Book Plunge: Eastern Orthodox Christianity – A Western Perspective

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

I’d like to thank Dr. Clendenin for sending me the two books he has on this topic. I hope before too long to get to the second one. This one is the perspective and the other is the reader.

Clendenin states his case first by explaining Eastern Orthodoxy. He does this from the perspective of a Western Protestant who had to do some long-term work in Russia. Here in America, normally, most Christians are Protestants. In Russia, the situation appears to be that most are Orthodox.

The first chapter is actually a defense of Orthodoxy. This is most likely written to help explain people like Franky Schaeffer and Peter Gillquist. For those concerned by those names together, Clendenin does not put them on the same level. In the last chapter, for instance, he says we need to listen more to the Timothy Wares and Thomas Odens than to the Frank Schaeffers.

Many of us from the Protestant perspective put Orthodox on the same level as Catholics. The paradox is that they often do the same with us. I believe Clendenin is wanting us to see that we’re all Christians.

There are some problematic statements. We can include the idea on p. 30 that Orthodoxy makes the strongest claim to unbroken apostolic succession and that the idea of salvation outside of its church is a questionable assumption. It’s only natural that many outside the church will look with suspicion on a claim like this, especially since Orthodoxy is really a minority position in the world and if Clendenin is right, is dwindling.

Clendenin then goes into the doctrine of God. In the West, we often have our theology laid out in a systematic way. Not so in the East where it looks like personal experience is much more relevant and that God is known in mystery. The main idea is actually that we know more what God is not. There is some of this in the West, but the idea is quite different to our ears.

The section on icons is quite interesting. There’s a brief look at the debate on icons. I was surprised to hear that for the first 300 years or so, icons weren’t supported in the church. Naturally, one cannot read all through the church fathers immediately and see, but I did get out my Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs and look up icons, which pointed me to art and images. Looking up images, I found that that does seem to be the case.

Still, I think those in support of icons had the best arguments Biblically. I just think that going with history and tradition, the iconoclasts had the better argument. Naturally, I go with Scripture the most. That being said, I understand the concerns about the possibility of idolatry. It is a danger those in Eastern traditions need to be concerned about. I have been in services that were arranged to celebrate the coming of an icon and it does concern me to see that happening.

There’s also an interesting juxtaposition. When the iconoclasts were in charge, they tried to destroy icons. When the other side was, they tried to destroy the writings of the iconoclasts. If only we could go back and tell Christians to not destroy their material or even the material of their pagan opponents. We could learn so much that way.

Next comes Scripture and tradition, which is always a touchy issue. Clendenin argues that it’s not an either/or. It’s more which conception of tradition do we go with. A Protestant like myself wants to know how a tradition can be shown to A) come from the apostles and B) be shown to be true. We don’t reject all of them. I think there’s good basis for thinking Mark is the testimony of Peter. That’s not on the same level as, say, the nature of the Eucharist. One is a historical claim. One is a metaphysical claim.

At the same time, we in the West need to be mindful of tradition. The Reformers would agree with this saying that all must be interpreted according to the rule of faith and they were quite eager to go to the Patristics. We can’t consider the church fathers infallible, especially since they disagreed on some issues, but we don’t need to disregard them entirely.

There’s a section on theosis, but I think I’d really like to get to the part on the hermeneutic of love. In this, Clendenin wants to look at how we can all get along. Still, he has some critiques of the system as a whole.

Protestants need to be open to the idea as many of us still use artwork. When I used to get pastoral counseling at a church, sometimes I would get there early and I would go to a room for private prayer. Honestly, artwork rarely moves me. I’m just not that type of person, but there was a stained glass portrait of Jesus with a shepherd’s staff knocking gently on a door. I always liked that painting.

Yet on the other side, Orthodoxy has a hurdle to say that icons are mandatory. The use of icons enjoyed less than universal acceptance in the early church. Does it really help the cause of unity to have statements about those who reject icons being heretics?

It’s also worth pointing out that when God gave us a communication of Himself for future generations, it was in a book. The Old Testament has them and the New Testament as well. It was not in icons. While icons can help us think about events in the Gospels, they can’t fully pass on the Gospel message.

When it comes to Scripture and tradition, it is pointed out that Scripture was canonized and not a tradition. Tradition is good to have, but some traditions could detract from Scripture. A tradition being old does not equal true nor does a tradition having wide support from the Patristics equal that.

Clendenin points out the church fathers were not monolithic and Orthodoxy could benefit from a critical eye looking at them and weighing them out. On the other hand, if the Orthodox depend too heavily on the fathers, Protestants depend too little. We could bear to go back and see the history of the doctrines we believe.

Where do we go from here? Clendenin does present some concerns. When there is a call for dialogue between Orthodox and Protestants, it has been the Protestants mainly who have been initiating. Protestants tend to get an idea that they are less than welcome at the table as it were.

He also quotes Weber who says “Successionists must be highly selective and ignore all evidence to the contrary. They must also maintain an idealized and naive view of the past. In the end, successionism is based on one’s theology or ideology, not on any critical historical analysis.” Clendenin follows with, “I believe that Orthodoxy’s historical claim to unbroken apostolic succession is just that; it is a theological claim that is, ironically, uncritically unhistorical.”

