Book Plunge: Can Christians Prove The Resurrection?

What do I think of Chris Sandoval’s book published by Trafford Publishing? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Can Christians Prove The Resurrection is a book by a skeptic of Christianity written to show that while a disproof may not be possible of the resurrection, it is very far from proven. To his credit, this is probably the best book I’ve read attacking the resurrection. I suspect that many not familiar with the ins and outs of the Biblical world could find themselves concerned about what they read. For those of us who do know something about the scholarship in the area, it’s still highly lacking.

Also to be fair, Sandoval is not a typical new atheist type. He does at least have a bibliography, although one that I think is lacking at times. Naturally, any mention of Richard Carrier is enough to make me wonder but a few times Wikipedia is also cited which is problematic. Still, he’s not just someone parroting other new atheists and there isn’t a hint of mythicism in the book.

Much of his argumentation relies on what he calls the principle of Judas’s nose. The Bible never says that Judas has a nose, but it’s fair to think that he did because all people we see for the most part have one and we should take the mundane ordinary explanation over something extraordinary. He gives the example that when you hear hoofbeats, you think horses and not zebras.

This principle can work in many ways, but the problem is that too often Sandoval has assumed the physical similarities but has ignored the cultural dissimilarities. Sandoval writes not paying attention to the social world of the New Testament. Thus, arguments I favor relying on the honor and shame context of the New Testament world to defend the resurrection aren’t even touched and when we get to his attacks on the resurrection instead of his defensive position, it gets worse.

There are also times I think Sandoval presses too heavily on biblical inerrancy, all the while knowing that some apologists like C.S. Lewis rejected it. Sandoval goes after fundamentalists, but in many ways it looks like he has some fundamentalism in him himself. This will become even more apparent when we get to this attack on the resurrection. That having been said, he finds it interesting that evangelicals would want to side with people like Lewis who did not hold to inerrancy. Well why not? Lewis believed in the risen Lord like I did. I know a good number of Christians who don’t hold to inerrancy but they are some of the most devout people I know.

Sandoval also starts with the burden of proof and how history is done. He agrees with McCullagh for the most part with ideas like explanatory scope and avoiding ad hoc items and such. Some of you will recognize this from Mike Licona’s work and to be fair, it looks like this book was written before or as that book came out so you won’t see interaction with Licona’s massive tome in here.

He does argue against miracles without any mention of Earman and of course, we now have Keener’s work on miracles and again, we cannot criticize Sandoval here for not having a reply to something that hadn’t come out yet. It would be interesting to see if he might revise his thesis if he read Keener. Still, Sandoval says that saying God exists and miracles are possible is ad hoc and implausible, though not impossible, yet I wonder what is ad hoc about it? Is this not taking not just skepticism of the resurrection but skepticism of theism as the default position, something I have written on elsewhere?

He also uses the problem of evil in saying that if we were God, we would have intervened in XYZ. Well would we? If we were God, we would also know the end from the beginning. Sandoval implies that being God would mean no new knowledge of the situation that would change one’s data. Well if he thinks that’s the case, I’ll leave it to him to demonstrate that.

When we get to eyewitnesses, on page 48 we are told that Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses ignored eyewitness opponents when they started their movements. Christians likewise did the same. Okay. What eyewitnesses? Name them. In fact, if we looked at the earliest opponents of Christianity, we would find that they not only held to basic truths any historian would agree to, such as Jesus being a real person who was crucified, but also that he in fact did miracles.

Now of course, we could say there were people who wrote against Christianity and their writings were lost due to events like the Jewish war in 70 A.D., but that’s not the same as saying that they were there and even if they were there, that they were ignored. If we went by Acts, we could even say Apollos is an example that they weren’t ignored since he engaged the Jews in public debate demonstrating that Jesus is the Christ. (Acts 18:27-28. This would also demonstrate that even far away, the facts of the life of Jesus were being discussed.)

Sandoval also argues that the eyewitness argument would prove more than would like to be admitted, such as the miracles of people like Kathryn Kuhlmann and other Pentecostals. What of it? Let’s suppose that we have eyewitness testimony that they did miracles. Let’s investigate the claims and see what we can find. If there were real miracles, well and good. That’s another point in my favor and one against Sandoval.

What about someone like Sabbatai Sevi? The difference is not that stories arose around him, but even in a short time those stories were jettisoned because of Sevi’s apostasy to Islam. The claim is not that legends can grow in a short time, but what does it take to get a legend to come up and totally supplant the truth of what happened in the critical stage of a belief system’s formation? The resurrection was formulated straight out of the gate (And might I add the full deity of Christ) and there wasn’t a competing Christian tradition until around the time of the second century when we have the Gnostics showing up and their denying the bodily resurrection would in fact make Christianity more appealing to Romans and such, but the orthodox would have nothing of it.

Another figure that could come up is the Baal Shem Tov. For that, I can give no better source I think than my friend David Marshall. Marshall also rightfully asks that if we have these accounts that are supposed to be so close to the life of the individual and have eyewitness testimony of miracles, well why not believe it? It looks like the ultimate answer would come down to “Because I don’t believe in miracles.” I often see skeptics saying that they don’t rule out miracles outright, but then when any evidence is presented, it must be denied because a miracle cannot be allowed.

Sandoval writes that miracles proves all these worldviews, or it proves nothing. Well that depends. You see, I have no problem with miracles in other worldviews. I think some of them could be God showing common grace. Some could also be due to dark extramaterial powers. I don’t know without looking but here’s the thing. I won’t say yes or no without looking. Can I be skeptical? Sure, but I should also be open.

What we have to ask is what is being proven in other worldviews? Christianity is the one religion that staked everything on one historical claim. No other world religion has done the same. What does the resurrection mean if true for Sandoval? Is it just “Jesus is Lord and we will go to Heaven when we die if we believe on Him?” If so, then that is lacking. It is really that Jesus made numerous claims about the Kingdom of God that centered around Him and His being the Messiah and the resurrection is God Himself vindicating those claims.

Sandoval also wants to speak about how creative Christians were in handing down their texts and uses Mark 16:9-20 and John 7:53-8:11 and the final chapter of John as his main examples. Well if we were wanting to talk about creative, much of this is mild. The appearances are found elsewhere and after John 20:28, Jesus helping catch fish is not exactly a huge step up. If stories were being created, we would expect the Christians to write something like the Gospel of Peter into the canonical Gospels. They didn’t.

In fact, it’s quite interesting that someone like Matthew while regularly showing throughout his text how prophecy was fulfilled says absolutely nothing when it comes to the resurrection. He never says “This fulfilled the Scriptures.” If you want to know what the resurrection means theologically, you must go to Paul. Had the writers been wanting to historicize prophecy as someone like Crossan would say, the resurrection would be the best place for them to do that, and they never did.

He also argues that the Gospels were not valued equally, such as Luke wanting to drive out his predecessors, though all that is said is that he used sources before him, which was common. Because the writer of 1 Timothy used Luke, it is thought the other Gospels were not valued, but this no more follows than my quoting Matthew in a sermon sometime would mean I didn’t care for the other Gospels. Also, we are told Justin Martyr did not use John, but such a scholar as Michael Kruger has called that into question.

There is often much conjecture, such as saying that the Christians put an end to prophecy due to factions. This is odd since in a letter written to a community with factions, namely 1 Corinthians, Paul speaks highly about the gift of prophecy. Second, he argues that the next step taken was to go with Apostolic succession to stop the rumor mill and then to canonize four Gospels that contained information some Christians probably knew to be false. This is on page 56 and there is no citation given. The scenario is ad hoc indeed.

