Book Plunge: Christian Delusion Chapter 9

What about the Darwinian problem of evil? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

We continue our look today at the Christian Delusion and this John Loftus guy, although I understand not the one who researched the nazis, is back with a chapter on the Darwinian problem of evil. There’s really not much here that hasn’t been said elsewhere. Just the usual stuff about nature being red in tooth and claw and such.

I am in a position to have done some thinking about this. Recently, my in-laws had to put down their dog that they had had since 2002 and I was present when it took place. It was certainly a sad event to see and my wife and I had to spend some time discussing animal suffering.

One of the favorites is the ichneumonidae. It’s so common to see it that you can predict it. It’s about a parasite that eats its host from the inside. Why would a good God allow this?

I recommend the reader check this link for more on this. In particular, note the part where it is described as “sent in mercy be heaven.” Apparently, this creature balances out the ecology wherever it is, it grows in the host living one life as it were, it apparently kills its host painlessly, and after that it never eats another insect again.

On a side note, Loftus makes a point about saying something about a triune God sending one third of Himself. I understand that the Trinity is hard to understand, but let’s not give out any nonsense. God is not divided into parts.

Loftus also quotes Christian scholar Robert Wennberg saying animals will not be compensated beyond the grave. First off, I dispute this and my interview with Dan Story on his book Will Dogs Chase Cats in Heaven is the place to go. Second, even if this wasn’t the case, this would not be sufficient to charge God with wrongdoing. It implies that God owes animals or even us something.

Loftus also looks at an answer by John Hick saying Hick is a speciesist. Indeed. Most of us are. Most of us do think the species are different, unless Loftus is willing to cook up his dead relatives and have them served at fast food restaurants. Either Loftus needs to have a vegan or at least vegetarian diet or he needs to allow grandma to be on the menu at McDonald’s.

When he gets to the animal afterdeath, Loftus says this does not justify their sufferings. If it did, anyone could torture any sentient being and then compensate them for their sufferings. This isn’t about what anyone could do though, but about what God did, and again, God owes no animal or even human anything whatsoever. To say God must compensate us is to say that He owes us something. Still, I do hold to an animal afterdeath and I am of the opinion that all of us in eternity in the blessed presence of God will see it was all worthwhile. It’s up to Loftus to demonstrate otherwise and he hasn’t.

Loftus also asks a litany of questions about animals in the afterdeath. Will they live in the same habitat? Will there be mountains, oceans, deserts, etc.? Will we have animals we don’t care for there? He ends saying a heaven with all creatures in it will look like the actual world.

Well, why shouldn’t it?

Do we think it unreasonable that God will create Earth to be like what we are forever meant to be in? Will there be changes? Yes, but I suspect there will be a lot of similarities.

On the other hand, it’s interesting to note that we are constantly told science revels in questions and encourages us to ask them so we can find out. Those same people will present the litany of questions about a religious point of view and then say to not even bother exploring. Why not explore both questions?

Loftus also says we’re on this side of eternity and we want to know how the question can be resolved before we believe there is a heaven in the first place. Not necessarily. If one has independent evidence of the question of animal suffering that God is real and Jesus is who He said He was and rose from the dead, one trusts that there is an answer. If this is a critique to see if Christianity is internally consistent, it’s just fine to assume Heaven for the sake of argument.

In the end, as usual, I don’t find John Loftus persuasive, as he may have recently noticed. It looks like the preacher is still giving an emotional appeal without any real substance. About all that’s needed is an offering and a chorus of Just As I Am.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Imagine Heaven

What do I think of John Burke’s book published by Baker Books? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

John Burke’s book could be the most exciting book on near-death experiences (NDEs) that I have ever read. While the majority are not evidential in the sense that they tell about people seeing things that they could not have seen that can be verified, that doesn’t mean that there isn’t much information here that should bring joy to the heart of a Christian. Namely, are some of the ideas about what is possible in the city that is being prepared for us.

This doesn’t mean that we shut our brains off and just believe entirely everything said. One has to be on guard because there have been fake accounts of people having NDEs. Burke is right though that many of these come from people who could face public embarrassment for claiming the things that they do claim. What do they gain by making them up always?

Burke is also very reliant on Scripture to make sure that the claims do not go beyond what is written. When one reads the accounts, it’s hard to not get excited. Light is a common refrain that shows up and life is right behind it. It’s as if the place that is coming is full of light that seems to move through everything and life is all around us.

Beauty also plays a major role and with this one, I was surprised that Burke didn’t address an issue that many men wonder about and that is the issue of marriage and sex in Heaven. I think marriage could have been addressed, but not the sexuality aspect. I remain uncertain about whether it will be in heaven, though making babies certainly will not take place. Still, what it is here should be seen as a foretaste of what is coming with God flirting with us about the joys of this world.

