorough. While it focuses on historical objections, there are other sections, such as asking if miracles are possible and questions related to a postmodern climate such as the nature of truth. Questions like theism itself or creation-evolution questions for the most part are left untouched, but that’s fine because an apologetics book is not meant to cover everything.

Also, the writers do admit any problems in the field. For instance, in a chapter on Old Testament archeaology, they rightly say that some claims from the past are being questioned today and we need to do more research. The goal in these cases is not to establish certainty but plausibility. I consider this quite helpful.

There’s also sections on popular internet fads today, such as if Jesus existed and if He was copied from pagan gods. Of course, scholars don’t take this seriously, but we all know that internet atheists don’t really pay attention to the world of scholarship. Those who do care will get information from this to give them the upper hand.

Another positive is that each chapter can be read on its own. Want to read about the Exodus but don’t really care about establishing that Jesus wasn’t copied from pagan gods right now? Fine. Go to the chapter on the Exodus. Prior knowledge of earlier chapters isn’t necessary.

Finally, there’s also the fact that there is interaction with real scholars in the field and often on both sides. Evidence can be seen as a gateway book. The person who gets this book should not think it’s the be-all and end-all. Instead, they should find the sections they like the most and be willing to read the scholars that are cited to learn even more.

Cons — There are of course some things I would like to see improved. For instance, sometimes reading can seem like one is reading encyclopedia articles. As I thought about this, it occurred to me that an interesting format would be for them to do something like Strobel has done and that’s to go and do the research and then go and interview scholars on the matter and ask about what was come across in the research to create a much more conversational feel, which is what I think so well contributed to the success of Strobel’s books.

Second, sometimes the interaction with the other side was not the best. For instance, on the resurrection of Jesus, there is examination of the counterclaims of Richard Carrier. I would much rather have seen Gerd Ludemann or Bart Ehrman or even Jeffrey Jay Lowder here. Save Carrier for the chapter on the existence of Jesus.

Third, sometimes I did tire of seeing regularly the language of “noted scholar” or “prominent scholar.” This was often used too abundantly and many times, I have seen the language used in the sense of “A great man has spoken. The case is closed.” I am not saying the McDowells necessarily used it that way, but the language does put me on my guard. I find it a good practice after all to be as skeptical of books by my own side as I am the other side.

Still, there is a lot of information here that can be helpful, and the price for the most part is reasonable from what I’ve seen on Amazon. I am also pleased to see both Josh and Sean working together. Sean is certainly working to be a great apologist in his own right and I am eager to see what the future holds.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

5,000+ Gods

How do you know you have the right deity? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

It’s understandable that when it comes to major issues, many of us have strong opinions. It’s understandable that many of us seek to be informed on those opinions. It’s understandable that many times we will want to talk to others about those opinions who agree and disagree with us and want to either share encouragement or change minds respectively.

It’s not understandable though that people share nonsense all the while thinking that they are sharing a powerful argument. One such case recently happened on the Unbelievable? Facebook page. An atheist, no doubt convinced he had a brilliant argument, shared the following meme and asked what the way is Christians find out of this particular dilemma.

People who post this stuff really don’t bother to understand world religions at all. For instance, consider the Buddha. Many Buddhists in the classical system would be seen as atheistic and not think the Buddha is a deity. The Hindu pantheon has several lesser gods, some more prominent than others, but nothing seen as a sort of ultimate deity. Many would have no problem saying that of course there are 5,000 gods, but could say that all of them are real.

Let’s start with something simple though. All truth claims are exclusive. If I say 2 + 2 = 4, then any person who says an answer that is contrary to 4 is wrong. We could say to people who think I am the husband of Allie Licona Peters that “There are billions of men on this planet who could be her husband, but don’t worry, the claim that Nick Peters is the only right answer.” Of course, it is.

How could this work with atheism? Just replace gods with worldviews. There are almost 5,000 worldviews being believed by humanity. Don’t worry. Yours is right. After all, atheism is just a strong a claim. It’s a strong claim if the meme is true to say that you worship the right God out of 5,000 or so. It’s a strong claim to say that you are right and everyone else is entirely wrong because none of those deities are real.

The meme when looking at the question also assumes that all deities have the same amount of evidence for their existence and all religions do as well. Are we really to think that, for instance, archaeologically, the Book of Mormon can begin to compare with the New Testament, or even the Old Testament for that matter? You could if perhaps you right at the start assume that all of the systems are nonsense, which would just be begging the question.

