Book Plunge: Christianity At The Religious Round Table

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

In the past, a Christian growing up would likely never encounter a Hindu, a Buddhist, or a Muslim, at least in a place like America. Now, you encounter them in a wide number of places. A church my wife and I attend has a ministry to Indian people in the area. Many Hollywood celebrities practice Buddhism. Oprah Winfrey regularly shares Eastern thought on her broadcasts. Islam seems to always be in the news and 9/11 has a permanent memory with many of us.

Even if a Christian lives out somewhere in the boondocks surrounded by Christians, if they get on the internet, they will encounter other worldviews. Nowadays, learning about other worldviews for a Christian is not just an option. It is mandatory.

Fortunately, Timothy Tennent has written a book where he does interact with other worldviews from the perspective of one who has spent some time in serious study of those worldviews. Tennent gives a brief explanation of major ideas in Hindu, Buddhist, and Islamic thought. Then he has a dialogue with holders of those worldviews and lets us see how the interaction is to take place.

He also has three bonus sections at the end that aren’t dialogue, but do look at how one interacts with other religions and how some have done it in history. Anyone interested in interacting with this kind of thought needs to go through this area as well. There is also a section beforehand on different views of exclusivism and inclusivism so Christians can see where they fall on the spectrum.

The information in the book is certainly excellent. Be warned that when many of us read sections on Hinduism and Buddhism, self included, it is easy to get lost. This is because you really do get to see how different Eastern thought is from the way that we generally think and the terminology is terminology that we are not familiar with. I don’t think this is the fault of Tennent at all when it’s sometimes hard to follow. I think it’s just that we’re so far away from the system that we don’t know how to process it.

Some people might be surprised that the information on Islam doesn’t cover terrorism. The book was published after 9/11, but I suspect Tennent wanted to focus more on the doctrinal issues than that. That could be a good topic of further dialogue in the future if one is interested.

If anything would be changed, I would have liked to have seen some names attached to the participants in the dialogue and perhaps rather than just long pieces, have more immediate give and take like a conversation. Names would have made the dialogue seem more personable. Perhaps we should have some sections of longer parts and some of shorter parts. For shorter parts, I think of the writings of Peter Kreeft he has, such as those with Socrates.

Still, if you want some good information on these beliefs, this book is an excellent place to go. You will walk away with a better understanding of these worldviews. Again, you have to have this knowledge if you want to be effective today.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Deeper Waters Podcast 3/30/2019: Timothy Tennent

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

If you grew up in, say, the 1950’s, odds are you could go through life in America without ever really encountering a Buddhist or a Hindu. Fast forward to the 1980’s and you’re probably not as likely, but you will see ideas from the East having much more of a showing here in America. Now as the second decade of the 21st century comes to a close, it’s far easier. Not only can you encounter Hindus and Buddhists, but you don’t even have to leave your house to do so. Just get on Facebook and it’s easy to encounter people of a totally different religion.

When it comes to Islam and Mormonism and Jehovah’s Witnesses, we might have an easier time understanding because we share a cultural milleu in that these share a lot in common with Western thought. Not so with Buddhism or Hinduism. These religions can be so foreign to our way of thinking that they are difficult to understand. It has been said you need a Ph.D. in philosophy to really understand Buddhism, for example.

A couple of months ago my wife and I visited a Hindu temple here in Atlanta. I did encounter a foreign world to me and as I left, I realized I needed to do a show on the topic of Hinduism and Buddhism as well. Few of us in apologetics really know how to approach the kind of thinking in these religions. I needed someone who understood both of these well and had a passion for teaching on the topics. I found that person in Dr. Timothy Tennent.

So who is he?

According to his bio:

President Timothy C. Tennent has served as president since July 2009. Prior to his coming to Asbury Theological Seminary, Dr. Tennent was the Professor of World Missions and Indian Studies at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary where he served since 1998. Ordained in the United Methodist Church in 1984, he has pastored churches in Georgia, and in several of the largest churches in New England. Since 1989, he has taught annually as an adjunct professor at the New Theological College in Dehra Dun, India. He is a frequent conference speaker around the country and throughout the world, including numerous countries in Asia, Africa and Europe.

Not only will we be talking about these religions, but I also plan to talk about how to approach other religions in general. It is tempting if we’re apologists to seek to study a religion just to find out what’s wrong with it. Is there a better way to approach a foreign religion? Even if we know the facts about other religions, how is the best way to communicate this to those who hold to those religions?