Some ideas that were really convicting also included hellish NDEs and the life review. For the NDEs of a more hellish nature, I found myself looking at my life and wondering if I was living that nature more sometimes. I do think I found some areas in which I can improve.

The life review was something common to come across as well. In this, people would review their lives like they were movies and see thoughts and emotions and how their tiniest actions affected people around them. The main question that was being asked is “What did you do with the life that I gave you?” In the accounts, Jesus cares deeply about how we treat other people around us.

I also found it interesting to hear about actual homes in the next world. This was intriguing to think of places where people live in a city. I was very pleased to hear about books being there and the constant pursuit and learning of knowledge.

Burke at one point does describe a welcoming committee and one reason they come is protection. More was said to be coming about this later, but I don’t remember it coming and it was something I was looking for. It could have been hellish NDEs, but that was not specified.

Again, I do not think that we should accept blindly every account given of an NDE, but there are too many to just dismiss them. More and more of them are also coming with evidence that can be verified.  Those with an interest in this field need to read this one.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

The Tendency To Be A Marcionite

Do we all have a tendency to go that way? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

It was within the past couple of weeks that I came to this conclusion. I was going to sleep at night praying myself to sleep as I usually do and I started thinking about my prayers to God. I started thinking about how the Father seems so unapproachable and things of that sort, and many of us I think do think that way.

Then the realization came to me. If Jesus is the one who showed the Father to us, then if we can approach Jesus, we can approach the Father. The thought hit me then that I had been being a Marcionite and I hadn’t even realized it. Was I not implicitly saying God was a God who was ready to judge?

I thought then of the many passages I have read on prayer. We are told to boldly approach the throne of grace in Hebrews 4. That is quite a serious claim. You don’t just come to the throne. You come with courage and confidence. You have all right to be there. God has granted you that privilege because He has adopted you as a son or a daughter.

And what does that tell us? God is supposed to be one that we approach as Father. The New Testament seems to go to great pains to get us to realize that. Jesus tells us in Luke 12:32 that it is the Father’s good pleasure to give us the kingdom. He before this even tells us to fear not. Could it be we are told to fear not because we fear the opposite from God?

What about Elijah? James tells us that Elijah prayed and it didn’t rain for years. He prayed again and the rain came. Before this, he says Elijah was a human being just like us. The prayer of a righteous man availeth much.

And if this is the case, the other danger of seeing God wrongly is that we don’t see Him truly. We miss who He really is. If we see God in this way, how can we present Him as truly a God of love?

This isn’t to say that He’s not a judge either. There is some of that judgment in Jesus as well. Just see what Jesus did in the temple or read the book of Revelation. Jesus can be quite tough on those who oppose Him. The Father we are told disciplines us because we are sons and He loves us.

If we see God as a father, what kind of father is He? Jesus tells us that if we ask our fathers for fish and eggs, will we get snakes and stones instead? What kind of father would do that? Yet sometimes we treat God as someone we have to beg and beg just to get one good thing from and we live in constant fear begging for mercy over and over.

And maybe you’re reading this and realizing you’ve had the same tendency. I think it shows up in people who come to me and struggle with doubt. They think that if they didn’t say or do the exact right thing, God will abandon them and say they’re not really Christians. He wants to keep them out of eternity on a technicality. Is that not the same sort of problem? The cross should show us God is willing to do what it takes because He does desire to forgive. Heaven is not for God but for us. God doesn’t need Heaven. He needs no place to dwell. We need a place if we are to be with Him.

So now, I am in the mental process of working on rethinking issues relating to prayer and who God is and thinking more and more about the awesome privileges that come to us who are Christians. I hope some reading this who have the same struggle are starting to rethink. If we are to tell the world about the goodness of God, we need to believe it ourselves.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

A Tribute To Nessie

How do you handle the loss of a furry friend? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Last week, a friend took us to a concert and since I wasn’t able to do the blog and since I like to do the same number every week, I took a week off so no worries readers that this had stopped forever. While my wife enjoyed the concert (I actually stayed in the hotel to read instead which was fine to her and her friend), she had something concerning her. What about Nessie?

Just after my wife turned twelve, her family went to get a dog and had decided to get a West Highland White Terrier. The dog was named Nessie and Allie had a strong bond with her. When I started dating Allie, there were times when Allie and I would be sitting on the couch and the dog would jump up in between us. We suspect she didn’t like me too much then. After we married, Nessie stayed with Allie’s parents and when I came over for awhile to visit, she did seem a bit cold to me, perhaps saying I was the one who took Allie away. Eventually, she did come to accept me.