This is something Matthew McCormick did in his book The Case Against Christ. He made a list of 500 deities that were thought to be ominpotent, omniscient, eternal, etc. He then said that these gods are no longer worshiped this way. Well, I did something rather odd there. I actually went and looked up all of these gods. Any that were seen that way could be counted on one hand. You can see some of my doing this here including his big gaffe.

What needs to happen then is something that should be obvious to the atheists who say they care so much about evidence, but they often forget. That is to look at the evidence. That means when the theist pulls up the evidence for whatever deity they believe in, you actually look at it and consider it.

If you asked me why I believe in the deity I hold to, I would say that it is the most logically consistent for me. It is very similar to the one Aristotle arrived at in his philosophy. I go with the Aristotelian-Thomistic arguments. It would be quite long to go into here so that will be for another day.

Then when I look at Christianity, I say the evidence for Jesus is overwhelming. To deny His existence is ridiculous. Other theories I see trying to explain the data surrounding the resurrection I find completely lacking. I say this also by the way as one who has read much on the other side. (I often ask an atheist when the last time they read an academic work that disagreed with them was and I very often get crickets in response.)

There are other points. For instance, the number of other deities is actually much more than 5,000. Also, saying one religion is right does not mean that all religions are entirely wrong in everything that they believe. There are great truths in many of the other world religions.

I am of the firm stance that a meme is not an argument. If you have made your argument, you can illustrate it with a meme, but the meme itself is not the argument. People who think it is I find to generally be shallow thinkers. That includes Christians and non-Christians both. Stupidity can be found among the proponents of any belief system just as intelligence can.

Looking at the thread, I do not see any theist that is concerned about the argument. I’m certainly not, but I figured it would be a good example to post here and one question I’m not sure if I’ve ever tackled on the blog. We can hope that the poster will start citing some academic sources in making his whole argument, but I am skeptical that that will ever happen.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Evidence Considered, Chapter 7

Does atheism account for the data? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

In chapter 7, Jelbert responds to another essay of David Wood on explanatory scope of worldviews. It’s about God, suffering, and Santa Claus. Many children believe Santa Claus puts presents under the tree because our parents say so and we tend to think they’re reliable. Okay. Some of us might have better reasons for believing in such phenomena than others.

Wood’s main point is that atheism is not an explanation and when the gifts show up, who do you think? Theism has great explanatory power on the other hand and if the only problem is suffering, there are more than enough reasons for that. So what does Jelbert say?

His first paragraph in response is worth quoting in full:

The ancient Egyptians saw the brute fact of the sun rising each day. They explained that this occurred because Khepri, the scarab god, would push the sun across the sky ahead of him like a beetle pushing a ball of dung. It is unclear whether the ancient Egyptians ever took this “explanation” seriously, but the point is clear; a divine explanation is no explanation at all.

It really is a wonder that a paragraph such as this is typed. Jelbert wants us to look and say that this is obvious nonsense, but is it really? If you are an ancient Egyptian, do you not want to explain things some way? If you know of no other explanation, what is wrong with a divine one?

Jelbert says that a divine explanation is no explanation at all, but this is most certainly false. There are plenty of arguments for atheism. I do not consider them true arguments and fewer still are good arguments, but they are at least arguments. There are many explanations for how life came from non-life and while it is quite likely that some of them are false, they are still explanations. Even if something is seen as a bad explanation, a bad explanation is still by definition, an explanation.

If Jelbert wants to say that it is clear that this doesn’t explain things, he would need to show how. Has he demonstrated that there is no god named Kherpi pushing the sun? Perhaps Kherpi is invisible and has a superpower that we mistake to be a natural law like a character in a comic book. Do I think this is true? Not at all. Could Jelbert prove that it is isn’t? Doubtful.

Furthermore, this assumes that all divine explanations are equal. Why should I think that? Could it be some cases of theism have more explanatory power than do others? Is it a stretch to say that there’s more evidence backing the New Testament being true than there is backing the Book of Mormon being true? If Aristotle’s natural theology can end in a deity very similar to that of the three great monotheistic faiths, could it be because there was some explanatory power to that and the evidence led that way?

Not only this, if Jelbert is saying that divine explanations are not explanations, then is he not begging the question? He would like to say he’s open for evidence of God, but God would certainly have to explain something if He existed. Yet if Jelbert says that an explanation of God would explain nothing, then He is asking us to give something that doesn’t exist, mainly an explanation that cannot explain and yet have it be something that explains the data to him.