Please be watching your feed for the next episode of the Deeper Waters Podcast. Also, go on iTunes and leave a positive review of the show as well. It really means a lot to me to know that there are so many of you out there that appreciate the work that is being done here.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

Book Plunge: Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy

What do I think of Andrew Stephen Damick’s book published by Conciliar Media Ministries? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Damick’s work is the one that I have seen that is most apologetic in the area of Orthodoxy. Damick interacts with other religious beliefs and tries to treat them as fairly as he can. There are many aspects of his criticisms that I would agree with, but overall, I still remain unconvinced about the truth of Orthodoxy.

For instance, on pp. 118-119, Damick speaks about an anti-intellectual tradition in many Protestant churches today. In these churches, if you don’t go to Bible College or Seminary, that’s a mark in your favor. I have encountered this way too many times.

There are many times Damick will criticize attitudes he sees in Protestantism and many times I agree with him. I agree with the problem of so many people claiming that they hear from the Holy Spirit. I agree that these people are really setting themselves up as infallible because, hey, the Holy Spirit told them otherwise.

One area about Damick’s work that does concern me is how much time is spent criticizing Roman Catholicism and Protestantism and then there’s one chapter on other religions. I would think that we should be more concerned about these other religions than other religions that I think are still within the fold of Christianity. There are about 100 pages+ plus on Protestantism and about 20 or so on other religions.

On p. 65, he starts talking about Sola Scriptura, he never really defines what it is. The problem is apparently every believer becomes authoritative in interpreting the Scripture. Yes and no. Some people do have more validity than others. Joe Blow down the street who has never read a book outside the Bible or the professor of NT Greek at the seminary down the street both have an interpretation but all things being equal, the professor’s interpretation should have more weight.

What we do with this is that we can discuss what we read in the Scripture. How do we know what the text of Scripture means? How do we know what the text of any work means? We have to study it and understand any surrounding context and if needed look at the original languages.

Damick also says that Sola Scriptura is the rejection of tradition, but this is false. It is simply the saying that Scripture is the final authority and it alone is the infallible message from God that we have. We have no problem with tradition as tradition. I have no problem with the tradition of the Trinity, because I see that abundantly in Scripture.

Now consider traditions like praying to the saints and the Marian viewpoints. I cannot see those in Scripture, so I look at them with Scripture. If they don’t measure up, then I reject them. If there is some other evidence they’re reliable, I’m open.

What about academia? Damick tells us scholarship is in disarray, and indeed it is, but some scholarship is better than others and I contend the scholarship in favor of Christianity is better. Damick then asks what happens with the next archaeological finding or manuscript variant? Do we have to revolutionize our understanding of Christianity?

Indeed we might have to. If the evidence is against Christianity or showing that it’s wrong, then we should abandon it. Damick is here showing some anti-intellectualism that he has condemned. I have no fear of research going on into Christianity because I am convinced that Christianity is true and will last.

On p. 81, Damick tells us the only way to make sure you’re reading the text correctly is to do so in the tradition of the apostles. The question now becomes how can we know this? How can Damick be sure that this is accurate? The Catholics say the same about the Magisterium. The Mormons say the same about the teachings of the Prophet. The Watchtower says the same about their publications.

All of this tells me that the text cannot be understood on its own. Why should I think this? Is there something about the text of the Scripture that is written differently than any other text? Are any of these groups giving us the academic insight of the scholarship into the social context of the Biblical world?

On p. 89 he talks about baptism and infant baptism. I am troubled by the usage of Mark 16:16 to make the case since I don’t think that’s authentic. I also think it’s a misusage to say “Let the little children come to me” from Jesus to justify infant baptism. It’s comparing apples to oranges.

On p. 95, he says “if sola scriptura means that all tradition and hierarchial authority are to be rejected and the Bible is to be read in an isolated manner, there can be no method by which theology is corrected and doctrinal orthodoxy maintained.” Yes. IF. Yet shouldn’t it be known if that’s what it means? If it doesn’t, then this is a straw man. I contend this is not Sola Scriptura and I find it troublesome that Danick is not clear on what it is.

On p. 108-109, Damick talks about faith. Damick doesn’t really speak about what faith is much. In the Biblical case, faith means trust in what has been shown to be reliable. Damick says that if you define it as absolute knowledge, you are not in the tradition of the apostles. However, there are times that this happens in the ancient world. Aristotle once used it to refer to a rhetorical proof.

On p. 110 in talking about salvation, Damick says it should be enough to give the words of Jesus. He who endures to the end will be saved. Both of these passages are talking about eschatology and soteriology and the survival of persecution. In Acts 27:31, during the storm while Paul is at sea he says to the centurion, unless these men stay with the ship, you cannot be saved.

Is Paul giving us a way of soteriology? Is Paul saying that the way to be saved is to get in a ship on a stormy sea and stay on board the whole time? No. He’s saying that they will not be spared from the storm if this happens. It is hard to say that you need to stay in the apostolic tradition to understand the Scripture when I see this kind of understanding going on.