But that was about 16 years ago. Dogs age like everything else does. Nessie was getting sicker. Her hearing and eyesight were going. She had diabetes. There were other conditions as well. We were sure it would be any day now. Allie was dreading the day.

The day came and it was February 1st. Now I was the one thinking I would have to be the really strong one. After all, I’m the one that’s not nearly as close to the dog as everyone else is. Yet when I went over to see my in-laws, it was sad to see everyone holding the dog in a blanket as if to get one final time together.

We all rode to the vet together. Everyone decided we all needed to be back there when Nessie was put to sleep so she wouldn’t be alone. I actually found myself getting choked up which was surprising to me, but how could I not? This was death right here in front of me that I was watching.

We as Christians know that Jesus did defeat death ultimately, but it still has some hold on us. It’s not permanent, but it reminds us that something is wrong with this world. Death causes a separation of sorts to take place. You can no longer enjoy the person’s company the way that you did in the past. Honestly, I would think any skeptic of Christianity who wanted to see loved ones again would jump at the chance to see if this could be true.

Shortly after it was done, my wife left the room and couldn’t take it. I went out there with her of course. While we were out there, I saw the vet who did the operation go by. I asked him if it ever gets easier to do that. He told me it never does. Another friend who’s a vet confirmed the same thing when we talked to her on the phone.

That day, I felt a great sorrow in me and I couldn’t really explain it except it’s just death. Sometimes you want to go to God and say the system that has been set up just sucks. Of course, I realize that we can say that we’re responsible for that because of the fall and all, but regardless of what you think of that, we all hate the system at this point. We think it shouldn’t have happened. God should have done a better job.

Yet could I think of a better way? It’s tempting, but no. This world will just stay fallen until Christ returns. We have to deal with that. In the meantime, I think it’s okay to have that anger towards God. Not everything is perfect. The Psalmists regularly had such anger.

Here we are a few days later. I think I’ve already sufficiently grieved. My wife and her parents are different which is understandable. They were all closer to Nessie than I was. Allie has been listening to a song regularly by Disturbed about holding on to the memories. It really is a good one. The whole point is to hold on to and celebrate the people you love while there’s time.

Which is a lesson we don’t really ever seem to learn. We tend to take people for granted. They are not going to be in our lives forever. Allie was tempted to not get close to our cat Shiro some this weekend, but then realized that wouldn’t be fair. It would be saying she regretted getting Shiro and Nessie. We have to realize that love is worth it even if it comes with the pain of known loss. When Allie and I married, we knew it was till death do us part. We need to celebrate one another until that day comes that we can’t.

Too often, we treat those people like annoyances. Every chance to love is something special. Allie looks back now and says she wishes she had gone on walks with Nessie more instead of being on the computer so much. How many of us say the same kinds of things?

This is why whenever I go out somewhere and Allie doesn’t come with me, the last thing I say is “I love you” to her. If anything happened to me while I was out, that way at least the last thing I said to her would have been that I loved her and she said it to me. I want her to always know that.

Some of you may wonder about animal afterlife. I did an interview on my show on it with Dan Story. You can listen to that here.

This is a post that my wife wrote on Nessie. I hope you will read it as well to see her perspective. I think she writes much more from the heart than I do.

And finally, here is a picture I made at Allie’s request for Nessie. May we see her again someday.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

Book Plunge: Impossible Love

What do I think of Craig and Medine Keener’s book published by Chosen books? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

If you’re married, do you remember dating your current spouse? Like so many relationships, there were barriers to overcome. There are many events in life that can present so many challenges for a couple just to spend time together. We’ve all seen them.

Take my own relationship. My wife and I had it so that one of us had to travel about 250 miles to get to go on a date together. What a burden! Or take the Keeners! They had to overcome divorces from previous painful marriages, international war, and travel through a war-torn region where you had to eat bugs and scrounge for food and water to survive.

Okay. Now that I think about it, those two aren’t exactly comparable.

This is the love story of Craig Keener and his wife Medine. I have had Craig on my podcast before and he is a real individual. He has responded promptly many times when I have emailed him about something and reading this was a fascinating look into his life.

When I read this, I saw someone who strove to please God, but many times was broken and insecure. I suspect that that played a part probably in his diving into scholarship and producing excellent works, but it didn’t change that there was something he was lacking in his life, which I remember from my own experience, a woman to love.

Many of us who know Craig have not got to know his wife Medine, and yet her story is fascinating as well. You get introduced to Medine’s family and her parents in the book are such incredible people especially. Many people who complain about suffering and evil today can’t begin to imagine what Medine and her family went through and yet her parents had more faith and joy than many of us do today. We are truly a shameful people.