Sandoval also says many cults and such rely on peer pressure. The reality is that peer pressure would work in the opposite way for the Christians. Christians would experience peer pressure from their society to not be different from everyone else and not to accept new belief systems that conflict with the Roman belief system and have shameful beliefs and practices. Sandoval’s claim then works against him. Were peer pressure to be a strong deterrent in the early church, we would expect it to go the opposite way. Keep in mind Hebrews was written to Jewish Christians considering apostasizing and this without having to have any persecution in a physical sense. They are simply being shamed and that is enough for them to want to return to Judaism.

This is really a major problem for Sandoval. He writes as if he assumes that all cultures are alike and that if individualistic peer pressure is a problem here, then it would have been in the ancient world. This is a radical claim that needs to be established since one of the first rules of understanding a foreign culture is to not presume that it is just like yours. Remove this assumption from Sandoval and much of his case falls flat.

He also tells us that history is written by the winners, but what about Xenophon? What about Thucydides? These were not the winners and yet they wrote the history. This ultimately leads to a subjectivism of history if we follow it to its conclusion.

When he writes about people who were outside of the church and wrote about Christianity, he says that clearly these writers knew only what they heard from the Christians themselves. Well no, that’s not clear. It’s not clear to scholars of Tacitus for instance, especially since Tacitus did not speak favorably of Christ or the Christians and wrote against hearsay and even did not take everything Pliny the Younger said at face value, who was his closest friend. Tacitus would have access to records as a senator and priest we would no longer have access to. Sandoval also says this was Celsus’s only source, aside from Jewish Christians who were limited to Christian sources. It’s amazing what Sandoval thinks he can know about a work that we don’t even have a full copy of today.

When it comes to the dating of the Gospels, Sandoval pretty much plants everything on the Olivet Discourse, but this I find quite odd. If Sandoval is so sure that this is a false prophecy, which he has a chapter on, why would Matthew and Luke write about it after the fact? Why not just not mention it?

He also wants us to call into question tradition from people like Irenaeus on the authors of the Gospels because Irenaeus thought Jesus lived to be 50. What is ignored is that Irenaeus does not get 50 from any tradition, but rather from his own unique doctrine of recapitulation. In fact, when Irenaeus speaks of the Gospels, he speaks as if his audience already knows what he is talking about and that there is no debate over. In fact, there never has been debate over this in the early church aside from if the Gospel of John is from John the apostle or John the elder.  You can listen to my interview with Charles Hill for more.

He also wants to use the usual canards about Mark getting the geography of Palestine wrong in Mark 7, as if only direct travel could be mentioned and not an itinerary. Sandoval also mentions the Gospels being anonymous citing page 66 of Sanders’s book. It’s unfortunate that he doesn’t give the quote from that pages. It goes as follows:

The authors probably wanted to eliminate interest in who wrote the story and to focus the reader on the subject. More important, the claim of an anonymous history was higher than that of a named work. In the ancient world an anonymous book, rather like an encyclopedia article today, implicitly claimed complete knowledge and reliability. It would have reduced the impact of the Gospel of Matthew had the author written ‘this is my version’ instead of ‘this is what Jesus said and did.’  – The Historical Figure of Jesus by E.P. Sanders page 66.

We could go on with more at this point, but for now the work is not convincing. At least Sandoval is trying to interact, but it looks like what he does is just try to find a place where he thinks someone is unreliable and then say “Well based on that, why should we trust them elsewhere?” Follow this standard consistently and you will never trust anyone on anything.

Sandoval also writes that if Jesus had performed miracles like these, most Jews would have followed Him. Why? This from someone who cites Deuteronomy 13 later on about following a false prophet who even does miracles is surprising. Jews did not follow Jesus because miracles were not enough in themselves. It was His teaching and shameful lifestyle. Yet Sandoval wants to say then that these stories must be fictitious because of these reasons. He also says the Gospel stories could have been coherent without the nature miracles, so those must be an afterthought. There is no backing for this radical claim.

When it comes to the claims of Jesus being traced back through oral tradition, Sandoval follows a Carrier strategy and says that Paul was receiving revelation from a heavenly Christ. His main place for this is in 1 Cor. 11, but he ignores Keener’s work on the historical Jesus where Keener points out that Jewish rabbis would say they received material from Sinai. They do not mean they heard Sinai speak but that that was the ultimate source. When it comes to 1 Cor. 11, Jesus is the ultimate source since He spoke those words. This would not apply to 1 Cor. 15 where Jesus did not speak about eyewitnesses seeing him.

He also writes about mass hallucinations, namely Catholic appearances and such. First off, let’s try to investigate and see what happened. Second, these were also a lot of power of suggestion and not so much hallucinations as people could well be seeing something and interpreting it wrongly. A hallucination is a case where someone sees something when really there is no external referent to see. If we consider the dancing sun, I have been told that if people stare at the sun for too long, that it will start affecting their eyes so they see weird things. (I have not tried this and have no intention of doing so. I don’t want permanent retinal damage and excuse me, but I happen to enjoy looking at my wife and don’t want that to change.)

Sandoval also writes of bereavement hallucinations. No doubt, these happen, but how many times do we see these happening and the person afterwards says something like “My spouse is alive! Open up the casket!” No. If anything, bereavement hallucinations in fact lead to the opposite conclusion. They lead to the conclusion that the person is certainly dead.

The next chapter is on the idea of persecution. Of course, this was written before Sean McDowell’s Ph.D. on the topic so we can excuse that, but in all this talk about persecution there is not one mention of shaming. It’s as if the only kind of persecution Sandoval can picture is persecution that puts your life on the line. Christians could run from that kind of persecution, but they could not run from shaming and if he wants to say early Mormons lived virtuous lives, I simply want him to explain the Mountain Meadows Massacre.

In fact, in all of this Sandoval never asks one question. “Why were Christians persecuted?” What great crime were they committing? Answer. They were putting society at risk by failing to acknowledge the gods. They were also going further by saying Caesar is not Lord but Jesus was. There was no separation of church and state. Attacking religion is attacking the state and attacking the state is attacking religion.

Sandoval also says Paul’s conversion is not miraculous. After all, Reagan went from being a liberal to being a conservative. He gives other examples but all of this miss who Paul really was. Sandoval wants to say Paul had to understand the wrestling with sin since he wrote in Romans 7 which he says is not likely autobiographical but surely Paul knew the wrestling. Well no. Paul’s testimony in Philippians 3 gives no hint whatsoever of any wrestling and Sandoval is reading a modern guilt conscience into this, something Krister Stendahl wrote about this long ago in his work on Paul and the introspective conscience of the West.

Paul’s move was in fact suicide on his part. If we want to think about benefits Paul got from being a Christian, we need to look at 2 Cor. 11. Those are not exactly glowing job benefits we would want. Paul was moving up and up in a prestigious position. Why would he switch to a shameful position? Unfortunately, since Sandoval does not know about honor and shame, he does not understand what was really going on in the case of Paul.

When we come to Sandoval’s explanation of what happened, he first goes after the claim that Joseph of Arimathea saying that it’s odd he does not show up in Acts. Well what’s odd about that? For instance, Mary Magdalene will fit into Sandoval’s scheme, but the only place she could be mentioned is Acts is a reference to “The women” in Acts 1. Many people just drop out of the narrative so why expect Joseph to be mentioned?