We get the same when we come to John 6 and the passage about eating flesh and drinking blood. My contention is that many people are taking that passage far too literally. Jesus is comparing Himself to the manna in the wilderness. As the people there needed to depend on manna for their sustenance, so Jesus must be our sustenance.

On p. 155, Damick has been looking at groups many of us would call cults and asks that if Mary Baker Eddy is wrong, why is John Wesley Right? He lists several people like that. Why should we think one is right while the other is wrong? How about the same standard? Evidence?

Finally on p. 182, Damick tells us that the Church doesn’t have any learning to do because God has revealed Himself to them and by leading the apostles into all truth. I am unsure how to take this. Part of me is concerned that Damick could be saying learning is not needed anymore. Also, just because the immediate apostles were led into all truth, it doesn’t mean that thoes who were immediately after them have the same promise.

Another concern I have with Damick’s work is that I don’t see a defense of Orthodoxy really. The defense is assumed. I can’t say that the criticisms of Roman Catholicism are certain. They look fine to me, but I don’t know enough about Roman Catholicism to speak definitively.

Damick’s book is good in many of its criticisms, but I don’t see the strong case for Orthodoxy yet. To be fair, I don’t think he’s writing for that purpose and I think his intended audience is fellow Orthodox. I appreciate his learning and I think we could have a good conversation together, but I find some of his defenses lacking.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Deeper Waters Podcast 12/162017: Andy Bannister

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

The Qur’an is a book many Christians aren’t really familiar with. Muslims and Muslim apologists will often talk about the perfection of the Qur’an. The Bible after all supposedly has so many textual difficulties and which version do you read? Not the case with the Qur’an after all! There’s only one Qur’an! There aren’t manuscript difficulties with it! This book came from Allah Himself through the angel Gabriel and delivered to Muhammad.

But what if it’s not true?

Could it be that there has been study done into the Qur’an and found that these claims are lacking? Could it be that we know more about the formulation of the Qur’an than is realized? Could it be the Qur’an is much more human than realized? While the authors of the Bible having their humanity influence the way it was written has been understood, is it the same with the Qur’an?

To discuss this, I have asked someone to come on who understands the Bible very well. I asked someone who has studied this at the highest level and has written about it to help explain it. He’s been on the show before and this time he’s on to talk about the Qur’an. His name is Andy Bannister.

So who is he?

According to his bio:

I am the Director of the Solas Centre for Public Christianity and an Adjunct Speaker for Ravi Zacharias International Ministries, speaking and teaching regularly throughout the UK, Europe, Canada, the USA, and the wider world. From universities to churches, business forums to TV and radio, I regularly address audiences of both Christians and those of all faiths and none on issues relating to faith, culture, politics and society.

I hold a PhD in Islamic studies and have taught extensively at universities across Canada, the USA, the UK and further afield on both Islam and philosophy. I am also an Adjunct Research Fellow at The Arthur Jeffery Centre for the Study of Islam at Melbourne School of Theology.

I am the author of An Oral-Formulaic Study of the Qur’an (a groundbreaking and innovative study that reveals many of the ways the Qur’an was first composed) and Heroes: Five Lessons From Whose Lives We Can Learn, an exciting and fast-moving look at the lives of five incredible giants of the Christian faith. My latest book, The Atheist Who Didn’t Exist (or: The Dreadful Consequences of Really Bad Arguments), is a humorous engagement with the New Atheism. I also co-wrote and presented the TV documentary, Burning Questions.

When not travelling, speaking, or writing, I am a keen hiker, mountain climber and photographer. I am married to Astrid and we have two children, Caitriona and Christopher.

I hope you’ll be interested as we have this hour-long discussion on the nature of the Qur’an. Please be watching your podcast feed for this episode. If you can also, go and leave a positive review of the Deeper Waters Podcast on iTunes. I love to see them!

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Deeper Waters Podcast 10/28/2017: Bill Honsberger

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

I’ve always been a fan of fantasy. The whole genre fascinates me. I also know that it’s fantasy. Unfortunately, I also know that there is real witchcraft out there. The sad thing is, this isn’t what you find in the storybooks. This is actually trying to get in touch with real powers that are out there and trying to get some sort of benefit from them.

One such system is one called Wicca. In a recent interview, I was surprised to hear just how popular the movement of Wicca is. It’s one that we really don’t hear much about. I can’t remember the last time I dialogued with someone in Wicca on Facebook or if I ever have. Despite that, it’s apparently growing among our young people.