I cannot tell much about the story, but it involves Craig meeting Medine when she came to America as a student and never losing touch with her. Always there was a physical and romantic draw between the two of them, but both of them were hesitant. Also, many people around them were making prophetic statements about their lives and they inevitably led to the two of them coming together.

That being said, I do have this concern about that in that so many people might come away as we often do today thinking that this is how it should be for all of us. We should all receive messages of prophecy telling us who we are to marry and thus make the right choice. I doubt the Keeners would agree with such a sentiment. I think sometimes there are some individuals that need a specific spouse for a specific task and God does the work to bring them together, but I don’t think that’s the case for everyone.

One addition I thought would have helped would to have as much as possible a timeline of what happened. I was wondering when the events took place and one clue I did find was when 9/11 was referenced. Most of us don’t know about when a Civil War hit the area of the Congo. I am sure the Keeners did not take explicit notes of when everything happened, but some idea of chronology would be helpful.

This story is incredibly touching and will leave you thinking of the love that you have. It’s also helpful for those who often are perceived as living in the ivory towers to come out from time to time and speak to us on their own inner lives. It is good to know Craig the scholar, for instance, but it is better to know Craig the man, and now I have a deeper knowledge of his wife as well.

Congratulations to the Keeners on their impossible love and may all who read this be blessed.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Thoughts On Young Death

What do we think when someone young passes away? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

I was going to do another book review, but last night I was looking over a Facebook page dedicated to my high school class’s 20th year reunion coming up. In a thread, I noticed comments about people we had lost. Three of them I was unaware of. Two had been lost to sickness. One died in a car accident. A final one went the awful way of suicide.

It was sobering.

I suspect when we get together for our reunion, we’re going to have fun and enjoy each other, but imagine getting out the yearbooks there and looking through and realizing “Oh wait. They’re not with us anymore.” There will be a fog of sadness hanging over the area then, and there should be. We live in a world where this just isn’t supposed to happen.

Sickness does come, but sickness is supposed to take us later in life. People in their 20’s aren’t supposed to die of diseases. Right? We all know it happens, but surely it won’t happen to us or to someone we know. Right? Well, if it happens to someone, there’s no guarantee it won’t.

What about a car accident? I have been in some of them. Last May, my wife and I were in a major accident and I still think I could have lost her. Think about how innocent it is. We all get in cars most days of the week and assume we will reach our destination safely, which is understandable. Most of the time, car accidents don’t happen.

This girl who died in this car accident I am sure got in the car with her life ahead of her with plans for the day and for the future. Those plans were tragically cut short. Life will never be the same. As I say this, my wife is out with her Celebrate Recovery sponsor. I saw her go off and I kissed her beforehand, but I realize I have no guarantee of ever seeing her again. It’s also another reason why whenever I leave the house I always tell Allie I love her and wait for her to say it back. If anything ever happened, may the last words we said to each other be “I love you.”

And then finally, suicide.

That dark path.

I say this married to someone who has had suicide attempts. I’ve even seen her after one. I easily count it the worst day of my life.

I read that this suicide from our high school class took place 12 years ago so either 2006 or 2007. If so, I remember what I was doing. I was preparing to move into an apartment so I could assure my parents I could handle living in Charlotte for Seminary. I moved to Charlotte on September 30, 2007.

While I was looking forward to a bright future, someone had decided they had no future. While I had a passion I thought worth living for, someone had decided there was nothing worth living for. While I was enjoying the gift of life, someone was considering it a curse and took theirs away.

Tragic indeed.

As a Christian, this hits home to me. For one thing, the resurrection tells me that all of the sufferings we see will be reversed. Someone might only live this time to their 20’s, but in eternity, they will live forever. The question then becomes how will they be living forever. Will it be eternal living or dying?

It also impresses on me the importance to tell people the good news of Christ. Now I’m not telling you to ram the gospel down someone’s throat so much that you’re annoying. I am telling you to try to be a bit more forward, and that goes for me as well.

And how will we spend this time? Do you think someone will look back and say “You know, I am so glad I didn’t waste so much time in my life telling my family I loved them.” I doubt they will say “If only I hadn’t gone to my son’s baseball game.” “If only I hadn’t had that romantic evening with my husband.” “If only I hadn’t taken my wife out for dinner that evening.”

The reality is, we take these things for granted too often. As a nerd, you might hear me talk about my wife a lot, and I think might doesn’t need to be in that sentence even. I never thought I would have anyone and I spend so much of my time celebrating that fact. I’m still amazed when I go to sleep at night and crawl into bed next to my wife. As I type this, I have pictures of her in here and I look at them spellbound thinking that I am the only man that gets to truly love my wife.

The people you have in your life, they’re not burdens. They’re not problems. They’re not annoyances. (Okay. Sometimes I can be annoying, but that’s different.) They’re people in the image of God. C.S. Lewis was right when he said next to the sacrament, your neighbor is the most holy sight you see.