He also argues that when you look at worship talked about in the New Testament, it’s often descriptive and not prescriptive. How many of us have services like in 1 Corinthians where one person stands up to speak and then another stands up to speak? The Lord’s Supper I think was done extremely differently. One would think if the main issue was over the meaning of the words Jesus said, Paul would clarify that. Instead, Paul asks us to examine ourselves. I don’t think it’s so much getting a theology right as making sure our hearts are right.

The liturgy is no doubt moving and beautiful to some, but to others, it is not. Some will be helped on the path of discipleship. Some will not. Clendenin gives two examples. Ed Rommen was a Protestant turned Orthodox because of the beauty of the liturgy. James Stamoolis was an Orthodox who became an evangelical Protestant because the liturgy was deeply unsatisfying. Perhaps it’s not a question of one being right and one being wrong, although that could be there, but a point more of different styles of worship connecting with different people. My wife is drawn in more by aesthetics and music, for example. I am more drawn in by ideas. To each their own.

Clendenin’s book is a great work. I think many Orthodox could read it and not have a problem with it and hopefully at the end with the criticisms and concerns say, “Thanks. We’ll keep that in mind.” It would be good also to see more Orthodox willing to study Protestantism and why we believe what we believe.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

I Really Hate Porn

What is so degrading about pornography? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

In my office where I write my blog from, I have two pictures. One is on my desk. One is on my bookshelf. There are some other pictures in here, but these are my favorite ones. These are both pictures of my wife Allie.

I look at them and I think that I married a beautiful woman.

I also think that I am the man she trusts her very self to and all of her beauty to.

That is not to brag about me! Not a bit! I still don’t understand it! I’m just a nerdy little apologist. The song Angel Eyes with the line of “What you’re doing with a clown like me is surely one of life’s little mysteries” fits so well.

I’m not the only one who wonders this. There’s a story that when my mother found out I was dating Allie, my sister showed her some of Allie’s pictures on Facebook. My Mom apparently said, “Good grief. How did he get a girl like her?” Allie thought I would be insulted hearing it. Not a bit. I took it as a compliment. How could I be insulted when I ask myself the same thing?

There’s also the reality that as an Aspie, my diet has always been unusual. My parents tried to work with several people for years to get me to change. Didn’t budge an inch. Allie did it easily within marriage and hardly had to try. Could it be female beauty is a motivator?

I have been terrified of water for years. It was a long time after my conversion before I was even baptized. When we went on our honeymoon at Ocean Isle Beach, Allie got me in five feet of water in the pool away from the edge and into waist deep water in the ocean. I was still scared silly, especially in the pool, but I did it.

Could it be female beauty is a motivator?

I don’t care for the movie or the book, but I did watch Heaven Is For Real and there’s a scene where the husband of the family is saying he does not want to go somewhere, I think it was Denver. The wife comes out and talks to him. She says something like, “Really? Because I thought we could” and then goes and whispers in his ear.

The next thing you hear is him immediately telling the kids to pack the bags.

Every husband understands that scene.

You see, Allie sharing her body with me is an expression of love and trust to me. It is a great motivator and confidence builder. Many women think sex is a physical need for men, and while the physical is there, it is also a great emotional need. It is what makes us feel close and desired by our wives. It resonates deeply with the heart of a man. It’s the loudest way my wife tells me that I am her man.

That’s why I hate pornography.

Now I know some women could be reading this and saying, “Pornography is also a struggle for many women!” I know it is. I’m not denying that. I am speaking as a man and from the perspective of a man. You can try to extrapolate what you can for the female.

I don’t struggle with porn, but I have a sympathy for guys who do. I understand it some. I mean, God made women beautiful. It is no sin to think that. It would be crazy to not think that. We men always notice beautiful women. I can’t go through the grocery store without noticing beautiful women. If the only argument I had for the existence of God was the beauty of the human female form, it would be more than enough.

Pornography cheapens that. It tells me that if I want to get a woman’s beauty, all I need to do is click a button on my computer. Really? How does that make me a man? Any guy can do that. I can click a button if I want to buy a book on Amazon. Doesn’t make me a man.

If anything, I think watching porn will make you less of a man. After all, no need to go out there and win over the woman. Can’t do it? Go watch porn. Wife’s not in the mood tonight? Okay. Go click on a link and just watch some other woman. Get your fix in. (Which also means you end up treating women like objects.)

That requires no real effort. Anytime Allie trusts me with herself, it is her telling me that I have shown myself to be a trustworthy man and she knows she can be completely vulnerable to me. You don’t get that from porn. Porn requires nothing of you.

And let’s be honest. The woman on the screen you’re watching? She doesn’t know about you. She doesn’t have any passionate thoughts about you. She doesn’t care about you. She is not aiming to please you. She is just doing a job for her.

By the way, let’s also be clear. Some women are not in the field by choice. The sex trafficking industry captures a number of women and they are forced into this kind of thing. Yes. Watching pornography could be also encouraging the sex trafficking of women.