Fortunately, there are people who answer this, and it’s a good thing. A brief look on Amazon did not really reveal much aside from people who have already been on my show. Still, when I was told about how bad it is among the young and who to contact, I immediately sought to get him on my show. He’s someone who knows a great deal about Wicca and he’s going to talk about it with us this Saturday. His name is Bill Honsberger.

So who is he?

According to his bio:

Bill Honsberger and his wife Terri live in Aurora, CO and have eight children. Bill has been working with and around cults for over twenty-five years. For the past twenty years he has worked for Haven Ministries (under the auspices of the Conservative Baptist Home Mission Society for the first 9 years), a ministry that focuses on evangelizing people in cults, the New Spirituality and other non-Christian religions. Haven Ministries also works on educating the church as to the issues raised by non-Christian religions. Bill has a Bachelors degree from Western Bible College in Pastoral Theology, a Master of Arts Degree in Systematic Theology from Denver Seminary, numerous hours in graduate study in philosophy and history at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and the University of Colorado-Boulder, and was AbD at the University of Denver. He is now in the process of completing his PhD at The Southern Baptist Seminary in Louisville, KY. He has also taught as an adjunct professor at several Christian schools and for a local community college. He speaks at colleges and churches around the country and has had numerous television, radio and newspaper interviews. He is also on the national board for Evangelical Ministries to New Religions (EMNR), a network of Counter cult/apologetic ministries from around the country.

Join me this Saturday as we talk about Wicca. What is it? Why is it that young people are being drawn into this movement? How is it that we can reach people in this belief system? What does it really teach?

Please be watching your podcast feed for the next episode of the Deeper Waters Podcast. Also, if you haven’t go on ITunes and leave a positive review of the Deeper Waters Podcast. See you next time!

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

 

Book Plunge: The Secret Battle of Ideas About God

What do I think of Jeff Myers’s book published by David C. Cook? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Jeff Myers’s latest book certainly starts off getting your attention. How can it not with talking about people who were directly tied in to 9/11? This then gets directly linked to virus outbreaks that have taken place which is finally compared with the idea of mind viruses. Myers doesn’t mean some disease you need to go see your doctor about, but rather ideas that spread and people don’t have much defense for, including and especially, younger Christians.

Myers work is to deal with a problem which is that many of our younger Christians believe things that are entirely at odds with orthodox Christianity and they don’t even realize it. They’ve been made victims in a war that they don’t even realize that they’re fighting in, something immediately reminiscent of The Green Book is Lewis’s The Abolition of Man. These people have not been given a Christian worldview. As I’ve said many times before, it might be shocking to realize that to develop a good Christian lifestyle, you might need to have more than concerts and pizza parties at church.

Myers says that there are essentially five other kinds of worldviews, though no doubt there is some overlapping. These are secularism, Marxism, postmodernism, New Spirituality, and Islam. As I write this, I know Christian friends who have fallen especially for New Spirituality and Islam. Myers contrasts these worldviews with Christianity in the book.

One good aspect about the book is Myers is very open about himself and his own struggles and mistakes. When he writes about a failed marriage, he doesn’t hide it. When he talks about anger with God, that’s out there in the open. When he talks about mistakes in the past in the area of sex, that’s right there. When he says that counseling drains him, he means it. That kind of openness I admire.

Those questions are relevant because what Myers is really dealing with in the book is existential questions. Am I loved? Why am I hurting? Does life have any meaning? Can’t we all just get along? Is there hope for the world? Does God matter? Many of us in apologetics would like to leap straight to the questions of if God exists or if Jesus rose from the dead, but many people are not starting with those questions. They’re starting with these. We need to get to those questions, but how does Christianity answer these questions in contrast to other worldviews?

Myers’s book is clear and easy to read. You don’t have to be a professional philosopher to understand his arguments. There’s about 200 pages of content, but it’s still a relatively short read and it’s one that you could present to someone who is exploring Christianity and wondering about these kinds of questions.

If there was something I would like to see more of, it is that while the book is clear that Christianity does answer these questions, that doesn’t show Christianity is true. It’s fine to have a book dedicated to existential questions, but I would have liked to have seen a section at the end that would include apologetics books for further reading on the other questions that can show that Christianity is true. Perhaps it could point to other authors like J. Warner Wallace and Lee Strobel.

Still, this is a good book to read to help with the questions. It’s easy to read that when I finished, I put it in a stack of books for my wife so that she could go through it as she’s been learning a lot about these questions as well. If she does go through it, I am sure she will be blessed by it.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

Book Plunge: Seeing Through Christianity Part 8

Is there a problem with judgment? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

The next chapter of Zuersher’s book is about the judgment. Zuersher starts by saying that few people will make it into Heaven and more will go into Hell. For this, he cites Matthew 7:14 with the gate being small that leads to eternal life and only few will find it.