To base this on one example would be like looking at a fossil that has been seen to be a fraud in defense of evolution and then say, “Well as you can see, an evolutionary explanation is no explanation at all.” Jelbert would rightly say “Yes. That was wrong, but look at all this other data here for this better explanation!” I agree, and I will do the same for theism.

Jelbert goes on to say that for thousands of years, humans thought they had all the answers and all the explanations. No scientific advance was needed. That’s why they were resisted. I wish to know what history Jelbert is reading. If he thinks that during the medieval period they were only discussing theology and philosophy, he is badly mistaken. Often, the argument he’s using comes with this graphic:

Such a graphic though shows an abject ignorance of the medieval period and one that I suspect Jelbert has never really looked into. We cannot know because Jelbert cites no historians of the period here. All of this is just asserted, it’s almost like Jelbert wants us to take him by faith. I reserve the faith for the atheists. I prefer to check to see the evidence first.

Tim O’Neill is quite good at dealing with this. As he says on his blog:

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

Jelbert here could complain that I have just pulled into the debate another Christian apologist so why take the claim seriously? He could say that, but he would be wrong. O’Neill is no Christian apologist. In fact, he’s actually an atheist.

The point is the Christians in the medieval period were indeed busy trying to find explanations. Sometimes they were right explanations. Sometimes they were not. I would like Jelbert to find the time where the medievals explained scientific conundrums simply by saying “God did it.” If he can’t, then Jelbert has bought into a theory of history without any evidence. Perhaps by his standard he has an explanation that is no explanation at all.

Jelbert does take this kind of approach as he says that science comes to explain things that we used to explain with deities. Perhaps some did, but where are the Christians doing this? He does say that many Christians just move on to the next scientific difficulty. Right now, the big argument is that God tunes the universal constants. What happens when another explanation is found for that?

Dare I say it, but I agree here. I do not use the fine-tuning argument because first off, I do not understand the science behind it. If someone does, they are free to use it. However, even if I did understand the science, if I used it, I would not use it alone. I would never hang my theism on a scientific argument. I think it’s wrong to hang any worldview on any scientific argument. This is why I use the metaphysical arguments of Aquinas that are untouched by science.

Jelbert goes on to look at Wood’s question asking if we should reject an explanation that explains the data. Jelbert says that the answer is yes. He points to pseudo-science. Unfortunately, he does not give any examples and this is just a way of begging the question. Jelbert says we reject hypotheses when they make predictions that fail, but what failing prediction does he have in mind? Furthermore, if it fails at a prediction, it’s not really an explanatory hypothesis so Wood is still safe.

Jelbert’s next statement is again worth quoting in full.

And what of Wood’s idea that atheism explains nothing? If we include all scientific discovery in this (Which is reasonable because science is a naturalistic endeavor), it is hard to imagine a more wildly inaccurate statement.)

The reality is it’s hard to imagine a more wildly inaccurate statement than Jelbert’s! Why should we say science is a naturalistic endeavor? What about atheism is essential to science? A Christian and an atheist can do the exact same experiment in the lab. Their worldview does not affect the outcome. We could easily imagine a world where there are only Christians and the science would work the same way. We could easily imagine a world where there are only atheists and the science would work the same way.

Jelbert is also confusing methodological naturalism with metaphysical naturalism. The use of the former does not entail the latter and even still the former is a difficult term to define. Can it be that if any scientist looks at the data and thinks that it looks like a deity has been involved, that he has ceased to do science? What would he think of Fred Hoyle’s statement that

“A common sense interpretation of the facts suggests that a super intellect has monkeyed with physics, as well as with chemistry and biology, and that there are no blind forces worth speaking about in nature.”

If a scientist says something like this, are they automatically excluded? It’s hard to not think of Lewontin’s statement.

Our willingness to accept scientific claims that are against common sense is the key to an understanding of the real struggle between science and the supernatural. We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism. It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door. The eminent Kant scholar Lewis Beck used to say that anyone who could believe in God could believe in anything. To appeal to an omnipotent deity is to allow that at any moment the regularities of nature may be ruptured, that miracles may happen.

It amazes me that so many atheists ask for scientific evidence for God, which I consider to be a category fallacy really, and then rule out any science that points to God. It’s also a problem because what if God is the explanation? If so, then we are doing science at the outset that cannot reach the truth because we have ruled out the truth in advance based not on science, but on philosophy, and bad philosophy at that.