Pornography would also be me telling Allie that somehow, she is inadequate. Her body is not enough. I need another female body. Why on Earth would I want to do that? I’m more than amazed I got the woman that I got! Am I tempted? Of course. We all have struggles of the flesh, but I would not want to give up a lifetime of Allie for a quick glance at another woman.

It’s also why I have no desire to have an affair and why I watch myself around other women. I don’t want to have something come back and haunt me later on. I don’t want to raise the slightest rumor that I’m in any way unfaithful to my wife, and I realize there can indeed be set-ups like that. I fully support the rule of people like Billy Graham and Mike Pence.

I also have a theory about the commercials I often hear driving. I hear so many commercials about erectile dysfunction here. I think pornography could be one of the reasons. I think some men have spent so much time being aroused by fake women and they need more and more that a real woman no longer turns them on.

It’s been eight years for Allie and I and she is still the woman that drives me wild and her beauty never gets tiring.

Also men, pornography will not tell you what real love is like with a woman. Anytime we see a sex scene even in a movie or a TV show, my wife and I know it’s unrealistic. In the movies, everything always works and flows perfectly. No one makes mistakes or has a learning curve and there’s never anything that goes wrong. Not at all realistic. Sadly also something that is missed is that you don’t hit your peak immediately, but that’s a good thing. It just keeps getting better. Why would it not? I spend my marriage diving into the ocean of one woman instead of wading in the shallow pools of many.

Keep in mind what I am agreeing to guys. Women are beautiful. That’s something clear in reality and clear in Scripture. We might hesitate to speak sexually, but Scripture sure doesn’t! I happen to think woman as the last creation of God was meant to be God giving us an image of beauty. If we ever have a daughter one day, I want to name her some variant of Eve. Why? I want her to know that she is a representative of God’s beauty on this Earth and every man out there better treat her beauty as sacred.

That’s what it comes down to in many ways. Pornography does not treat a woman’s beauty as sacred. It treats it as cheap and common.

Now of course, many men are struggling with porn out there. I think we need to give them support and understanding if they are really wanting to get past it. This includes wives of such men. Don’t compromise, but try to work with them. If they really want to get past it, give them your support.

If you are married, be thankful for your wife. Enjoy her love. Scripture commands you to, but hey, that’s a pretty easy command to follow. When Scripture tells me to rejoice in the wife of my youth I can playfully say, “Well sure, God. If you really insist….” As if I needed any encouragement!

Pornography treats women in a cheap way. If you treat one woman like that, you treat all of them like that. Treasure the woman that you have. If you love the one woman you do have, you are showing love to all women.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Evidence Considered Chapter 31

Did Jesus claim to be God? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Glenton Jelbert decides that he can take on Ben Witherington again and begins looking at Jesus as God. He starts off saying that there is a gap between what is attributed to Jesus and what Jesus said and did. I realize he thinks this, but he has this strange belief that Witherington has to defend every text he uses. He doesn’t.

His second point is that many people have claimed to be God. I invite Jelbert to show me how many people in the exclusively monotheistic culture of ancient Israel were walking around claiming to be God. Good luck finding one. This also would mean that either Jesus was speaking in some pantheistic sense which doesn’t fit, or that Jesus was crazy. Does Jelbert really want to go there?

Third, Jelbert says this presupposes God exists, but it doesn’t have to. If you are skeptical of theism, you can begin by investigating Jesus. If you decide that He claimed to be God and rose from the dead in a miraculous way, then you can justifiably think His claims are true and therefore God exists. Of course, you would want to flesh out what it means for Jesus to be God, but you could still get theism.

In responding to Witherington’s case, Jelbert says what Jesus thought or did not think about Himself doesn’t count as evidence for God because plenty of people have made such claims. Again, note what I said above, but no one is arguing “Jesus claimed to be God and therefore He was God.” Witherington himself argues that the resurrection proves the claim. However, it is being argued that since Jesus made the claim and rose again, the claim needs to be taken seriously and if we want to understand how the historical Jesus saw Himself, we need to look at His claims about Himself.

Jelbert has a problem with saying that if we think as Jesus did, then His intention becomes clear. To be fair to Jelbert, it is fair to be skeptical to know someone’s motives. However, Witherington is really speaking about how things would be understood in the Jewish culture of Second Temple Judaism and, well, I think I’ll just give more credence to Witherington. He knows more about this after all.

Jelbert also refers to Daniel Wallace. Well, he says it’s to Wallace, but Wallace says it’s an intern of his. The part quoted is this:

No author of a synoptic gospel explicitly ascribes the title θεός to Jesus. Jesus never uses the term θεός for himself. No sermon in the Book of Acts attributes the title θεός to Jesus. No extant Christian confession(s) of Jesus as θεός exists earlier than the late 50s. Prior to the fourth-century Arian controversy, noticeably few Greek MSS attest to such “Jesus-θεός” passages. And possibly the biggest problem for NT Christology regarding this topic is that textual variants exist in every potential passage where Jesus is explicitly referred to as θεός.

Well, that certainly sounds powerful, but is this person denying that Jesus was seen as God? Not at all. Hear how Wallace introduces this paper.

Editor’s Note: This paper was originally given at the Evangelical Theological Society’s southwestern regional meeting, held at Southwestern Baptist Seminary on March 23, 2007. Brian was one of my interns for the 2006-07 school year at Dallas Seminary. He did an outstanding job in presenting the case that the original New Testament certainly affirmed the deity of Christ.