In the interest of fairness, it’s understandable that people go here, but I don’t think it makes the case. There are some going back, and I think this even includes B.B. Warfield, who contended that this was a response to Christ’s immediate teaching. Few of the Jewish people living in Israel would respond positively to the message.

He also goes to John 14:6 with Jesus saying no man comes to the Father but through me. Again, this is a true text, but I wonder about the interpretation. All that is said here is that in essence, Jesus is the doorkeeper. If we compared it to a bar, Jesus is the bouncer and no man gets in unless He gives the okay.

Does that mean that one has to explicitly know the name of Jesus to be saved? No. Consider if we went to the text that says whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. What that means is that if you call on the name of the Lord, that is sufficient for you to be saved. What it does not say is that only those who call on the name of the Lord will be saved. While I do hold that God could admit many who have never explicitly heard of Jesus in the pagan world today based on what they do with the light they have, we know of many people already saved who did not know the name of Jesus. They are Old Testament saints.

Zuersher says that even if we accept the existence of an afterlife, an eternity where few will be saved and most won’t be is unfair. I question that that is what will happen, but even if it was, what is unfair about it? Does God somehow owe certain people an eternal bliss? If so, on what basis?

Zuersher also says that if his argument is true, those who lived before Jesus and those who live in places where they cannot know of Him and places where other religions dominate are all automatically lost. The problem is as I have shown, one can hold to the truth of the text and still think Zuersher is wrong. Zuersher again shows the case of not doing any study to realize there are multiple viewpoints.

Zuersher also regularly acts like people who are consigned to Hell do so through on fault of their own. Why should anyone think this is true? Romans 1 and 2 both tell us that there is sufficient reason to know that God exists and to know right from wrong. Someone will be judged not because of what they didn’t know about Jesus, but because of what they didn’t do right in their lives. A Christian like myself just says God will give everyone what is right. God does not owe anyone anything, but He is also going to be just and righteous in His judgments even if I do not understand how that works out and no one will be able to say “It wasn’t fair.”

Zuersher replies to this point and says that it is actually reasonable. (Of course, it brings me great joy beyond expression to know that Zuersher thinks the argument is reasonable) What Zuersher wants to know is why can’t God judge everyone on this basis? If knowledge of Jesus is not needed, then Jesus died for nothing.

That last part doesn’t follow. Just because one might not need to explicitly know about Jesus doesn’t mean Jesus’s death did nothing. Jesus’s death is what made it possible for people to have their sins atoned for. Having someone make a huge donation to a college makes it possible for people who do not know the person to go to that college, but that going would not be possible had it not been for the donation.

I also don’t think Zuersher would really want the idea of judging everyone based on their actions. This is the case in much of Islam and it can lead to living in a state of fear. It’s also rather arbitrary. Suppose each good action had a point system and gave so many plus points and each evil one took away so many points. Would that not be a totally arbitrary system? Instead, God has the same standard for everyone, perfection, and yet has provided a way to meet that standard.

We conclude again that Zuersher doesn’t really know what he’s talking about. He has only taken a surface level look at the claims and not gone any deeper than that. Sadly, this seems to be common in many circles, both atheist and Christian, and it leads to people arguing cases they think they understand, but that they really don’t.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Seeing Through Christianity Part 6

Is there a problem with revelation? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Christianity is a revealed faith in that some things we know only because God has revealed them to us. In this section, we’ll look at Bill Zuersher try to take on revelation in his train wreck Seeing Through Christianity. If you’ve been with us this far, you know to not expect much.

The first thing he says is one person’s revelation is just as valid as another’s. At any time a new revelation can show up that will overturn the others. It would have been nice of course to see some substance to this claim. All he says is determining the truth is undeniably a political process. Perhaps he should engage in political processes more often then. 1 Thess. 5 in fact tell us to test everything and hold to what is true and it is done in the context of speaking about prophecy.

Zuersher also asks why God would allow competing revelations. Once again, apparently Zuersher is too lazy to bother examining the claims and wants to blame his laziness on God and say “You should have clearly answered me.” Obviously, something like binge watching The Walking Dead is of more importance, or at least taking time to write a book without bothering to understand the substance of what one writes about.

His other solution is God should have made His revelation overwhelmingly true if He wanted people to come freely. Had Zuersher bothered to look at the evidence, maybe he would have found that. If someone will not look for truth, then they cannot expect to find it.

He also says God could have come up with a better technique than books. Apparently, we’re back to the idea of a fairy on one’s shoulder constantly telling them the truth. This would destroy any real seeking of the truth and have one become a Christian just because God is a belligerent nag. Zuersher apparently lives in a world where intellectual assent is the most important thing.