Sandoval’s explanation for all the data relies on Mary Magdalene having a bereavement hallucination and then Peter exploiting her financially for it. For the tomb being found empty, he goes more with the idea of grave robbers, though grave robbers would not likely steal the whole body but only the parts that were needed for their incantations. Again, I find it all lacking. He does want to compare the appearances also to what happened with the claims of Mormonism, though I think Rob Bowman has given an excellent reply to that in my interview with him.

So now we get more into Sandoval’s scenario. Sandoval sees the idea of Mary having an exorcism as a sign that she was emotionally fragile. Also, she was secretly in love with Jesus and had a nervous breakdown after the crucifixion. She panicked when a young man at the tomb said the body was missing and fled and later thought that it meant an angel had appeared to explain the supernatural disappearance of the body. She told this to her lady friends who had also had exorcisms and they had powerful feelings of Jesus’s invisible presence.

Peter after hearing about this started to experience the same and saw a career opportunity. He could rely on Mary Magdalene and the others in the Christian movement and not have to do any work and become the leader of a Messianic movement. Peter would then speak to crowds and was such a dynamic speaker that others would feel the presence of Jesus and if they didn’t, well they were the doubters who weren’t worthy. This is also why the appearance to the 500 isn’t mentioned because it was known to be subjective.

At this, let me give an aside. Paul relates this 20+ years later to the Corinthians not as new revelation to them, but something that they already know. This was accepted material. Why was it not mentioned in the Gospels? Why should it be? The Gospels were not written to prove the resurrection but to share the life and teachings of Jesus. Had they been written to prove the resurrection, they would have just focused on that and in fact answered objections. They didn’t.

To go back to the story, when we get to James, Sandoval continues his flights of fancy as he says that after Joseph died, Jesus abandoned his mother and brothers and ran away to join John the Baptist embarrassing his family financially. Evidence of this? None whatsoever. When the family approached Jesus in Mark 3, it was because he had shirked his financial responsibilities.

Sandoval also says a lot of this creativeness comes through the oral tradition, but as expected, he cites no scholars whatsoever of oral tradition. It is all just presumed to be unreliable. Maybe it was, but Sandoval needs to make a case instead of just an assumption.

When we get to other objections, Sandoval brings forward the idea that some first century Jews believed that Elijah and John the Baptist would be raised from the dead before the general resurrection. They do? When was this? I especially wonder with John the Baptist. Did Elijah have an important role to play in end times events? Yes, but Jews would not say Elijah had been raised from the dead due to the simple reason that in their tradition, Elijah never died! The common people did think Jesus could be someone come back from the dead, but there is no hint that they thought this meant the final eschatological resurrection.

We are also told that novelty is not impossible and Mormonism is the example of that, but Mormonism arose in a modern individualistic society with a more live and let live attitude and where the Mormons had wide open spaces they could flee to. Their tradition also changed quite rapidly and we do have independent evidence that Joseph Smith was a highly questionable character. If someone wanted to say Islam, one thing differentiates Islam. Islam had a sword. Remove the warring aspect from Islam and see what happens.

Sandoval also writes about how the Christians destroyed the library of Alexandria. Unfortunately, it looks like Sandoval has followed an atheist myth, perhaps in the footsteps of Richard Carrier. An atheist like Tim O’Neill takes it to task here. He also says that Justinian passed a law against pagan teachers which meant shutting down the academy of Plato. Nonsense. There were plenty of neo-Platonic schools.  Justinian did close a school but not because it taught Platonic teachings, but because it was founded by anti-Christians and including anti-Christian teachings.

We will now move to the offensive case of Sandoval starting first with how the New Testament supposedly ripped the Old Testament out of context. If you’re wanting to see if Richard Longenecker’s Biblical Exegesis in the Apostolic Period is cited, well you already know the answer. Of course not. In this, Sandoval is being the fundamentalist that he condemns.

My view is of prophecy not so much as fulfillment but as reenactment. Now were there fulfillments? Yes. These were the case where specific timeframes were mentioned such as Daniel 2 and Daniel 9. (In fact, these would not be altered even if the late date for Daniel was accepted) In this case, it is that Jesus redoes as it was what was done back then and a this for that context is applied where the writer sees a parallel. It could even just be one verse in the passage instead of the whole passage. This was an acceptable method of exegesis in the time of Jesus and in fact done by the Dead Sea Scrolls community. We would not use it today, but the Christians were playing by the rules.

One key example of this would be Matthew 15:8 where Jesus says to the Pharisees that Isaiah prophesied of them saying “These people follow me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.” Of course Isaiah was not speaking about the Pharisees, but Jesus saw a parallel that as the Jews were in the time of Isaiah, so the Pharisees were in the time of Jesus. This was entirely acceptable in the time.  This would apply to many of these events, but let’s look at some places Sandoval brings up anyway.

One is that Matthew cites an unknown prophet in Matthew 2 saying Jesus would grow up in Nazareth. My reply to this is that this is a time where Matthew says prophets instead of prophet. I interpret it as saying Jesus would grow up a shameful figure and what could be more shameful than Nazareth?

We naturally have the idea that Jesus supposedly rode two animals at once when he came in on the triumphant entry. What is noted is that there is the reference also to the garments being sat on the animal and Jesus sat on them. The them is not to the animals but to the garments. Matthew may have been wrong, but he is not an idiot. He does not presume to think Jesus can ride two animals at once.

We next move to contradictions. Much of this I want to leave for Mike Licona’s work likely coming out in the fall looking at contradictions in light of the study of Greco-Roman biographies. Still, Sandoval starts by saying that some Gospels plagiarized the others which would be a violation of American copyright law today. No. Copyright law did not apply naturally in the ancient world and secondly, what was said by one Gospel writer would be the property of the church and the church could do with it what it wanted. There is nothing more in this chapter that cannot be found talked about in good commentaries, so let’s move to my favorite chapter, the last.

I love this one so much because it brings one of my favorite objections to eliminate. Jesus was a failed prophet. Sandoval has already expected that Christians will spiritualize a text rather than take it literally, which of course begs the question that it’s to be taken “literally” to begin with.

Sandoval goes by two tests. The first is that a teacher would show up leading people away from God to follow a contrary system and Jesus did this by abolishing the Law and then of course there are ideas like the Trinity. Sandoval makes no mention of passages in the Old Testament that speak about a new covenant and about God doing something new in the midst of the people. He does in fact rightly show that the word translated as “forever” can refer to an indefinite time, but unconvincingly says that this cannot apply to the Law itself. While the term everlasting is used of God, it is followed with superlatives such as “From everlasting to everlasting.”

Yet let’s go to my favorite. Jesus was wrong about the end of the world. The problem is Jesus is not saying a thing about the end of the world and you’d think that someone who cites N.T. Wright would know about this. Perhaps Sandoval did not really read Wright but just looked up a reference. Jesus is speaking in the manner of an Old Testament prophet and uses cosmic language to describe political events. What he is prophesying is in fact the great war of 70 A.D. and the destruction of the temple. In that case, Jesus’s prophecy was right on the money.

In fact, it’s really sad he does this because he rightfully gets that the whole world in the discourse can just as easily refer to the Roman Empire and that Paul said he preached to every creature under Heaven which would be seen as a fulfillment of that prophecy. Sandoval just has a hang-up on literalism in this passage. Unfortunately, he will see my explanation as an explaining away and spiritualizing instead of realizing that there is a good exegetical basis for this.

I prefer to point to 2 Samuel 22. If we take that literally, we should expect to find a case in the life of David where God hitched up Gabriel and Michael and came out flying Green Arrow style shooting his enemies with arrows. Search high and low and you will not find that. What it is is David is using the kind of terminology that was used in his day. We could point to similar passages like Isaiah 13.