Still, Jelbert will look at the questions and one question is why is there a world at all? Jelbert says that if we want to ask the purpose, we have to consider everything, including the evil in the world, which Wood thinks is better explained by a good God. I find this quite fascinating.

You see, when Jelbert looks at Wood’s claim, Wood has to look and consider all the data and consider all possible explanations. When Wood gives a claim, Jelbert is only willing to consider naturalistic explanations. Why does Jelbert say we have to consider everything, but he himself doesn’t?

We also have to ask is evil an exception or is it the norm? Dare I say it, but quite likely Jelbert wakes up in a warm bed every morning, has food in his refrigerator, drives from place to place, has a home where he has air conditioning and heating and cable TV and the internet, and goes through every day not fearing for his life. Does he really want to say that good is the exception and not evil?

As I have said also, if we go to other cultures where suffering is much more prevalent, they do not really talk about the problem of evil. I suspect more of us do because we have a sort of entitlement mindset. We think that we are owed a certain kind of life.

Jelbert then says that if it’s individual purpose, we have to create our own, but he prefers his as an atheist more than as a Christian. Conclusion? By most measures atheists have a better explanation. Ah yes. We used the great sample of one and came to a conclusion of all atheists. Well let’s go with this.

I as a Christian have a great purpose in my life that is a Christian purpose. If I went and asked my wife and she agreed with me for herself, then that would be two. By Jelbert’s standards then, Christians have a better explanation. Does that seem ridiculous to you? It is.

Something Jelbert never seems to ask is why do we ask the question anyway? Why do we think that there is a purpose? What is this longing in us that thinks that we are actually supposed to matter? Do we really matter? If we don’t really, why live like we do? Why deny reality?

He then goes on to the question of why the universe is fine-tuned. He chalks it up to selection bias, but this seems odd. Nature has a bias? Jelbert in doing this has just taken nature and made it his deity. He also presents the fallacious argument that if we are here to observe it, then the universe must be fine-tuned to evolve and support life. This is like the case of being sentenced to death tied to a stake and facing you are fifty sharpshooters with laser scopes on their rifles. Somehow, they all miss and the official in charge says that divine favor must be on your side and lets you go. When asked why it happened you say “Well of course it did, because I wouldn’t be here if it didn’t!” Yet this is the very thing to explain. Most of us would think the game had to be rigged somehow.

As for diversity, that is explained by evolution. Now here’s another problem for Jelbert. I could happily accept evolution as an explanation for the diversity of life. Evolution is not a problem to my theism. The problem is as has been said, Jelbert has to accept it. It’s the only game in town.

You see, for me, I happen to think that we know a lot more about the gestation process than our ancestors did. We know that there is no divine intervention involved every time a woman gets pregnant. Does that change the truth of the Psalms that we are fearfully and wonderfully made? Not at all. God using a naturalistic process does not change Him being behind the process and the great mind that developed it. I consider evolution in the same light.

Jelbert says that Wood has no explanation, but Wood does. Jelbert can’t just throw out God as an explanation entirely. Wood could easily say “I do not know the specifics of how God brought about the diversity of life, but I see enough evidence for Him so I know He did it and if He does exist, then He is behind it somehow.”

Jelbert goes on to ask that if scientists discovered how abiogenesis takes place, where would that leave the theist? For me, it would leave me in the exact same place. It would not be a problem. God is never meant to be a stopgap. I could instead ask Jelbert, what if it doesn’t come up? Jelbert has a lot more hanging on the science than I do.

What about miracles? Does God explain those? Jelbert says that there are conflicting miracle claims in many religions. It would have been nice if we had been told these claims. For instance, Christianity would happily accept the miracles of Judaism. They’re part of our Old Testament. Islam meanwhile claims no miracle except the Koran. Miracles that show up in the hadith later on are quite likely not historical and the Koran admits many miraculous things about Jesus.

What about other religions? Pantheistic systems like Hinduism don’t explain miracles because all is God. What is behind the miracles? Is God changing God? This certainly doesn’t work where the extra-material world is an illusion. What of Buddhism? Buddhism seeks to break people away from attachment to the world. Miracles make no sense here either.

It’s also worth pointing out that I do not rule out miracles in other religions because they are in other religions. I actually have this strange idea. Let’s go with a case by case study and look at the evidence for a claim before we decide if it’s true or not. I realize this goes against the atheistic position of ruling them out a priori, but that is just what you do when you go by the evidence. Chesterton said years ago that the theist believes in the miracle claim, rightly or wrongly, because of the evidence. The atheist disbelieves in it, rightly or wrongly, because he has a dogma against them.