He also says the Bible hardly seems like a stellar book. He says it should be equally accessible to every culture. While I hold to understanding the original culture, without that understanding, one can still grasp the basic message of the Bible. He says the meaning should be unambiguous. Why? Who knows? He says it should remain unchanged over time. Perhaps some looking at textual criticism would have helped him out. As Bart Ehrman says (And no, it is not Barton Ehrman as Zuersher consistently says):

In spite of these remarkable [textual] differences, scholars are convinced that we can reconstruct the original words of the New Testament with reasonable (although probably not 100 percent) accuracy. Bart Ehrman, The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings 3rd ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003), 481.

He also says we would expect consistency. I would argue we do have consistency. The same story is told throughout the Bible of the Kingdom of God coming on Earth based on the ministry of Jesus. He also says it would possess the highest moral and scientific content. While I would say the Bible contains many moral teachings, it also does so starting out from a specific point. A book like Slaves, Women, Homosexuals would have helped Zuersher out. (Unfortunately, research is something he’s not interested in.)

As for scientific truth, why? Seriously. Why? Are we to think Scripture is concerned with turning us into scientists? Zuersher just takes what he thinks is the most important truth and makes it central.

Of course, his favorite way to demonstrate the latter is to point to the fact that the Bible says the Earth is 6,000 years old. Naturally, he will acknowledge there are Old-Earth creationists, but he won’t bother to look at their arguments. It all comes down to “You’re not taking the Bible literally.” It’s amusing to me where we have this idea that because the Bible is Scripture, it’s to be “literal.” What we most often mean is literalistic. No one does that. Like any other literature, the Bible contains metaphor, simile, allegory, hyperbole, satire, sarcasm, figures of speech, irony, etc. We can also be sure that Zuersher won’t bother with the fine work of John Walton on Genesis 1 nor consider scholarship on the genealogies from which he makes his case.

And of course, Zuersher still says the problem is the deity didn’t make Himself clear. I would have to ask again clear to who? There are many cultures and times that we know of. Somehow, something was supposed to be clear to every single person ever? This is quite a stretch.

Naturally, Zuersher has a whole problem with what he calls the supernatural realm. Readers of this blog know I don’t use that term. Zuersher says that if God wanted to make His presence known, He would be successful. He actually says “If such a deity wanted me to know something, I would know it. Period.”

Translation: Since I’m not bothering to do the research and study of a claim, I’m just going to blame my lack of belief on God.

How does Zuersher know this about God? How does he know that God’s great goal is to get people to give him intellectual assent? From whence does he get this knowledge?

As we can expect, Zuersher says that if there were sufficient evidence, we would not need faith. I have written on this in another post. Zuersher will go after faith in another chapter so we will save that for then. He also says the fact is that the God of the Bible does not make himself known to billions of sincere seekers.

I had no idea that atheists were mind readers. This is quite astounding. Somehow, Zuersher knows all these people out there are sincere seekers? People might think they are, but Zuersher is not. Zuersher is one that is demanding that God show Himself on Zuersher’s terms. A sincere seeker will move Heaven and Earth to find the truth and will be willing to sacrifice anything he holds dear for it. In fact, few of us who are Christians would qualify at this point as we all still have little idols in our own hearts.

Still, Zuersher uses this in the end to make his formal argument. If the Christian God existed, He would make Himself known to sincere seekers. He has not done this. Therefore, He does not exist. Doubtless, Zuersher will discount any who say they were sincere seekers and found Christianity to be true. Zuersher looks to be one who blames his own unbelief on anyone else he can, except the person he sees in the mirror.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Why God?

What do I think of Rodney Stark’s book published by Templeton Press? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Religion has been told it’s on its last legs. Atheists today are predicting its demise and many are getting set to celebrate a world without religion. Could it be that their cries of triumph are a bit early? Could it be that despite the best efforts of atheists, religion is not on its way out?

Rodney Stark has written this book recently to analyze religion, what it is, and why it is that it stays with us. The book is loaded with propositions and definitions put forward. It does not argue for the truth or falsity of any religious position whatsoever, including theism. It just tries to state the facts about religion, what it is, and why it seems to endure, and what difference it makes to its followers.

There is plenty of helpful information and food for thought in here. I think the first chapter is one of the best with defining what religion is and especially helpful is the differentiation between many religious practices and magic. Stark describes as well in the book how people approach God and the way that religious growth takes place in a society.

On the other hand, sometimes I thought things weren’t given the time they needed. 87 definitions can be understood, but in a book with 236 pages, 192 propositions about religion means that many of these propositions will not be given the attention that they deserve. Some of them will seem to be thrown out without as much backing as one would like.