The irony then is that rather than this being a sign that Jesus was a false prophet, it is a great sign that He was a true prophet. Of course, Sandoval could punt to a late date, but if he does that due to it being a prophecy, then he is letting his worldview interpret the data where he says it must be late because prophecy cannot happen. I still find it odd that if this is such a blatant false prophecy that it would be written after the fact. (It’s interesting that if it was also, Matthew nowhere says “This prophecy of Jesus was fulfilled in the destruction of the temple.” Perhaps Matthew didn’t say that because it hadn’t happened yet?)

In conclusion, while Sandoval’s work is the best I’ve read attacking the resurrection, it is still drastically weak. I am reminded of the adage that one of the best ways to increase your confidence in the resurrection is to read those who oppose it. At the same time, we need more work on the social context being brought to light in the church because those who hold to a modern concept of how societies work will struggle with this work.

In Christ,

Nick Peters

Deeper Waters Podcast 10/10/2015: Rodney Reeves and Randy Richards

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

Recently, we had Rodney Reeves and Randy Richards on to talk about Rediscovering Paul. They’re coming back again and this time they’re talking about Rediscovering Jesus, which I reviewed here. The book is a fun and unique look at Jesus asking what our Christianity would be like if we only had one source or one type of source and then what it would be like if we had some version of Jesus outside of the Bible. So who are the people coming on to talk about this?

Let’s start with Rodney Reeves.

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I’ve been married over thirty-six years to Sheri (Richardson) Reeves, who is a Speech and Language Pathologist for Citizens Memorial Hospital, Bolivar, MO.

We have three children: Andrew (28) lives in Kansas City, MO; Emma (24) lives in Chicago, IL; and Grace (19) who is a first-year student at Belhaven University, Jackson, MS. Sheri and I are members of the First Baptist Church, Bolivar, MO.

I’m in my sixteenth year at Southwest Baptist University, Bolivar, MO, as the Redford Professor of Biblical Studies, also serving as Dean of The Courts Redford College of Theology and Ministry. I teach courses in New Testament and Greek.

I’m an SBU alumnus (1979), and I graduated from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Ft. Worth, TX (MDiv, 1982; PhD, 1986). I did part of my doctoral study at Oxford University, UK (1985-86).

Prior to coming to SBU, I served as Senior Pastor, Central Baptist Church, Jonesboro, AR (1995-2000), and associate professor of New Testament at Williams Baptist College, Walnut Ridge, AR (1987-1995).

I have written several articles for scholarly journals, textbooks, dictionaries, handbooks, and magazines. I’ve written four books: A Genuine Faith: How to Follow Jesus Today (Baker Books, 2005); Rediscovering Paul: An Introduction to His World, Letters and Theology, co-authored by David B. Capes and E. Randolph Richards (InterVarsity Press, 2007); Spirituality according to Paul: Imitating the Apostle of Christ (InterVarsity Press, 2011). My newest book, Rediscovering Jesus: An Introduction to Biblical, Religious and Cultural Perspectives on Christ (once again co-authored by Capes and Richards, InterVarsity Press, 2015) was released this summer. And I’m currently working on a commentary on the Gospel of Matthew, Story of God Bible Commentary, ed. Scot McKnight (Zondervan Publishing, 2016?).

My hobbies are fishing, camping, golfing, and reading.

I made a vow to God many years ago to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and to minister to the Body of Christ. I have tried to keep that promise as a member of a Baptist Church, as a minister, and as a college professor. I study Scripture because I want to be a committed disciple of Jesus. I teach biblical studies in an effort to serve the needs of the Church. I’m a part of the academic community here at SBU in hopes of advancing the Kingdom of God, trying to encourage each other to fulfill Jesus’ commandment: to love God with all of our heart, soul, strength, and mind, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. Therefore, I see my work here as part of the whole kingdom enterprise of teaching students to be servants of Christ for a world that needs him.

And as for Randy Richards.

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Dr. Randy Richards loves training students for ministry, both domestically and internationally. He has been teaching since 1986, originally at a state university and then abroad at an Indonesian seminary. Upon returning to the States, Dr. Richards has served at two Christian universities before joining Palm Beach Atlantic University as the Dean of the School of Ministry in 2006.

His wife Stacia has joyfully accompanied him from jungles of Indonesia to rice fields in Arkansas to beautiful South Florida. They have two fine sons. Josh (Ph.D. 2012, University of St Andrews, Scotland) is a university professor in English. Jacob (Ph.D. 2014, College of Medicine, University of Florida) is a medical researcher.

Dr. Richards has authored or co-authored seven books and dozens of articles. Recently, he has published Rediscovering Jesus (InterVarsity, 2015; Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes, with Brandon O’Brien (InterVarsity, 2012), “Reading, Writing, and the Production and Transmission of Manuscripts” in The Background of the New Testament: An Examination of the Context of Early Christianity (Baker, 2013), “Will the Real Author Please Stand Up? The Author in Greco-Roman Letter Writing” in Come Let Us Reason: New Essays in Christian Apologetics (B&H, 2012), “Pauline Prescripts and Greco-Roman Epistolary Convention” in Christian Origins and Classical Culture: Social and Literary Contexts for the New Testament (Brill, 2012), and a dozen articles in The Baker Illustrated Bible Dictionary (Baker, 2013).

He has just finished another popular book, Paul Behaving Badly, and is finishing A Little Book for New Bible Scholars, both with InterVarsity Press and due out in 2016. He is also completing chapters in two other books and several dictionary articles.

Dr. Richards is a popular lecturer, speaker and preacher, recently in places as diverse as Wycliffe Hall (Oxford), Kathmandu, and Kenya. He was a Senior Scholar at the IRLBR Summer Summit at Tyndale House (Cambride) in 2013. He regularly conducts missionary training workshops, and currently serves as a Teaching Pastor at Grace Fellowship Church in West Palm Beach.

This book is a highly enjoyable look at the life of Jesus that will lead to you thinking about it in a whole new light. These guys are really passionate about the book as well as I saw last time they came on and I hope you’ll be here to see round two of the discussion. Be watching for the next episode of the Deeper Waters Podcast!

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Talking Doctrine

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

Talking Doctrine is a book about Mormons and evangelicals in conversation. On the face of it, I have no problem with that. In fact, I think it’s a wonderful idea and it would be fascinating to extend it to other groups if they were willing. Still, as I kept going through this book, I found it in many ways quite disturbing. I am not opposed to friendship with people who are Mormons. Not for a moment. I am not opposed to dialogue with them. We should have that. I am not opposed to having conversations where we can each understand the position of the other all the more. What I am concerned about is that it looked like too often both sides were wanting to say “We’re really not as different as we thought”, but it’s more the evangelicals that are bending instead of the Mormons.

Many important issues are talked about, like the doctrine of divine exaltation, but many are not talked about. Polygamy is talked about some, but there is little discussion of what it means that Joseph Smith had multiple wives. Nothing is really said about Joseph Smith’s reputation and use of a seer stone. Nothing is said about the Mountain Meadows Massacre. I understand wanting to avoid polemics, but sometimes those who are polemical could actually be right about something. One concerning chapter is Sarah Taylor’s about being an evangelical at BYU and talking to her friend Billy about if God could have sinned. One can easily imagine what the early church would have said about that and how hard they would have fought for it. Billy instead says the atonement would cover that which Taylor took to mean he was taking the atonement more seriously. She then writes:

All at once, it hit me that Billy—Mormon, God-may-have-sinned Billy—was a Christian. Whenever he talked about Jesus, he talked like a man in love, and that was just it for me.