So how does the paper conclude?

Even if the early Church had never applied the title θεός to Jesus, his deity would still be apparent in his being the object of human and angelic worship and of saving faith; the exerciser of exclusively divine functions such as creatorial agency, the forgiveness of sins, and the final judgment; the addressee in petitionary prayer; the possessor of all divine attributes; the bearer of numerous titles used of Yahweh in the OT; and the co-author of divine blessing. Faith in the deity of Christ does not rest on the evidence or validity of a series of ‘proof-texts’ in which Jesus may receive the title θεός but on the general testimony of the NT corroborated at the bar of personal experience.

The question now before us is not whether the NT explicitly ascribes the title θεός to Jesus, but how many times he is thus identified and by whom. Therefore, with at least one text that undoubtedly calls Jesus θεός in every respect (John 20.28), I will conclude by answering my initial question: When did this boldness to call Jesus θεός begin? It began in the first century. It was not a creation of Constantine in the fourth century. It was not a doctrinal innovation to combat Arianism in the third century. Nor was it a sub-apostolic distortion of the apostolic kerygma in the second century. Rather, the church’s confession of Christ as θεός began in the first century with the apostles themselves and/or their closest followers and therefore most likely from Jesus himself.

One has to wonder what is going on here. Did Jelbert not look at what the paper was arguing? Did he get a snippet from someone else and just go off to the races with it? Either way, if Jelbert thinks this paper is authoritative, then he should agree that the idea of Jesus as God goes back most likely to Jesus Himself.

It also doesn’t work to say that this is something that evolved. After all, many of the references to Jesus as deity take place in the Pauline epistles, see for instance Tillings’s Paul’s Divine Christology. How is it then that we get Paul who says Jesus is God then and then later on the Gospels, which are evolved, do not say it? Jelbert also says it’s a stretch to say Jesus had knowledge of this and chose not to share it.

No one is arguing that and the paper Jelbert cited is evidence otherwise since it says the idea of Jesus as God goes back to Jesus Himself most likely. The idea is that we moderns often think Jesus had to say something explicitly. Not at all. Jesus’s claims were roundabout ways of getting people to think about His identity and make a judgment.

Witherington also says that Jesus showed His deity in making comments about the Laws of Moses that would seem to even override it. Jelbert says this just gets you in contradictions. After all, the Sabbath was from God and yet Jesus overturned that teaching. How are we to understand that? Doesn’t this show the Bible is a human construction?

First off, I think it’s interesting that when we talk about science and someone presents what they think is a problem with evolution or any other theory, Jelbert says we need to study more and it’s good to investigate a matter. Here, he sees what he thinks is a contradiction and yet doesn’t want to do the same thing. Are we to investigate problems in science and not in Scripture?

Second, Jesus never overturned the Sabbath. Jesus did observe it, but He didn’t observe the traditions the Pharisees added on to it. Jesus also never Himself changed the day of the Sabbath. This came later as Christians recognized the new creation.

Finally, the Law is part of the revelation to the Jews in that covenant. Gentiles have never been under the old covenant. We’ve never been obligated to observe the Sabbath.

Naturally, Jelbert also doesn’t interact with the early high Christology group with scholars like Tilling, Bird, Hurtado, Bauckham, and others. I was really hoping when we got out of science to find some essays with some meat on them that would really leave me wrestling. So far, I’m disappointed.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Mary for Evangelicals

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

Mary is often a controversial topic for Protestants? Why? We see what the Orthodox and the Catholics do and while I agree it is over the top, we can go too far in the opposite direction. Protestants don’t really have much of a position on Mary other than “We disagree with Catholics and Orthodox.” Protestants like myself need to really learn how to view Mary.

Fortunately, Tim Perry has written an excellent book on that topic. One who reads this book will have to agree that it is thorough. Perry goes from Paul to the Gospels to the early church, the medieval church, to the Reformation, and finally to our own time. Of course, not everything can be covered, but major highlights in the timeline will be.

Perry also works on sticking with what the sources say and presenting differing viewpoints where relevant. We could say that for Protestants, usually Mary shows up at Christmas and then is rushed off of the scene so we can move on to other aspects of the life of Jesus. This could be the case for the Gospels. Mark presents Mary in a section alongside of Jesus’s opponents where she and the family are well-meaning opponents, but still acting as opponents. If all we had was John, we wouldn’t even know Mary’s name.

Going through church history, we start with the early fathers and see the impact of the Protoevangelium of James on the early church. Many did believe it to be a true report, though thankfully some were skeptical. At times, it looks like the early church decided to fill in some missing gaps (Much like many of think needs to be done with the childhood of Jesus) and those explanations can be seen as accurate not because they’re shown to be, but because they’re thought to be fitting of what God would do.

When you get to the Middle Ages, you get to a time that seems to have really stretched. You will have feasts that are done to honor the conception of Mary. This is a good entry to prepare us for the Reformation period.

Here, you have Luther and others who at the start are not opposed to Marian devotions. Later on, this seems to change as appeals to Mary and the saints are often seen as being practices that easily lead to idolatry and less honor being given to Jesus. I can easily say I share these concerns.