Sometime this year, I anticipate seeing people, some of whom I haven’t seen in twenty years, again. Who knows how many people might be at a 25th reunion? Will we lose some? Perhaps. Should I treasure those that show up? Indeed.

Should I treasure those around me right now?

Should you?

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

Can A True Christian Be Depressed?

If you are a true Christian, will you ever despair? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

The church has been sorely lacking when it comes to issues of mental health, at least here in the West. It’s a subject that’s very relevant to my wife and I seeing as we both have Aspergers and she has Borderline Personality Disorder on top of that which comes with depression. We are sadly disappointed by how the Christian community usually handles the problems.

This isn’t to say that all of them are like that. My wife and I both attend a Celebrate Recovery program which is an excellent program when it comes to these issues. I encourage Christians struggling with things like pornography and such to go find a Celebrate Recovery.

Too many Christians instead start looking down on a Christian struggling with depression. We can ask if a Christian should be depressed and if they should be depressed over what they are depressed over, but to ask if a Christian should be depressed is a strange question. After all, our Lord was said to be a man of sorrows and familiar with suffering and you can go through the Pauline epistles and regularly find Paul talking about his pain for the churches and what he was going through.

Not only that, when they confess that they are depressed, then we don’t help them often. Instead, we say things that make them feel worse. What do I have in mind? Well….

“You must not have a lot of faith.”

“You must be dealing with some sin.”

“Have you repented of everything?”

“Christians are supposed to have joy.”

“Your prayer life must be lacking.”

“Go read the Bible and pray.”

“Maybe you need a demon cast out of you.”

“Good Christians don’t get depressed.”

I am sure I could add many more. The problem with these is they don’t really take the time to listen to what is going on with the person. The whole philosophy seems to be that we can’t have a depressed person in our midst. I mean, it would be absolutely awful if people realized people in the church have struggles and weaknesses.”

There could even be some truth sometimes to some of these. For instance, sometimes if someone is depressed, it could be because of sin. At that point, we need to work with them and see what it could be and once they ask forgiveness for it, leave it there. Many women can be depressed after getting an abortion and many men after encouraging the women to do so. When this comes out, let the church be the place of forgiveness and then bring it up no more.

We also need to realize that many times we can’t control our feelings as much as we would like. Feelings and emotions come and arise and sometimes we don’t have anything to do with them or know what causes them. Sometimes I can experience some sadness and I don’t know why. It just happens. I try to move on.

That being said, we have much more control over what we do than we realize. Getting depressed isn’t necessarily a choice, but choosing to engage in self-harm or isolation or something of that sort is. I’m not saying it is an easy choice, but it is a choice.

There have been some times where I have had to have my wife hospitalized due to depression and those are tragic times to me. When those times come, I really don’t want to do anything and I have to push myself to do the blog or any apologetics. Whenever I get the chance, I visit her in the hospital, and sometimes I have been very concerned.

There are hospitals out there that do not have good treatment for their patients and the cleanliness and such of the hospital is quite poor. I am left thinking that we wouldn’t put up with this for our physical hospitals. Why do we give our mental hospitals the sort of leftovers?

There are many organizations that people support for physical health such as cancer and other diseases, and we should. Mental health often seems to get the shaft. Many times when we think about mental health? People who do things like mass shootings. As soon as one of these takes place, mental health issues are brought up. It seems foreign to people that sometimes people do evil not because of mental problems, but because they’re, well, evil.

If someone comes to church and we hear that they have cancer, we have a prayer vigil and such, and we should. We don’t seem to treat mental health issues the same way. It’s okay to have cancer in the church. It’s not okay to have depression.

This is especially relevant since many who struggle with this can after some time possibly wrestle with suicide. How can it be we let this happen and yet people are scared to come to the church and talk about these issues? Can you imagine someone struggling with depression being scared to talk to Jesus about it in His earthly ministry? By the way, His earthly ministry hasn’t ended. We’re supposed to continue it, and if people don’t want to come to us when they would to Jesus, we are doing it wrong.

Part of the Christian life is ups and downs. We will all have them. If we want to ask about why someone doesn’t have joy when they have Jesus, let’s ask ourselves first. I sometimes wonder why I can seem to get excited about many more things in my life than about Jesus.

If we ask how a Christian can struggle with depression, let’s ask how they can struggle with pornography or gluttony or greed or anything else. All Christians have some sort of struggle. If you are reading this as a Christian, you have a struggle. The sin that seriously tempts you might be something I don’t get bothered by in the least. Perhaps you couldn’t walk past a bar without being tempted to drink alcohol. I have zero temptation there, but maybe you’re less tempted with pride than I am. We all have something.