So here apparently is the criteria for telling if someone is a Christian. It is not if they call Jesus Lord and savior and believe in his resurrection (Although to be fair, Mormons all claim that). It is to look and see if they talk like they love Jesus. We can be sure that the early Gnostics could have talked the exact same way showing a great love for Jesus, but the early church would not have budged an inch. The Jesus was different and indeed, the Jesus of Mormonism is different from the Jesus of Christianity.

While I would hope to have more dialogue, at the same time, it looks like many hard issues are being brushed away. Mormons set out at the beginning saying all the other churches were an abomination and now they’re wanting to be included in the fold and say they’re one of us. Color me suspicious of all of this. I can say that Mormons tend to be some of the nicest people you meet, which should put Christians to shame. I can say that they share the same values many of us who are Christians share and were quite helpful with Prop 8 in California. I can say that I would not mind having Mormon friends. I cannot say that we worship the same God and many times that it looked like evangelicals and Mormons were worshiping together in the book I found quite concerning.

I am for dialogue, but I am not for conceding truth.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Deeper Waters Podcast 9/19/2015: Rob Bowman

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

It’s a nice Saturday morning and you’re sitting at home when you hear the doorbell ring. You go and open the door to find two men dressed in nice black pants and white shirts and with black name badges saying that they are elders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Who are these people? They are awfully nice to most of us, but are they really Christians? They’re normally known as Mormons and much of their history has had an air of mystery all around it.

Some of that mystery has recently been unveiled. The Mormon church has released photos of the seer stone used by Joseph Smith in supposedly translating the Book of Mormon. What does this mean for Mormonism today? What do Christians need to know about it? What do Christians need to know about Mormons overall? While I have had an interest in Mormonism before, being in Charlotte and being regularly visited by them and debating them on TheologyWeb, it’s not the area I focus on, so why not bring on someone who knows more about Mormons? That someone is someone who was on the show early on and is coming back for his second visit. That is Rob Bowman.

So who is Rob Bowman?

Rob Bowman

And according to his bio:

Robert M. Bowman Jr. is the executive director at the Institute for Religious Research in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The organization’s website is IRR.org. Rob has lectured on biblical studies, religion, and apologetics at Biola University, Cornerstone University, and New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. He is the author of about over sixty articles and the author or co-author of thirteen books including Putting Jesus in His Place: The Case for the Deity of Christ and Faith Has Its Reasons: Integrative Approaches to Defending the Christian Faith. He holds the M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in biblical studies from Fuller Theological Seminary and South African Theological Seminary.

The story of the stone is really big news coming from the Mormon church and this gives us a good chance to discuss this movement. We will talk about the history of Mormonism from this point. We could get into discussions on the nature of the golden plates. After all, many critics of Christianity say that the golden plates were seen by eyewitnesses just like the risen Christ was said to do and these eyewitnesses supposedly did not recant their testimony. Is that accurate? What are the likely ramifications of the Mormon church for this? What do we see happening in the future of Mormonism and how can Christians best answer and prepare to answer the Mormons who come to their door?

I hope you’ll be tuning in to this episode of the Deeper Waters Podcast as we talk about Mormonism and what the latest news means for Christians and for Mormons alike. Rob Bowman is a highly diligent researcher in every topic he discusses and you won’t be disappointed hearing him.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Rediscovering Jesus

What do I think about the new book from Rodney Reeves, Randy Richards, and David Capes published by IVP? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Rediscovering Jesus by Capes, Reeves, and Richards is a surprising read. Now I had read this book shortly after reading Rediscovering Paul so I was expecting something like that, but that isn’t exactly what I got. At the start, I was kind of disappointed hoping to find more about the culture of Jesus and especially looking at Jesus from an honor and shame perspective. That disappointment was only initial. As I got further into the book, I found myself quite intrigued and fascinated by what I was reading in the book and I found the idea for consideration a fascinating one.

This idea is to look at Jesus in isolation from the major sources that we have, such as the Gospel writers individually, the Pauline epistles, Hebrews, the general epistles, and Revelation. What would it be like if each source was the only source we had on Jesus? We usually take a composite of all we have on Jesus and then put that together and say this is the real Jesus. There is no fault in this, but looking at each case in isolation can be an interesting case study. Imagine how different our worldview would be if the only source we had on Jesus was the book of Revelation?

While these are fascinating, there is also a second section where we look at Jesus from other sources. What about the Gnostic Jesus such as popularized in works like The Da Vinci Code? What about the Jesus of Muslims who never died on the cross? What about the historical Jesus of modern historians who do not hold to the reality of miracles? What about the Mormon Jesus that looks like a Jesus made just for America? Speaking of that, what about the American Jesus as here in America, Jesus is used to promote and sell just about anything. Every side in every debate usually wants to try to claim Jesus. Finally, what about the Cinematic Jesus? Many of us have seen Hollywood movies about Jesus. Some are good. Some are not. How would we view Jesus if all we had were those movies to watch? (And since so few people read any more, this could become an increasingly common occurrence.)

For me, honestly the most fascinating section was the one on the American Jesus. This dealt with so much I see in my culture. It’s interesting we don’t talk about the French Jesus or the Japanese Jesus or the Italian Jesus. It’s more the American one. This one changes so much to being the super manly Jesus who takes the world like a man or the Prince Charming Jesus that every girl sings about as her boyfriend. This can be the pragmatic Jesus who is there to help us promote our culture, or it can be the Superman Jesus who rescues us when we’re in need, but then disappears. I do have to admit I am a Superman fan so I could see the parallels very easily and while I do think there are valid parallels, we do not want to see Jesus as identical with Superman. If there’s any chapter in the book I keep coming back to mentally, it’s this one. I will certainly be watching my culture much more.

I find this book to be one of the most eye-opening ones I have read in that sense. I do not think I ever paused to consider what it would mean if all I had to tell me about Jesus was just one particular source or one kind of source. How much richer off we are for having all these other sources! We can also be thankful for the non-Christian sources as well because these can highlight aspects of the Biblical Jesus that we might have lost sight of or they could show that the Jesus of the Bible is so much greater by contrast. If an outside source says something true about Jesus, we are the better for it. If it says something false, this can contrast with the true and we are the better.

I recommend the work wholeheartedly. It fortunately also comes with questions at the end that make it ideal for small group discussion.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Deeper Waters Podcast 11/22/2014: Adam’s Road

What’s coming up on this edition of the Deeper Waters Podcast? Let’s dive into the Deeper Waters and find out!

First off, for all interested in hearing about my debate with Humphreys, I am pleased to say that in my opinion it went very well. I will be getting a link to it ASAP and that link I plan on putting up on the podcast feed. For now, let me tell you what’s coming up!

Last week I interviewed Lynn Wilder on her book “Unveiling Grace.” It was about her escape from Mormonism. Her son Micah was highly influential as he was the first to escape. He went on later to establish a band of ex-Mormons called Adam’s Road. They will be on the show to talk about their escape and also do some music. So who are these guys?

Let’s start with Micah.