As we get to the modern era, we start seeing different looks at Mary. There are feminist looks that think that Mary is too unrealistic for a woman to relate to. There is liberation theology that looks at her as an example of the poor standing up against the rich. While many of us would not agree with a feminist or liberation theology approach, we can agree that Mary’s being a woman needs to be seriously remembered and realize that she was someone who was poor and yet gave a magnificat challenging Herod and Caesar.

Perry at the end gives us his own Mariology. I do think he is too quick to agree with the perpetual virginity of Mary. I don’t think there’s any real basis for this in the Gospels as I think it’s best to treat the brothers of Jesus at face value as brothers. I also think it’s important to look at Josephus’s testimony here who regularly could easily differentiate between cousins and brothers.

He is open to praying to Mary and treating her as a sort of co-redeemer, though I still am suspicious of each of these. I do get concerned about trying to contact those on the other side of the curtain as it were since I don’t see this as a recommended practice in Scripture. I think Perry would probably agree with me that if this cannot be done in good conscience by a Christian, then it should not be done.

This is a good book to read on the importance of understanding Mary. Whether one agrees or disagrees, they will walk away with a greater appreciation of Mary. While we have many disagreements between us, Protestants, Catholics, and Orthodox should all agree that Mary is certainly a very important woman in salvation history and be thankful for what she did for us in being the mother of our Lord.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Evidence Considered Chapter 30

What do we make of Jesus being said to be the Son of God? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

We continue our look at Glenton Jelbert’s work with him taking on the first part of Ben Witherington’s work on Jesus. In this chapter, it is about Jesus being the Son of God. Son of God did not equate to divinity in Judaism. For the pagans, it would have done that, but it certainly would not be in a monotheistic sense.

Witherington does say that Mark quotes “You are my Son” and leaves out “Today I have become your Father” to show that this is not adoptionism. It is recognition of who Jesus is by the Father. Witherington also argues that Jesus did have a unique relationship to God in praying to Him as abba, a term of endearment. Jesus also saw Himself as central to a relationship with YHWH for those estranged from Him.

Witherington also looks at the Johannine thunderbolt. This is Matthew 11:27. In this, Jesus sees Himself as the unique conduit of knowledge between God and man. The only way to know God is through Jesus.

Witherington also offers the parables. In the parable of the tenants, Jesus makes a strong implication to being the Son of God. Jesus understood that in some way, He had a unique connection to God.

Jelbert responds that looking at the argument, it’s clear these were not strong divinity claims. I disagree. Jelbert doesn’t say anything beyond his claim so one could say I don’t have to say anything more.

I will say more. I will say that Jesus approached God in a unique way not seen by any other teacher of His day. Jesus’s statements would be blasphemous on the lips of anyone else. These were the kinds of statements that led to His being crucified and also to nearly being stoned several times.

Jelbert says that in the last essay we were to look at the unquoted context about the Son of Man and assume it applies to Jesus. Here, we are to ignore it and assume it does. I am puzzled as to what is meant by unquoted context. Context of a passage normally isn’t quoted period. It’s just assumed.

Jelbert says that a plain reading shows terms weren’t linked to divinity. Witherington has quoted 1 Timothy 2:5 about one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus. Jelbert tells us the verse specifically cited says Jesus is a man.

I am sure Witherington would be extremely grateful for this. No doubt, in all of his reading of the text, he had never noticed that. We can expect a strong retraction of his usage of this verse any moment now.

Except Jesus being a man has always been a part of Christian theology. What would we say? The God Christ Jesus? That would lead to something like polytheism.

Jelbert also says we can’t be sure that Jesus said these things because it was written down later while the theology was evolving. Naturally, there is no interaction with scholars like Hurtado, Bauckham, Bird, Tilling, etc. who make up the early high Christology club. Jelbert also lives in a strange world where apparently before a scholar quotes any text he has to make a strong case for it going back to Jesus.

On a side note, Jelbert also talks about Jesus referring to the Canaanite woman as a dog in Matthew 15. In this case, I think Jesus is playing along and showing the disciples where their own hostility towards outsiders led them. Sadly, the text cannot convey tone of voice or anything like that. There was something in Jesus’s statement to the woman that indicated that she should press harder, and she did. Jesus does end up healing her daughter.

Jelbert goes on to talk about the evolution of the person of Jesus. Paul and the early Gospels do not see Jesus as God. It would be good to see some backing of this claim. Philippians 2 and Romans 9:5 and other such passages come to mind in Paul. There’s also the Christianization of the Shema in 1 Cor. 8:4-6.

For Mark, I think it’s all throughout. Jesus, in the beginning, is given a divine title compared to Caesar and then John the Baptist shows up preparing the way of the Lord and lo and behold, there’s Jesus. In the next chapter, Jesus claims to be able to forgive in the name of God and to be the Lord of the Sabbath and such. Perhaps Jelbert lives in a world where you have to come out and explicitly say “I am God” to be seen as making such a claim.

Jelbert says that this also shows a move from monotheism to the Trinity. Absent is any notion that even in Jewish monotheism, there was a question about the possibility of plurality in the person of God. One could see the work of How God Became Jesus for examples. It also ignores that the Trinity is monotheistic.