I’m also definitely not opposed to Scripture and prayer, but there’s a danger in treating them like a magic charm. “Go and read Psalm X and you will feel just fine!” You can get great comfort and encouragement, but it doesn’t mean the problem goes away.

We should also definitely be encouraging therapy for these people who struggle, but when they come to you with a struggle, they don’t really usually want you to do something about the problem. If you can, great, but one of the best things you can say is absolutely nothing. Just listen. Give a hug. (By the way, I encourage women to share with women and men with men. It’s way too easy for any emotional closeness like that to turn into sexual closeness that it shouldn’t.)

There’s also no sin in taking medication for this. If there is something going on with the brain, this isn’t wrong. Medication can’t be the cure-all and consistently, therapy does better than medication, but it can be an aid. Christians struggling with depression don’t need the added weight put on their shoulders of being told they’re deficient in Christianity due to having depression or taking medication.

Your church has people in it that are hurting greatly. Please always keep that in mind and be willing to be a listening ear and a friend. Do something simple for them. Just taking a friend in need out to lunch might seem small, but it could mean immensely more to the person who gets it.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Slavery, Abolitionism, and the Ethics of Biblical Scholarship

What do I think of Hector Avalos’s book published by Sheffield Phoenix? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

In scholarship, there are people who have strong positions on both sides. Many of them come with a lot of passion and that can be a good thing. Sometimes, they come with a passion that unfortunately taints what they say too much. Hector Avalos is one such person. When reading this one, it’s pretty clear that he’s practically dripping with venom against Christianity on every page.

This book called have been called a response to Rodney Stark, who seems to be the major villain in the piece. While Avalos questions Stark’s research, which is just fine, I often suspect Avalos has fallen into the same trap. If Stark gives the impression that Christianity brought sunshine and puppies and can do no wrong, Avalos treats it like a universal acid that eats through everything it touches.

At the start, Avalos says his book is the critique of the idea that the Bible should be the basis for modern ethics. I wonder who exactly is saying that. Most Christian apologists I know of argue from the basis of natural law theory on issues of morality. The Bible gives good and true information, but we also realize our secular friends won’t hear it, so we try to establish truths on grounds they do accept. We also realize the natural law is something known to all men even without explicit revelation, which I think even the Bible teaches.

Avalos also admits that even non-Christian scholars have high praise of Jesus. They say that Jesus can do no wrong. This is a good admission I like to see. Avalos doesn’t seem to share it (And in the text actually says he’s agnostic on the historicity of Jesus.), but it shows once again what a unique figure Jesus is.

On p. 7, we are told “slavery is a socioeconomic system centering on the use of forced laborers, who are viewed as property or under the control of their superiors for whatever term was determined by their masters or their society.” This could be fine insofar as it goes, but it still raises questions. What exactly is meant by property? What does it mean to be under control? How does this differ from indentured servitude or even employment today? These are questions unanswered. Avalos does admit that slavery is a hard term to define, but it doesn’t help to just arbitrarily make a definition.

On p. 12, Avalos has a paragraph about literalism and how the anti-slavery position went against the plain sense of the text. Yet at this point, we have to ask what is the plain sense? The plain sense differs from person to person. Part of the problem was thinking there was a plain sense that should have been immediately known by every reader. As Mark Noll says

“On the other front, nuanced biblical attacks on American slavery faced rough going precisely because they were nuanced. This position could not simply be read out of any one biblical text; it could not be lifted directly from the page. Rather, it needed patient reflection on the entirety of the Scriptures; it required expert knowledge of the historical circumstances of ancient Near Eastern and Roman slave systems as well as of the actually existing conditions in the slave states; and it demanded that sophisticated interpretative practice replace a commonsensically literal approach to the sacred text. In short, this was an argument of elites requiring that the populace defer to its intellectual betters. As such, it contradicted democratic and republican intellectual instincts. In the culture of the United States, as that culture had been constructed by three generations of evangelical Bible believers, the nuanced biblical argument was doomed” – Mark Noll, The Civil War As A Theological Crisis.

It’s worth noting that when Avalos talks about the American abolitionists and such, he doesn’t really say anything about Noll’s work. It’s referenced a few times, but serious engagement is lacking. I suspect there’s a reason for this.

On p. 16, he talks about the moral foundations and how they’re best found in secularism. One must base them on verifiable individual and group interests. Absent is any question of how to verify them or even tell that these interests are good and which individual or group? I seriously doubt Avalos wants to take into consideration the will of “religious” people, after all.

For finding the practice of caring for the poor, Avalos asks why we go to Deuteronomy instead of Job when the term in question is used in Job more times. Probably because Deuteronomy is our command on how we should live. Job while providing good wisdom, is not that kind of work.