Micah_Bio_New

Micah Wilder grew up in Yorktown, IN, raised in the Mormon religion. At age fourteen, his family moved to Alpine, Utah, where he continued to grow in zeal towards this religion. By 2004, this nineteen-year-old young man took his dedication and zeal for Mormonism to Orlando, Florida, where he would spend the next twenty-three months representing the Mormon Church as a missionary. In Florida, a Christian minister challenged Micah to read the Bible as a child. Hoping to validate Mormonism through the Bible and prove this minister wrong, Micah read the Bible vigorously for a period of about eighteen months. During this process, God opened his eyes to the truth of the Gospel, and he chose to testify to the Gospel of the grace of God in front of a mass of Mormon missionary peers. Micah’s LDS leadership sent him back to Utah early from his LDS mission as a result—but his life was just beginning as a missionary for Jesus Christ. In early 2006, Micah left Mormonism, family, and career pursuits for Jesus. He has served with the Adam’s Road Ministry since 2006, where he has a zeal for passionately sharing the Gospel and love of Jesus Christ through testimony and music. He resides in Winter Garden, Florida, is married to Alicia Wilder, and is the proud father of three boys.

Next his brother Matt.

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Matt Wilder was raised as a Mormon in Yorktown, Indiana. He spent a couple of years in Utah before serving a two-year LDS mission in Denmark. After his Mormon mission, Matt pursued studies at Brigham Young University as a pianist. While at BYU, his younger brother Micah was released early from his two-year LDS mission trip for testifying of the Biblical Jesus. Micah then shared the Gospel of Jesus Christ with Matt and encouraged him to read the Bible. As Matt read the Bible, he was eased of the burden of trying to earn God’s forgiveness, and came to realize and accept the free gift of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ alone. He walked away from BYU to join Adam’s Road Ministry, where he has served since 2006. He married Nicole Wilder in 2006; they have one daughter. Matt enjoys sharing the Gospel message through music and testimony.

And their brother-in-law Joseph Warren.

Joseph_Bio_New

Joseph Warren grew up in Kaysville, Utah, in an LDS (Mormon) home. In 2004, he left home at age nineteen to serve a two-year Mormon mission in Florida. While in Florida, Joseph was challenged to read the Bible as a child. He had considered himself to be a good and righteous person. As he read the Bible, however, God convicted Joseph of his sin. Yet he also learned about God’s grace and the beautifully simple Gospel message of Jesus Christ. As a result, he would walk away from the Mormon Church for a personal and saving relationship with Jesus Christ in 2006—at the peril of damaging relationships with his LDS family members and friends. Singer and songwriter Joseph Warren currently serves with the Adam’s Road Ministry in Winter Garden, FL. He has a heart for glorifying God through his musical gifts and his testimony of God’s grace.  He married Katie Warren in 2007.

And finally Jonathan Paul.

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Jonathan Paul Garrison (JP) spent the bulk of his childhood years in Chattanooga, Tennessee. At age seven, he accepted Jesus Christ into his life. He knew the grace of God, and felt as if he was growing in his Christian walk. As a teenager, he served on the worship team at his local church, and had a passion for both music and film. In his late-teens, JP felt as though he was becoming disenchanted with certain aspects the “Christian religion.” After high school, he attended Regent University at Virginia Beach for film, where he also began seriously investigating the Mormon Church. After three years of investigation, JP was baptized into the LDS Church at age twenty. In the spring of 2013, he also joined the Mormon missionary ranks in Hawaii. While on his LDS mission, God pursued him, reminding him of the grace he once knew as a Christian in many ways. For example, JP read “Unveiling Grace”: Lynn Wilder’s account of leaving Mormonism for Jesus. Through this book, he connected with the Adam’s Road Ministry and was encouraged to follow Jesus regardless of the worldly cost. JP’s prodigal journey met a joyful ending as he left Mormonism and returned to his former faith. He joined the Adam’s Road Ministry in the fall of 2014. He is a singer and song-writer for the group. JP has a powerful testimony about God’s unfailing love and relentless pursuit of His children.

We’ll be hearing the story of these four gentlemen on the show as well as hearing some of their music. I hope you’ll be listening!

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Deeper Waters Podcast 11/15/2014: Lynn Wilder

What’s coming up on this Saturday’s episode of the Deeper Waters Podcast? Let’s dive into the Deeper Waters and find out!

Many of us have encountered Mormons. They’re those nice people with the white shirts, black ties, and name badges that identify themselves as members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. We often might see them as odd but not as non-Christians. This is such that even Glenn Beck’s material is carried in Christian book stores. But is this group really teaching the Jesus of the Bible?

My guest this week says no, and she’s in a position to know. She lived several years in the Mormon culture even having a position at BYU and her life changed forever when her son sent him a message while out on his mission one day. Who is she? She’s Lynn Wilder and she’s the author of Unveiling Grace which has a film out now as well and a web site. I have also reviewed Unveiling Grace here.

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Lynn’s story has already attracted national attention. She has been interviewed on the 700 Club. She has had stories shared in the Christian Post as well as Christianity Today. She’s done interviews for Janet Parshall, Michael Brown, a couple on Dove TV, plus interviews on the John Ankerberg show. She’s got several written testimonies about her and is the author of another book on seven reasons why she and her family left Mormonism.

My introduction to the work of Lynn came when I heard her on Unbelievable? I wasn’t sure what to expect and was for some reason I do not recall, somewhat skeptical. I was until I heard Lynn speak and realized this lady knew Mormonism backwards and forwards and she knew what to say to show that it does not line up with the message of Jesus. I was immediately in touch trying to get her on my show. (We had planned for earlier this year, but her father passed away and she had to cancel.)

I’ve also found Lynn to be a good friend as well with her being willing to talk on the phone with us when we’ve had a situation that we thought she could help with, and she did indeed help. Lynn is a scholar with her heart in the right place, something that is lacking in many, and in fact, to be personal, something I seek to improve on myself constantly.

Her book is the best book I have read on Mormonism as it gives you an inside-out view and as you read about her family in the book, you come to really know them as people and really learn to empathize with them, which is something rare for me to have happen being an aspie who just isn’t that good at empathy.

I’m excited to have Lynn Wilder be my guest this Saturday on the Deeper Waters Podcast and to let you all know about something else coming, next week, a band with some of her sons in it, Adam’s Road will be our guests so you’re going to get part one of a story this week and the rest next week. I hope you’ll be listening!

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Unveiling Grace

What do I think of Lynn Wilder’s book? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

UnveilingGrace

My first hearing of Lynn Wilder came with her appearance on the Unbelievable? show with Justin Brierley. Sometimes apologetics is a hit and a miss. There are people who do great, people who do so-so, and people who are just embarrassments to the cause. I wasn’t sure what to expect when I heard Lynn Wilder was an ex-Mormon who would be speaking about coming out.

After hearing her, I was convinced that that she belongs without a doubt in the first category. That led to my getting a copy of her book. (And thanks to Justin Brierley for supplying one) Unveiling Grace is her account of how she and her family got started in Mormonism and how they escaped.

The book is entirely gripping. As readers know, I am an Aspie and that makes it difficult for me to connect with people on an emotional level, but I was somehow able to with the family presented in this book. I started knowing them and as Wilder would write about one kid I’d be thinking “Okay. What about this one?” or “Oh. Talking to that person? I know where this is going!”

The book begins with her talking about her son Micah going on a mission and one night, she gets a phone call and Micah says “It’s over.” There is a sense of finality and if you don’t know the story, you’re left wondering what exactly is going on.

She takes an interesting turn at this point. Picture it like an episode of a TV show where they show you a dramatic event and then they give a flashback so you can see what led up to that point. As in most cases, most of the episode is a flash back and a lengthy portion of the book is just that.

This flashback is incredibly helpful. Wilder shows you how she and her husband got caught in Mormonism and gives an insider look from her perspective as a former BYU professor on how the Mormon world operates. Readers wanting to know about Mormonism will have their eyes opened by reading this book.