I also wondered how much of this relies on modern sociology. We could look at how new religious movements start today, but would it have been the same in the past? Has Stark compared how a religion grows in an honor-shame context as opposed to our more Western guilt-innocence context? How would that affect religions like Christianity? How does it change the dynamics for Islam when one realizes that Islam spread by the sword?

What about people coming to a religion because they think that it is true? While Stark is not wanting to defend the truth of any one religion, it seems hard to avoid the notion that many people come to a religion not just for sociological reasons, but also because they think the religion is true. No doubt, many do join because their friends and family have joined the religion, but not all of them do. How do these people affect our study of religion?

There is also information about how for many young people, their friends today are not necessarily part of their same religious heritage. Perhaps what is needed the most for today is a study on religion in the age of the internet. How does something like Facebook affect the way that a religion is spread? Today, we can even hear people talking about the church of Facebook. Are internet debates changing the way we view religion?

Stark’s book is worth reading, but at the end, while I got some helpful definitions and such, I couldn’t help but think that I was given a quick tour. I would have liked to have seen the question of truth raised more often. That doesn’t mean I expect Stark to defend or attack any one religion, but deal with the idea please about people who come to a belief because they think it’s true. Still, those wanting to understand religion should try to understand this book.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

A Reply To Moe On The Gnostic God

Does Gnosticism explain Jesus? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

A friend messaged me Wednesday about a game he was playing with a final boss named Yaldabaoth and how he looked him up and found some material on Gnosticism. This isn’t a shock. Many video games have gone to mythological references a number of times. (I remember my shock to find out that Gen-Bu, Sei-Ryu, Byak-ko, and Su-Zaku from Final Fantasy Legend were actually mythological figures.) He wanted my thoughts on a site that had information about Yaldabaoth.

This site is The Gnostic Warrior and I have seen him before. That was when he wrote a post asking if Jesus was the son of Julius Caesar. Of course, that tells a little bit about what we’re getting into, but at any rate let’s see what we have. The article can be found here.

We have a reference to Diodorus saying the Hebrews call their God IAO. I did some searching for this. The first major thing I found was several Gnostic web sites all saying the same things. No source was given. Fortunately, the Christian-thinktank has something on it.

“Having analysed the varied reception which Moses received from pagan Greek authors, I shall now focus on the question of whether these sources show any awareness of the name of Moses’ God. We have already come across three relevant instances. (1) First, in first-century bc Rome Alexander Polyhistor included information from Artapanus in his encyclopaedic ethnography, regarded Moses as iden­tical with Musaeus, and narrated at some length the story of God’s revelation to Moses. The account describes the powerful impact of the name of the Lord of the universe on the Egyptian king and his entourage as soon as this name was uttered or read from a tablet. (2) Secondly, Diodorus Siculus, a near-contemporary of Alexander Polyhistor, designates the name of Moses’ God as Iao, and consid­ers Moses to have ascribed his self-made laws to his God, in accor­dance with the general custom among ancient peoples. (3) Thirdly, Strabo interprets the Jewish God as ‘the nature of all that exists’, thereby probably alluding to the ontological meaning of his name. (4) Fourthly, like Diodorus Siculus, Philo of Byblos also mentions the name ‘lao’, this time in the form of Ieuo, whose priest Hierombolus is named as the source of Sanchuniathon’s history of the Jews, allegedly written before the Trojan War. (5) And fifthly, Numenius shows himself aware of the ontological meaning of Yahweh’s name.

Apparently, IAO was somehow a transliteration of the name YHWH. How that works, I do not know. Perhaps a Hebrew and/or Greek scholar could answer that question. Still, this part could be not totally off base.

From there, we get to the passage about the fiery serpent and here we take a leap. It is said that if this is the name of the serpent, then we see the name show up all over the world, then we can say Moses is the source. There are claims made here that are unsubstantiated, such as that the Phoenicians adopted this imagery and it became the Phoenix. It also became the harp and the lion of the tribe of Judah, though it’s not explained how this happened or even what is meant by the harp. I would take it to mean a musical instrument since it’s not capitalized, but I’m not certain.

We also have an attempt to tie this to Bacchus based on the names sounding similar. Of course, if this is all he has, then he needs a lot more to make his case. That “a lot more” would include some scholars of the ancient world who would back this.

Much of what is said next we have no need to argue against. Whether it is true or false does not matter. It could be a true account of the story. Yet he has a real howler later on. He speaks of this god as the archon and says

The word archon is composed of the words Ark and On. Ark meaning a conduit of energy that is the Hu-Man sacred ark, or ark of the testimony, represents the original spark of divinity and knowledge that gave us Sophia or wisdom. Yaldabaoth would be akin to an arc welder that is the power supply to create an electric arc between an electrode and the base material to melt the metals.