On p. 30, Avalos talks about how we often don’t have enough information to know what an author meant. In some cases, this is true, but it’s interesting to me that when it comes to a text that someone else is interpreting, Avalos plays this card. When it comes to text like Jesus saying He came not to bring peace but a sword or that we must hate our parents, all of a sudden, those texts are clear and there’s no hint of authorial intent. This is a huge double-standard on Avalos’s part. I am not exaggerating. Avalos says Martin Luther King Jr. said Jesus had a love ethic, but Avalos contends that Jesus taught us to hate our parents in Luke 14:26 and therefore He was preaching hate. Statements like this really make Avalos lose credibility with me.

More and more of this shows up in the text and while I could list numerous more problems, I don’t wish to do so much of that. I want to hit on some major points. For one thing, Avalos spends a good deal of time talking about slavery in the ancient world in both testaments. One question is never answered. Why did slavery exist to begin with?

Most readers won’t think of this kind of question, but it’s an important one. You couldn’t just walk down to the street and go to Wal-Mart and get a job. If you wanted to pay for your family to have food on the table, you had to work for someone else and slavery was the system. Does that mean slavery was all sunshine and rainbows? Not at all.

Does it mean slavery was endorsed for all time? Of course not. Some things were granted for hardness of hearts, such as divorce. God started with the people where they were. There’s also the important question on the relationship between the two testaments and what applies to just Israel at a specific time and place and what applies to all people for all time. Avalos doesn’t touch these questions.

Any reference that can put God in a negative light is used. If God is portrayed as a king, that’s negative. If someone claims they are a slave of Christ, like Paul did, then Jesus is a wicked imperial ruler. Even in the parable of the owner of the vineyard who chose to give everyone a day’s wages even if they worked an hour, Jesus is still a villain. If evangelicals think Jesus can do no wrong, Avalos thinks he can do no right.

Avalos goes throughout history and I don’t honestly know enough about the accounts to say anything on those. Still, considering how he has acted throughout the book, I take things with a grain of salt. For Avalos, Christianity never did anything good except for fellow Christians. I am not at all claiming that everything Christianity has done throughout history has been wonderful and the church has no innocent blood on its hands, but I am claiming we have done a lot of good still.

Avalos also asks why the New Testament never commanded the release of slaves. There’s a quite good reason. I think such would have led to insurrection and Christianity would have been a movement about freeing the slaves largely and thus shut down so it could do no good. Christianity worked from the bottom up and not the other way around.

In conclusion, I found this book highly lacking. If other historians have gone through and documented errors in other parts, I would be interested. The parts I do know about, I found to be incredibly lacking and Avalos is just as much fundamentalist I suspect as the opponents he critiques. He just has a different loyalty.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Christmas Eve

What’s important about today? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Christmas Eve has always been a special day for me. Growing up, it was the day the extended family all got together. We would often stay up till midnight at my aunt’s house opening gifts with all of the extended family. That no longer goes on and some of the family have died, such as my grandmother and uncle.

Of course, none of this compares to nine years ago. It was on that day on Christmas Eve that I made one of the best decisions of my life. I got down on bended knee to the girl I had been dating and asked her to marry me. As you know, she said yes. The day was spent showing her ring to everyone we met. For some of them, this was the first time they got to meet Allie.

Nowadays, we spend Christmas Eve at different places. One year, we will go to see my family for Christmas. The next year, we will spend it with hers. We alternate Thanksgiving the same way.

Christmas seems like such a happy time. Right? We all get together and celebrate and give out gifts. We celebrate that there is hope in this world.

But Christmas Eve should remind us that Jesus came into this world not because it was full of hope, but because it had no hope. Jesus did not come because the world was such a wonderful place, but because it was such a terrible place. Jesus did not come because men were so wonderful, but because men were so awful.

On Christmas Eve, we should remember that Israel was in a place where there was no light. They were in their land, but under the most powerful empire of all. Rome could have beat Assyria and Babylon multiple times over when both of them were at their prime. How could a tiny nation in the Middle East hope to have any impact?

And yet the hope Israel thought it needed was not the hope it got. This is a mistake that we can often make too. We think that if God wants to come through for us, well, we know the way that He should come through. We know what our true need is. We know what is best. Reality check. We don’t.

Israel thought what was best was a political dynasty set up again. Put a king on the throne here on Earth and have him help defeat the Roman Empire and return Israel to the days of David. That was not what God had in mind. God had something greater in mind and yet, now we see that the Roman Empire is no longer here. It was conquered, but not by the sword, but by the love of Christ. Today, we name our children Peter and Paul and name our dogs Nero and Caesar.