What about the idea that some miracles are the work of demonic powers such as the devil? Jelbert says that we need to be able to scribe to the devil a very devious mind if we hold this. I don’t think it will take a lot to convince Christians of that. This is someone Jesus said in John 8 was a liar from the beginning and is a murderer and no truth is found in him.

Jelbert also says it’s amazing so many people were born into the right religion, but does this not go against his science? Jelbert just happened to be born in the right part of the world where they have scientific explanations instead of theistic ones. Isn’t that a wonderful coincidence? This is simply the genetic fallacy.

Jelbert does present the evidence of Sai Baba as a miracle worker. He says that we dismiss the claims and say he was just a con man. I have not looked at the claims so I cannot say. I can say I would not just dismiss them. If evidence can be shown that he was a con man, then that does damage the evidence for miracles. He goes on to say that the Gospel writers were not witnesses of what they wrote, but reported other traditions uncritically. In later chapters he looks at the historical Jesus, so we will deal with this then. Shortly here, we could simply recommend the newest edition of Jesus and the Eyewitnesses by Richard Bauckham.

It’s also worth pointing out that Jelbert does give a source here some and that source is Wells. Wells was not and is not a New Testament scholar. In fact, for some time, he held to mythicism. It is a wonder why Jelbert takes someone like that seriously, but it is quite likely any port in a storm.

Jelbert does say the New Testament has Jesus doing miracles such as raising the dead and feeding miraculously which were done by Elisha. Well of course! What does he expect? Jesus is doing reenactment and showing that He is greater than Elisha while staying in the tradition of Elisha. Of course, Jesus healed the blind as well and that didn’t happen in the past, but I suppose we just speak where it did happen and ignore where it didn’t.

He goes on to quote Wells saying that the letters of Paul don’t mention miracles. Why should they? The letters are not biographies. They are written to tell of the life of Jesus. The only reason to mention a miracle is that it is relevant to the needs of the people. Are we to think that telling the story of the multiplication of food would somehow help the Corinthians deal with food offered to idols?

We do need to go into some more New Testament as Jelbert does look at the appearances. Jelbert points to an evolutionary development based on the number of appearances, but how does this mesh? The account with the most experiences by far is the first one, the found in 1 Cor. 15. Still, this is discussed more in later chapters so we will deal with it then.

Jelbert then concludes that atheists can be thankful for their existence, their families, their friends, and all that these entail, but I want to know, thankful to whom? Jelbert has no one to thank for his existence and if he wishes to say the universe, then the universe has become the deity. If the universe needs an explanation, who could the universe thank?

In the end, I have to agree with Mike Licona on this, that methodological naturalism can often be a safe space for atheists. I, meanwhile, as a Christian theist can accept science happily and have no problem. I could accept the explanations of evolution and such given in this chapter and my worldview in Christian theism is not altered one iota. Jelbert could not say the same about theism.

We’ll continue next time looking more at science itself.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Deeper Waters Podcast 10/7/2017: Ross Clifford

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

Did Jesus rise from the dead? This is the question upon which the Christian faith rests. Of course, to answer a question like this, you need evidence, and if there are a group of people that love evidence and arguing from it, it’s lawyers. So how would the resurrection stand up in a court of law? Could you make a legal case for the resurrection of Jesus?

To answer this, I have decided to bring on someone who does specialize in legal apologetics. He is someone trained in the area of law and decided to use his legal skills on the case for the resurrection of Jesus to see if it would hold up. It did, and in his book Leading Lawyers’ Case For The Resurrection, he looks at seven lawyers and one thought to be a lawyer who also made a case for the evidence surrounding the death and the resurrection of Jesus and came out believers. His name is Ross Clifford and he’ll be joining us.

So who is he?

According to his bio:

Ross Clifford is Principal of Morling Theological College, Sydney.  Prior to entering the Baptist ministry he practised as a solicitor and barrister.  He was the pastor of two Sydney Baptist churches each of which grew dramatically.  He is the author of nine books including The Cross is Not Enough: Living as Witnesses to the Resurrection. He co-pioneered outreaches into Mind.Body.Spirit festivals.  He is a former President of the Baptist Union of Australia, former and current President of the NSW Council of Churches, President of the Asia Pacific Baptist Federation, recent Chair of the Australian Lausanne Committee, and is a Vice President of the Baptist World Alliance for 2010-2015.  In the Queen’s Birthday Honours List of 2010 he was made a member of the Order of Australia (AM).  He is married to Beverley and they have two children.  His passions include legal crime novels, cricket and all brands of football.