Jelbert then says that in the words of the immortal Alan Bennett, “Three in one, one in three, perfectly straightforward. Any doubts about that see your maths master.” It took awhile to find who it was, but apparently Bennett is a playwright who wrote a play called Forty Years On. Well, that’s a great place to go to get your scholarship!

Jelbert says that Witherington’s essay shows that Jesus did not teach the Trinity. Of course, it would have been relevant if Witherington had argued any such thing. We might as well say Jesus didn’t teach the Pythagorean Theorem. I don’t think Jesus would have had much success teaching the Trinity to the local people in Israel and it would have only led to confusion. He planted the seeds instead in His own person.

John 10:30, I and the Father are one, merely defines a special relationship. Well, unless you ignore that Jesus said that no one can snatch believers out of the Father’s hand and out of His own hand just before this and you ignore that the people picked up stones saying Jesus claimed to be God. No doubt, Jelbert understands things better than the immediate listeners did.

Jelbert says that it’s unlikely Jesus said the Great Commission since Jesus’s followers didn’t go to Gentiles immediately. Yet why think this? Could they not have thought to go into all nations telling all the Jews in the diaspora about Jesus? Jelbert also draws a distinction between baptizing in Jesus’s name and the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, but Jesus is not giving a baptismal formula here that must be followed. Peter says Jesus’s name in Acts 2 due to Jesus needing to be the new one to recognize as Lord.

Jelbert will also try to explain the rise of Christianity. He brings up Mormonism and scientology as counter-examples. Never mind that these were based in modern individualistic cultures with a more tolerant live and let live attitude. Never mind that these were cultures that more readily accepted new ideas. Never mind that these built on, especially in the case of Mormonism, previously successful ideas.

So what does Jelbert say made the religion successful? For one, it upheld church authority and gave them control, which would be absolutely worthless as a matter of appeal. All religious people had that authority in a culture that didn’t have separation of church and state. This would also only appeal to people who wanted to be in control and then, why be in control of such a small movement that would be opposed to Rome?

He also says it undermines self-worth making us question our own senses and reasoning abilities. No examples of this are given. Could it be Jelbert is revealing something more about his own psychology than Christianity itself?

It also promoted wishful thinking with ideas of eternal life and eventual justice. Unfortunately, this kind of thing is only appealing if you believe the promises can be delivered on. If you don’t, then it doesn’t appeal. It’s a nice story. Also, it’s worth noting that our emphasis on Heaven and such is absent in much of the New Testament, such as the Pauline epistles.

Finally, it exhorts its members to proselytize, which is surely a great draw! Go out and tell your neighbor who could report you to Rome about your new faith! One wonders why Jelbert thinks this way.

Jelbert then says it’s easy to imagine that a religion with these characteristics would be successful. Of course, it’s hard to imagine a religion with a crucified Messiah, a belief seen as new, radical exclusivity, and a bodily resurrection that would be seen as shameful being successful, but hey, details. Who needs them?

Thankfully, Jelbert doesn’t say that this speculation is accurate. It’s a good thing, but apparently it’s a good just-so story to justify atheism. Could it be Jelbert is engaging in his own wishful thinking?

Jelbert also says on a side note that the burden of proof is on the one making the claim. If the claim is unpersuasive, then atheism is justified. Well, that’s only if atheism is seen as the lack of belief which I do dispute, but what about the problem of who decides if something is unpersuasive? I find the arguments persuasive. Jelbert doesn’t. Why should his view be the rational one? Maybe he’s the irrational one and doesn’t know how to recognize a persuasive argument. Maybe I am. How could we know?

Next time we’ll look at a second essay by Witherington on Jesus as God.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Deeper Waters Podcast 10/13/2018: Glenn Sunshine

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

Just over 500 years ago this month, the Reformation started which shook the world, and not just the Christian world. There is much debate about this event. Was it a good thing? Was it a bad thing? Why was it done?

This month on the Deeper Waters Podcast, we are focusing on these kinds of questions. This one obviously is rooted in history. How shall we approach it? Many of us don’t know much about what the world was like 500 years ago. Just as in studying the world of the Bible, we need to know what the world was like at the time of the Reformation to better understand the dynamics.

To discuss this, I have decided to bring on a historian of the Reformation. I have seen this person do some debating and I was quite impressed with what I saw. It is my hope that he will be able to shed some light on this event for us and help us better understand what it was and how it shapes our world today. His name is Glenn Sunshine.

So who is he?

Glenn got his B.A. from Michigan State University in 1980 in linguistics with high honors. He got his Masters at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in 1985 in church history graduating Summa Cum Laude, another M.A. at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1987 in Renaissance/Reformation history and his Ph.D. in 1992 from the same place in the same subject.

So what did happen in the Reformation? Is this where a new church rose up that was completely cut off from the old? Did the Reformers decide to just get rid of everything and ignore all of the tradition of the past? Did the Reformers originally even intend to break away from the Catholic Church?

How about relations with the Eastern Church? What role did those play? We often forget that there is a third major block of the Christian church.