Many of us today are truly in Christmas Eve. We are in a world where there seems to be no hope. We also think that we know what we need and that God will come through or we hope He will come through the way we expect.

Christmas Eve should show us God can blow apart our ideology and theology. No theologian of the time was expecting God to be incarnate as a little baby. He was.

He ended up giving us something better for Christmas than what we were asking. God’s greatest gift was not a dynasty being set up. It was Himself. On Christmas Day, God begins the process of giving Himself to the world.

Maybe it’s time we drop our expectations of what God should do. Just let Him do what He will do. He knows best anyway.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

The Silence of Heaven

What do you do when the Heavens are silent? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Last night I was doing some Bible reading before bed. I had something else I wanted to blog on, but then I got to Hebrews 12:25 warning us about what happens if we ignore Him who speaks. It was a section that left me thinking.

You see, we often today make a big deal about the idea of hearing the voice of God. I think for the most part, it’s normally nonsense. Many people who are hearing the voice of God have a God who strangely enough tells them exactly what they want to hear, much like the pastor who feels called to go to a different church that conveniently is offering a bigger salary.

That doesn’t mean that there aren’t times of questions and concerns. When the hard times in our lives hit, it’s not atheism that’s really the big fear. It’s not even that Jesus didn’t rise from the dead.

It’s that if we pulled back our ideas about God we would see a God who doesn’t care. As C.S. Lewis said, when his wife died, his fear wasn’t that there was no God. He had more than enough reason to know there was. It was that God existed and this is what He’s really like!

On the other hand, sometimes, one could hope that is. To say that God is all-good and allows suffering puzzles us. Especially if you hold to God knowing the end from the beginning, God created knowing all of this would happen as it did. God is not saying that this is a good thing, but it is good to allow us to go through it.

We often think that if God could just give us a little something, we would be able to handle it. Surely that’s not asking too much. Why not do that?

I have some thoughts on the matter, as you can expect.

For one thing, I think if that happened, we could make a steady diet of experiences. Too many of us get our theology from our experiences. If we do that, we could get a doctrine of God just because we ate too much pizza the night before.

Second, that could give us pride. Look at how special I am! God Himself did something like this for me!

Hey. That second one could be on to something. Could it be sometimes we have to look at sin seriously?

I’m not at all saying all suffering in our lives is because of our sin. Of course not. I am saying we should always be open to it. Have we looked at ourselves and examined ourselves? Could it be God has not pulled away from us, but we have pulled away from Him?

We could be asking God to do something when really we are not paying attention to what He has done. He has forgiven those of us who are Christians of everything. Why do we not rejoice about that every day? Could it be because we really don’t take sin seriously? We don’t realize what an affront our sin is to a holy God?

Perhaps we should realize God is always showing us mercy. That we are allowed to live is mercy. When we are angry and complain to God, He is showing us mercy in that He doesn’t destroy us on the spot. He could do that and who could say He was wrong for doing so? He doesn’t owe us another moment does He?

We could also be in a situation like Job. Some people think the question of Job is why is there pain and suffering in the world? When I went through a time of depression in my life, I went through Job repeatedly, because I thought that was the question of Job.

It’s not.

The question of Job is why do you serve God? If you took away Heaven and eternal life from us, would we still serve God? If we wouldn’t, then we have to ask if we’re really serving God for who He is or for what we want. A married couple is supposed to have sex together regularly, but if something happened to the wife physically that she couldn’t do that anymore, would the husband leave her? If so, you have to ask why he was there to begin with.

There is nothing wrong with enjoying the benefits of marriage any more than there is looking forward to Heaven and eternal life, There is something wrong if we exclude God from them much like if a husband excludes the person of his wife from sex and just wants her body. If God takes away the goodies, will you still serve?

This is what I think we have to ask most in these hard times. We have to ground our theology. God is there and He is good. Do we feel like serving? No? Serve any way. There have been mornings I have woken up angry with God about my life, and I still sit down at that computer and serve.

Anyone can serve God when they feel like it. Yay, you. You’re so awesome. Anyone can love their spouse when they feel like it. The times your marriage grows the most is when you love even when you don’t feel like it. The best times to grow in your walk with Christ is when you serve even when you don’t feel like it.

Feelings could come later of enjoying what you’re doing, but if they don’t, oh well. You’re still doing the right thing. Ultimately, it comes down to that. Do the right thing regardless. Your feelings should not really come into consideration with that. There is never any justification for doing the wrong thing.

And if it means just talking to God in prayer, be honest in those times. You can tell Him you’re mad or you don’t understand, but say you’re going to serve anyway. Then serve.

God will be pleased. Heaven may be seemingly silent now, but if one does this, you can expect one day you will hear Heaven. It will be the sound of applause that you hear then.

In Christ,
Nick Peters