Wilder also refers regularly throughout the book to the Dancer of Grace. This is the term she uses to refer to God being at work in her life in various places to protect her and this even includes when she was in Mormonism and how some events took place that seemed strange at the time, but later on were used for the glory of God.

The book chronicles how her doubt began and the key to freeing her from Mormonism was quite simple. Read the New Testament. As she read it, she came to see more and more the conflict between Mormonism and Christianity. When she looked at the Bible without Mormon glasses she saw the Jesus of Scripture shine through and saw the incredible contrast with Mormonism and the Mormon culture around her.

The story also ends happily as she talks about how all of her family escaped and what happened with her four children. Many of them are involved with a musical band today they formed called “Adam’s Road.” They have even gone throughout Utah performing and sharing the true Gospel.

Some points to learn from the book.

First, there is a price to Biblical ignorance and if the church doesn’t learn this soon, the church will be paying that price. What could have prevented the Wilders from getting caught in Mormonism? Biblical knowledge could have. Wilder regularly states that at the time, she did not know enough about the Bible to recognize a counterfeit.

Second, grace is something absolutely essential to talk about with Mormons. Wilder shows in her work the lack of grace that exists in the Mormon community. There are many indications that sin is a problem for the Mormons, but the problem should never be greater than the solution is.

Third, knowledge of the New Testament as it is has a powerful effect on the Mormons. After seeing the focus of the New Testament, Wilder’s family started talking less and less about Joseph Smith and more and more about Jesus Christ.

Also, Wilder is very careful I find about experiences. While she talks about dreams that seemed to be revelatory to her, at one point on page 321 she says that maybe it wasn’t the Holy Spirit causing her experiences. This is an excellent point! Of course the Spirit can cause us to dream dreams if He wants to, but too often we are prone to see every “spiritual” experience as coming from God if it produces some positive result.

Wilder is quite right to say that those could be from God, but they could just be dreams as well, but even if they are just dreams, they are dreams that are still used by God for His glory. Ultimately, I find in most cases we will never know for sure, and if we keep assuming that they are from God, we give divine authority to something that might not deserve it. This is in fact what Mormons do with the burning in the bosom.

Without a doubt, to date, this is the best book on Mormonism that I have ever read. Wilder’s still is engaging and one that will draw you in. She brings her story vividly to life letting you get to really know the family that she presents. Fortunately also, this story does end with a happy ending. If you want to understand Mormonism and learn how Mormons see the world and ways to witness to Mormons, get this book. You’ll be glad you did.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Deeper Waters Podcast 8/17/2013: The Mormon Research Ministry

What’s coming up Saturday on the Deeper Waters Podcast? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters!

There you are sitting at home perhaps enjoying reading a novel or one of your favorite TV programs (Yes, it’s always during your favorite TV program) when there’s a knock at your door. You look out the peephole and see these two nice looking gentlemen in white shirts with black name tags on that identify them as elders from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

That’s right. The Mormons.

Who are these people? Well, there are few that will dispute that Mormons are some of the nicest people that they meet and they seem to be sincere and they say they believe in Jesus, so surely we should count them as Christians. Right?

Or maybe not.

Not according to my guest this Saturday, Bill McKeever, who runs the Mormon Research Ministry. Bill has spent decades studying Mormonism and when it comes to those who want to read the best critiques of the Mormon worldview, I point them to the Mormon Research Ministry.

If you think that the Mormons are just another branch of orthodox Christianity, I hope you’ll be listening to this show. There are many beliefs that many Christians don’t realize that Mormons have. In fact, it could even be that there are many beliefs held in orthodox Mormonism that many Mormons don’t know are held to.

Naturally, something that must be discussed is the story of how Mormonism came to be. What is it that really happened to Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism? Is he really the kind of person that we can trust? Did he have any aspects to him that could cause us to be suspicious of him? Are the charges true that he practiced polygamy? Did he raise up his own army? Important for us Christians, since he claimed to have visions, what makes him different from someone like the apostle Paul?

What about the Book of Mormon? Is it really a testimony to events that happened here in the Americas several centuries ago? Has it been handed down reliably? Is there anything to the charge that racism existed in the original BOM?

We can also discuss what about Mormonism and their views on God and Jesus. Do they believe just what Christians believe about both, or do they hold to views such as the idea that God was once a man as we are and became God through eternal progression? Is Jesus really the spirit-brother of Lucifer?

And of course, a great one to discuss is McKeever’s point about the impossible gospel of Mormonism. What must a Mormon do to be saved and if they go that route, is it really going to be possible for them to be saved?

I hope you’ll join me for this episode to learn much about this group that could well be on its way to being the next world religion. The show time is 3-5 EST on Saturday, August 17th. My guest is Bill McKeever, and the call-in number is 714-242-5180.

The link can be found here.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

A Response To Khan

Does creation ex nihilo present a problem for the problem of evil. Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

A friend sent me a video from a Mormon on YouTube who goes by the name of Khhaaan1. The video can be found here. I will refer to the producer as Khan from here out. The video is an attempt to show that if you accept creation ex nihilo, you have a problem with the problem of evil.

Khan says at the start that there was no official statement on creation ex nihilo from the church until the 4th Lateran Council in 1215 A.D. This is true, but the reason is why was it mentioned then? It was because of the Albigenses, a sect much like the Manichaean teaching that Augustine dealt with years ago. Matter was seen as the creation of an evil power and spirit was good and the creation of the god of the NT.

Noteworthy at the start is that Khan in this video does not address biblical verses used to support ex nihilo. Perhaps he has done so elsewhere, but in this video there is nothing.

Also, I will state at the start that I have no marriage to creation ex nihilo. It has been a principle I have followed for some time that my Christianity is not dependent on my doctrine of creation but on the essential, the resurrection. I do hold to ex nihilo, but I am open to a better interpretation if one can be found that fits the facts. An eternal universe would not shake my faith. Neither would a multiverse or any scientific discovery like that. I leave that area to the scientists anyway.

Khan goes on to say that the church has been wrong before and uses Galileo as an example. I do not think this is the best example. The church had not entirely closed the door on heliocentrism. Copernicus had had his book on it dedicated to the Pope and the Pope had no problem with it. The problem with Galileo is that Galileo was egotistical, refused to admit any errors, spoke on theology and Scriptural interpretation without being trained in that area and while being asked to not do so, and wanted immediate acceptance of his ideas instead of waiting for more evidence. It didn’t help that he also mocked the Pope, who I think was frankly quite egotistical himself.

I do not doubt the church handled it poorly, but Galileo is really an exception to the normal way the church handled scientific advancement. We can look back and say “They were wrong,” but we must also be frank and admit that the evidence really was not in conclusively yet. A great problem for heliocentrism, Obler’s Paradox, was not even answered until the 19th century. It is easy for us to look back and say they were wrong, but we can be sure some scientists centuries from now will look back on and us and wonder how we missed some truths that they deem to be obvious. We should approach the past with as much charity as we want the future to approach us.

When we start getting to the heart of the matter, Khan to his credit does give a definition of evil. He says evil is an act or event whereby existence would be better if it had not occurred.

I find this troublesome due to the largely subjective nature of the claim. If someone does not want to donate to Deeper Waters for instance, does that mean that is an evil since I think existence would be better if that had occurred? What about all of creation? Would it have been better if God had not created at all, even if the Mormon view was correct and there were spirit children with God? How about eternity? Would Heaven be better if there were one more person in it? If so, then one would have to create an infinite quantity, an impossibility, for there not to be evil there.