What makes a legal case distinctive from a historical case? How strong is it? Could it really stand up in a court of law? After all, we supposedly have these accounts that wildly contradict and differ from one another. They are supposed to be late as the skeptics say. Isn’t that a problem?

And what about hearsay? Isn’t that all that the accounts are? If so, then how can they possibly be used in a court of law to make the claim that Jesus rose from the dead? We certainly can’t get Paul and the writers of the Gospels to take the stand and get to question them. How do we do it when all we have is pretty much ancient documents?

In looking at the legal cases provided, I found them quite fascinating and I hope you will as well. Please be watching your podcast feed for the next episode of the Deeper Waters Podcast. If you like the show also, please go on ITunes and leave a positive review of the Deeper Waters Podcast.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Special Edition Deeper Waters Podcast: Sean McDowell

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

Evidence. It’s a favorite word of the apologist. Many skeptics think we don’t want to talk about evidence, but in reality we do. We would love it if more conversations revolved around evidence. The question is, do we have the evidence that we need?

Josh McDowell’s books on Evidence That Demands A Verdict has long been a staple for many. Now, he has a new updated one out that he has done with his son Sean. Recognizing the need, I asked to be part of the launch team and so I have indeed gone through most of it and this Friday, in a special edition of the show, I will be interviewing one of the authors, Sean McDowell, on this book.

So who is he?

According to his bio:

Dr. Sean McDowell is a gifted communicator with a passion for equipping the church, and in particular young people, to make the case for the Christian faith. He connects with audiences in a tangible way through humor and stories while imparting hard evidence and logical support for viewing all areas of life through a Biblical worldview. Sean is an Associate Professor in the Christian Apologetics program at Biola University. And he is the Resident Scholar for Summit California.

Sean still teaches one high school Bible class, which helps give him exceptional insight into the prevailing culture so he can impart his observations poignantly to fellow educators, pastors, and parents alike. In 2008 he received the Educator of the Year award for San Juan Capistrano, California. The Association of Christian Schools International awarded Exemplary Status to his apologetics training. Sean is listed among the top 100 apologists. He graduated summa cum laude from Talbot Theological Seminary with a double Master’s degree in Theology and Philosophy. He earned a Ph.D. in Apologetics and Worldview Studies from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in 2014.

Traveling throughout the United States and abroad, Sean speaks at camps, churches, schools, universities, and conferences. He has spoken for organizations including Focus on the Family, the Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview, Backyard Skeptics, Cru, Youth Specialties, Hume Lake Christian Camps, Fellowship of Christian Athletes and the Association of Christian Schools International. Sean has also appeared as a guest on radio shows such as Family Life Today, Point of View, Stand to Reason, Common Sense Atheism, and the Hugh Hewitt Show. Sean has been quoted in many publications, including the New York Times.

Sean is the author, co-author, or editor of over eighteen books including The Fate of the Apostles (Routledge, 2015), A New Kind of Apologist (Harvest House, 2016), The Beauty of Intolerance (Barbour 2016), Same-Sex Marriage: A Thoughtful Approach to God’s Design for Marriage, with John Stonestreet (Baker, 2014), Is God Just a Human Invention? with Jonathan Morrow, and Understanding Intelligent Design along with William A. DembskiSean has also written multiple books with his father, Josh McDowell, including The Unshakable Truth, More Than A Carpenter, and an update for Evidence that Demands a Verdict (2017). Sean is the General Editor for The Apologetics Study Bible for Students. He has also written for YouthWorker JournalDecision Magazine, and the Christian Research Journal. Follow the dialogue with Sean as he blogs regularly at seanmcdowell.org.

In April, 2000, Sean married his high school sweetheart, Stephanie. They have three children and live in San Juan Capistrano, California. Sean played college basketball at Biola University and was the captain his senior year on a team that went 30-7.

We’ll be having an hour-long discussion about this book, the impact the series has had through the years, and why you should get the new version. Sean has been a great guest before and I look forward to having him back on again. This will not cancel out the Saturday show. We will still have that. Please also consider going on ITunes and leaving a positive review of the Deeper Waters Podcast.

In Christ,
Nick Peters