Did the church really need reform? Would even Catholics think that the church had issues at the time that needed to be addressed? If so, what really led to the events happening that were so dynamic that several people moved away from the Catholic Church and before too long, you had several other churches showing up?

How are we to approach figures like Martin Luther? Sure, he did a lot to reform the church, but didn’t he leave a lot of blotches behind, such as anti-semitism? Was he accurate in what he said and would any of his opponents have conceded that?

Finally, how has the Reformation affected us today? What are the positives? What are the negatives? How are we to be Christians in a post-Reformation culture?

These are the kinds of questions I plan to ask. I can’t guarantee I’ll get to all and there will be new ones rise up, but it will be great to talk about this with a professor of Reformation history. I hope you’ll be listening and please consider going on iTunes and leaving a positive review of the Deeper Waters Podcast.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Irresistible.

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

Andy Stanley has in the past made himself a controversial figure. It’s understandable why that is. He knows in his newest book that he’s putting himself in a risky position. The whole idea behind the book is how to make the faith irresistible and reclaiming what Jesus launched into the world.

At that start, I even wonder. Can we ever say that Christianity was truly irresistible? It seems like a lot of people did a pretty good job resisting it. So much so that Paul required a personal experience to stop murdering Christians and the Romans didn’t really hesitate to persecute them.

Stanley has been put under fire for statements he has made about the Old Testament and inerrancy. I do understand both. I have a lot more sympathy with the trouble he got into on the latter. My father-in-law, Mike Licona, got caught up in inerrancy debates just because he dared to interpret one passage differently and then a host of others were brought out. I think a lot of people got turned off on the topic of inerrancy because of that.

The Old Testament, I am a bit more cautious on. I think Stanley does make it right more towards the end. He shows that when people come to believe in Jesus in the New Testament, they do come to embrace and study the Old Testament more. Well and good. Still, I wonder if he thinks that Old Testament apologetics is all a waste.

I don’t think he does, but one can get that impression sometimes. I think there are many great and precious truths in the Old Testament. My wife came to know Jesus because of a passage in the Old Testament. Many of us know it. It’s Psalm 139 where God says that we are fearfully and wonderfully made. The Old Testament tells us we are in the image of God and begins the story of sacred space that God seeks to create. I am fully convinced that without understanding the Old Testament, your understanding of the New will be woefully inadequate. Sometimes, I do wonder if many doctrines I disagree with in the church fathers came up because none of them, as far as I know, were Jewish.

I think sometimes Stanley’s language of the Old Testament can be over the top. Yes. The book of Hebrews refers to the old covenant as obsolete. That does not mean the Old Testament is obsolete. The Testament contains the covenant, but it is more than the covenant.

Yes. The God of the Old Testament is seen as violent at times, but what about the God of the book of Revelation? Yes. The God of the Old Testament said things about slaves, but what about the fact that Jesus and Paul never told people to release their slaves en masse? The God of the Old Testament condemned homosexuality and so did Paul, but you know, Jesus didn’t say anything about it so maybe it’s okay.

I should clarify I think Jesus didn’t speak about it because in ancient Israel, it wasn’t an issue. It was just condemned and if anything, Jesus’s silence on the matter should be seen as tacit agreement with the principle. He didn’t hesitate to speak out in other places where he thought the law was not right, such as divorce.

This isn’t to say that I disagree with everything Stanley says in this book. Some material I think is quite helpful. I think it’s important to realize that a contradictin in the Bible does not spell the end of Christianity. I think it’s important to realize that we don’t have to answer every question about the Old Testament, or even the New for that matter. I think it’s important to realize that we can know moral truths apart from the Law.

I also think it’s a great point to say that we meet many people who say they want to get as close to that fine line without crossing over it as they can, which is a self-emphasis. On the other hand, there are many people who want to be full of God and the Holy Spirit and have a passion in prayer and such. Unfortunately, that can also still be just an emphasis on self. You want to have these things sometimes because you want to be sure you are in the right.

I think it’s a good insight to say that the love of God must not be just vertical, but it must be horizontal as well. I think though that Stanley can neglect the vertical in some cases. What about passages like Matthew 6 where you go into your prayer closet alone and don’t show people that you’re praying? Your Father who sees in secret rewards you.

Of course, if we do something just for a reward, that’s not good, but sometimes God tells us to do things and we will be blessed. The verse in question is one such case. Let’s face it. When a man starts dating a girl, you can say all you want the nobility of love and such, and many good men somewhere do, but yeah, he’s also thinking about the privilege of having sex with her.

I think it’s a great question to ask what love would require of us. What is the most loving thing we can do? It’s a good principle to look at if we want to study how it is a Christian should walk. It’s also noteworthy that the apostles repeatedly pointed to the example of Christ and walking like Jesus.

I also did enjoy the bit on eschatology and the destruction of the temple. I have been an orthodox Preterist for years and it’s good to see someone well-known like Stanley presenting this viewpoint. I hope more Christians will come to embrace it.

In the end, I have mixed feelings. I understand the motivation behind the book and why it is that way and for that, I agree, but I still fear we can be too dismissive. I wondered at times about how Stanley would answer if someone asked who was skeptical about Jesus, “Is the God of the Old Testament the Father of Jesus?” I don’t doubt that Stanley thinks such, but I just wondered.