For my view, there is no problem, since I think the mistake is that Khan nowhere defined good. There are so many problems you can dispense with at the start if you have a definition of good, such as the so-called Euthyphro dilemma. The good is that at which all things aim.

The good is that at which all things aim said Aristotle, which means that it is something that is desirable. Aquinas took this then and said that something is good insofar as it is an instance of its kind. To be perfect, it must be actual and insofar as it is actual, it is perfect. Since everything desires perfection and that which is the most perfect is the most actual, then we see that goodness and being are the same thing. Goodness just speaks to the thing being desirable. (See Feser’s book “Aquinas” for more.)

Now there is something that must be said about desirable. This does not mean a conscious desire as Aristotle said all things aim for the good, but very few things are conscious in the grand scheme of things. So how do they aim? It is based on their final cause, that is, the end for which they are meant. For Aristotle, this was the most important cause of all. Unfortunately for many of us today, it is the least important cause.

To give an example, a plant has no conscious nature that we know of, but the plant still moves towards water and towards the sun. The plant wishes to be even if it does not realize that or do so consciously. Our cat here often gets scared and will run away when someone he doesn’t know or trust comes over. Why? He naturally wants to live even if he is not consciously thinking “I want to live.” We can also have an end we were made for and actively resist it and try to find it elsewhere. For instance, in Christian thought, we were all made to reflect God and His love and rule with Him forever. Many of us deny this and seek our good in other places like sex, money, power, etc.

As far as I’m concerned, the lack of really establishing a philosophy of good and evil is the Achilles’s heel of Khan’s argument. Note in fact that by my definition, one has an explanation for moral goodness and evil, but also goodness of nature.

So what is evil then? Evil is the privation of that which should be present but is not. If goodness is being, then its opposite, evil, is a kind of non-being, and nothing positive can be said about non-being. We must be clear on this point here. It is not evil that a rock does not have sight, since it is not in the nature of a rock to have sight, but it is an evil that a man has blindness, since it is of the nature of a man to have sight. Blindness is not a positive principle in something, but it is an absence of a good that should be there, the good of sight. It is a name given to a specific absence, but not an existent reality on its own.

I’m also concerned about Khan’s definition of omnipotence. Can God create a square circle is a question He asks. I do not know from his talk if he means this seriously or not, but the answer is no. God cannot do that because that involves a contradiction, and omnipotence has not been historically understood to mean that contradictions can be done. The following lengthy quote from the Summa Theologica, q. 25, article 3, will show Aquinas’s stance.

“It remains therefore, that God is called omnipotent because He can do all things that are possible absolutely; which is the second way of saying a thing is possible. For a thing is said to be possible or impossible absolutely, according to the relation in which the very terms stand to one another, possible if the predicate is not incompatible with the subject, as that Socrates sits; and absolutely impossible when the predicate is altogether incompatible with the subject, as, for instance, that a man is a donkey.

It must, however, be remembered that since every agent produces an effect like itself, to each active power there corresponds a thing possible as its proper object according to the nature of that act on which its active power is founded; for instance, the power of giving warmth is related as to its proper object to the being capable of being warmed. The divine existence, however, upon which the nature of power in God is founded, is infinite, and is not limited to any genus of being; but possesses within itself the perfection of all being. Whence, whatsoever has or can have the nature of being, is numbered among the absolutely possible things, in respect of which God is called omnipotent. Now nothing is opposed to the idea of being except non-being. Therefore, that which implies being and non-being at the same time is repugnant to the idea of an absolutely possible thing, within the scope of the divine omnipotence. For such cannot come under the divine omnipotence, not because of any defect in the power of God, but because it has not the nature of a feasible or possible thing. Therefore, everything that does not imply a contradiction in terms, is numbered amongst those possible things, in respect of which God is called omnipotent: whereas whatever implies contradiction does not come within the scope of divine omnipotence, because it cannot have the aspect of possibility. Hence it is better to say that such things cannot be done, than that God cannot do them. Nor is this contrary to the word of the angel, saying: “No word shall be impossible with God.” For whatever implies a contradiction cannot be a word, because no intellect can possibly conceive such a thing.”

In essence then, God cannot do a contradiction since that would involve being and non-being both and God can only do that which is possible. As C.S. Lewis said in “The Problem of Pain.”

“His Omnipotence means power to do all that is intrinsically possible, not to do the intrinsically impossible. You may attribute miracles to Him, but not nonsense. There is no limit to His power.

If you choose to say, ‘God can give a creature free will and at the same time withhold free will from it,’ you have not succeeded in saying anything about God: meaningless combinations of words do not suddenly acquire meaning simply because we prifex to them the two other words, ‘God can.’

It remains true that all things are possible with God: the intrinsic impossibilities are not things but nonentities. It is no more possible for God than for the weakest of His creatures to carry out both of two mutually exclusive alternatives; not because His power meets an obstacle, but because nonsense remains nonsense even when we talk it about God.”

This then gets us into the free-will defense. To his credit, Khan does bring up Plantinga, Khan does argue that he does not believe that free-will exists, but will grant it for the sake of argument. I come from the approach that free-will exists and that divine sovereignty exists. How are these two reconciled? Much has been written on that question and I do not expect a clear answer. I just see Scripture teaches both and accept both of them. There are some who have God so sovereign that there is no free-will. I find this much more problematic as it makes God the ultimate cause of evil. There are some who say God is not all-knowing with regards to the future and man has free-will, but I find this to be a limitation on God with no metaphysical basis and not compatible with Scripture.

Khan says God could have created people to be more rational or more sensitive. If they were more of these, they would have made better decisions, but I question the premise. For instance, in order to make a person to be perfectly good in nature entirely and perfectly rational, God would have to make someone else like Him, but He cannot do that. He cannot make another being who has no beginning.

There is no other being that can Have being define its essence. Everything else partakes of God in some way. Each can only be a perfection of its kind. God is not looking to create a being exactly like Him. That’s impossible. He is looking to create a being that reflects Him, albeit imperfectly if one means not a total duplicate, but perfectly if we just mean, insofar as we are able.

Even if we granted other spirit beings, the problem would be the same. Michael the archangel cannot be exactly like God. Only God is goodness itself by nature and love itself by nature and being itself by nature. Everything else has being and is loving and good and existent insofar as it exists. (Even the devil. The devil has will, power, and existence, which are good things, and the devil seeks his own good, which is to say he loves his own good. The problem is that his will is bent morally)

So, if God wants to create beings who are to be good, that goodness is to be a choice for them, just as it was for Michael and the devil. If he creates spirit children supposedly, even those must choose for if love for us is to be a free decision, it cannot be a forced free decision. That is a contradiction.

Khan’s situation is problematic because to say we could be more rational means we are better able to think and know all the information needed, but eventually, one will have to reach omniscience, which we cannot, seeing as we are always going to be finite beings by nature and God alone is infinite.

If we go with spirit beings, we just push the problem back a step and then can just as easily say why God allowed these spirit beings who He knew to be evil to come to Earth and do evil here. Perhaps Khan will point to a greater good, but then I can just as well say “That is why God allows people to choose evil here. He uses their evil for a greater good.”

For the problem of evil to be shown to be a problem, it must be shown that God can have no good reason for doing it this way, and I do not think that that can be shown from Khan, though He is welcome to try. I also think that for a larger perspective on this, he might want to try the work “God and Evil” By Meister and Dew Jr.

In Christ,
Nick Peters