Or it could be this comes from the Greek word arche which refers to a ruler or first or a source. Moe is taking the term and going to English and then saying that is our reference for it. It’s statements like this that just make me roll my eyes.

He later says

Yaldabaoth and his creations are referred to as the serpent which I have discussed before was once written as worm before the Latin Church Doctors had doctored the original Greek texts that simply read worm. Therefore we know Yaldabaoth is a type of human parasite or worm who seeks to rule and or be the Chief Archon over humankind which is further discussed in the The Apocryphon of John where he is called ignorant darkness;

We would very much like to know how something like this happened. Were all the Greek texts changed? Are there any scholars of Latin or Greek that can verify this? If there are, Moe gives none. Moe goes on to say that.

Yaldabaoth now forbade the man to eat of the tree of knowledge, which could enable him to understand the Gnostic mysteries and receive the graces from above. But man had to be eventually be redeemed from the wrath of Yaldabaoth . Accordingly Christ descended from above on the one perfect man Jesus, who had been prepared by Sophia. Ialdabaoth seeing in Jesus Christ a power superior to himself, stirred up the Jews to crucify Jesus. Of course Christ could not suffer; and he withdrew himself from Jesus in whom he had worked on earth. Christ did not, however, forget Jesus utterly, but raised from the dead the spiritual body of Jesus, which remained on earth eighteen months. At first Jesus did not fully understand the truth, but Christ enlightened him and he taught his disciples the true doctrine.”

His source on this is Frederick John-Foakes Jackson. Why he goes with a source that’s early 20th century is a good question to ask. Is he just looking for anyone that will agree with him? Did he go to a library and research this, or did he just do a web search and pick the first thing that went with him? We can all be sure what the answer to that is.

The Christian Scritpre would equate the Goddess Sophia, with the consort of Adam in the Garden of Eden whose name is Eve. The word Eve is derived from the Hebrew Hevia of Evia which is interpreted as “female serpent” in Latin translations of the Bible. In earlier Greek versions, the word serpent would have simply read “worm.” This is where the Church Doctors come in at doctoring these ancient texts in order to hide the truth of man’s creation.

However, we don’t have to search far and or in difficulty to see that this worm God who is both the creator and destroyer had given birth to several God men over the course of human history. In the Scripture it is said, “And from these worms God made angels. We find this passage more correctly rendered in the Hebrew Bible: “Man that is a worm (rimmah), and the son of man which is a maggot” (tole’ah). “But I am a worm and no man. How much more is man rottenness, and the son of man a worm ? “First he said, ” Man is rottenness;” and afterwards, “The son of man a worm:” because a worm springs from rottenness, therefore “man is rottenness,” and ”the son of man a worm.”

It’s a wonder that someone should be taken seriously on literature who reads it like this. The language of Job is obviously metaphorical language and not meant to give an account of origins. It would be like saying because Jesus said the Pharisees were a brood of vipers that he thought their parents were actual snakes. As for the first part, we eagerly await some backing on this claim. Until we see it, there is no reason to accept it.

Madam Blavatsky had written in Isis Unveiled: “In this plurality of heavens the Christians believed from the first, for we find Paul teaching of their existence, and speaking of a man “caught up to the third heaven” {2 Cor., xii, 2). “From these seven angels Ilda-Baoth shut up all that was above him, lest they should know of anything superior to himself.

We wonder why Blavatsky should be someone we can rely on here. Her claims have not been backed by scholars of our day or her own day. The Jews did hold to a plurality of Heavens, but it would hardly match the Gnostic idea. The third one was after all the highest one where God dwelt. The first would be the sky you see every day and the second would be the regions of what we call outer space beyond.

Moe goes on to say about the Sabbath that

The Roman emperor Constantine, a sun-worshiper, professed his conversion to Christianity, although his subsequent actions suggest that the “conversion” was more of a political move than a genuine change of heart. Constantine proclaimed himself Bishop of the Catholic Church and then enacted the first civil law regarding Sunday observance in A.D. 321.The Catholics state; “The Church substituted Sunday for Saturday by the plenitude of that divine power which Jesus Christ bestowed upon her!”

This is interesting since Justin Martyr spoke of gathering on the first day of the week and 1 Cor. 16 has a gathering on the first day of the week. Moe could also look at the Canons of the Council of Nicea and see if he can find anything about the Sabbath. As for Constantine’s conversion, he could do what I did and talk to a scholar like Peter Leithart on this.

From there, we get into several claims about Abraham and such, but there is no backing for the claims and I seriously doubt any Hebrew scholar would agree with them. Unfortunately, I seriously doubt this will be considered. Moe apparently prefers to use hack resources.

In Christ,
Nick Peters