But if Stanley wanted controversy, he’s certainly produced a work that will bring it about. If Stanley has overstated his case, then it could just be that this leads to the work that can bring about the necessary corrective that will be the balance without going to the extreme that the inerrancy witch hunt has gone. I am also thankful for excellent work in New Testament scholarship, but I hope we will see more in Old Testament as well, like Walton and Longman.

If you pick up this book and read it, you might agree with most of it, you might disagree. Either way, you will have an opinion. Most everyone who reads this will have something to think about.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

How Should A Christian See Themselves?

What’s the way a Christian should view themselves? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Christians are supposed to be people of humility. No disagreement there. The problem is sometimes we think humility means thinking less of yourself and thinking lowly of yourself. It means you can’t accept compliments or praise from other people. This is not humility. If anything, it’s pride. It’s putting an emphasis on yourself really instead of graciously accepting praise. (You can receive praise in an arrogant manner after all.)

Yet the reality is we should not think of ourselves in lowly ways. We should realize the Bible itself really speaks highly of us. Of course, I can’t cover everything, but I will try to hit some highlights. Note I won’t share something if I think it applies specifically to, say, the nation of Israel and not to us.

First off, Genesis 1:26-27 says we’re in the image of God. Now in my view, this is meant to say that we are to represent God on Earth, but whatever view one takes, it’s not a lowly thing. Of everything in creation, only human beings share the image of God. Angels don’t. Other animals don’t. Only us.

Psalm 139 is one of my wife’s favorite passages. Why does the Psalmist praise God? Because he is fearfully and wonderfully made? Wonderful? Yep. You are a wonderful creation. My own wife struggles with a lot of mental illnesses and wonders how I can love someone like that. I tell her consistently I don’t see the illnesses. I know they’re there and I’m not blind to them, but I see her first. As far as I’m concerned, she is the most beautiful sight I have ever seen.

If we move on to the New Testament, the incarnation itself is a statement about us. God is not ashamed to take on the form of a man. The Son to this day still maintains His humanity. Humanity is not a disgusting and shameful thing.

If anything, Jesus is the only one who is truly human. He is the most normal human being that has ever been. Every other human being is unhuman in some ways, insofar as we are sinners. Jesus had no shame in being a human being and has no shame in it right now.

In speaking of us in the sermon on the mount, He calls us a city on a hill, the light of the world, and the salt of the Earth. We are to be all of that to the world around us. Jesus could have had it be that He would go out into all the world or send angels into all the world. Nope. He trusted the Great Commission to us.

In Luke 12:32, we have one of my favorite passages. “Fear not little flock. It is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the Kingdom.” Get that? Not obligation. Not duty. Pleasure. God takes joy in giving us the Kingdom.

If anything, God has no obligations and duties towards us. The only thing God ever owes us really is what He’s already promised us. If we all got what we deserved, well, I wouldn’t be writing this post right now and I’d be in a place of eternal shame and misery. So would you. This should also give us pause with our own enemies at times. We often pray for justice for them and mercy for ourselves. Whatever they have done to us, we have done worse to God.

Jesus also tells us that we are worth more than the sparrows and the flowers and that God knows what we need. He doesn’t promise to give us our wants, but ultimately, we will get what we need. It’s our own fault if we do not trust Him.

Romans 8 is a great passage for Christians to turn to. I have a fear that many of us turn to Romans 7 and read it as autobiography and see ourselves in it. We should really realize that if we want to see what Paul says about us now, it’s in Romans 8. Go through and read the passage. It’s about you.

In 1 Cor. 3, Paul tells the church that they are the temple of God. Think about this. Your bodies are where the Holy Spirit now dwells if you are in Christ. Paul wrote this while the temple was standing. That beautiful massive work that took about 30 acres or more up in Israel was just nice architecture then. The real true temple is you. God has chosen to take up residence in you.

Galatians tells us that we are all sons of God in Christ Jesus. (Or daughters) Do you realize how big a deal adoption is? A reigning Caesar was an adopted son even. God has taken you into His family.

There’s a story that Napoleon was on the battlefield once and his horse ran off. A private ran after the horse, retrieved it, and brought it back. Napoleon looked at him and said, “Thank you, captain.” That men went back to the camp and immediately went into the captain’s quarters and lived like a captain. Napoleon had said he was one. That was good enough.

From the late first to the early second century there was a philosopher named Epictetus. He wasn’t a Christian, but he had a lot of wisdom. One of his favorite of the golden sayings of his that I like is the following, the ninth one.

“If a man could be throughly penetrated, as he ought, with this thought, that we are all in an especial manner sprung from God, and that God is the Father of men as well as of Gods, full surely he would never conceive aught ignoble or base of himself. Whereas if Caesar were to adopt you, your haughty looks would be intolerable; will you not be elated at knowing that you are the son of God? Now however it is not so with us: but seeing that in our birth these two things are commingled–the body which we share with the animals, and the Reason and Thought which we share with the Gods, many decline towards this unhappy kinship with the dead, few rise to the blessed kinship with the Divine. Since then every one must deal with each thing according to the view which he forms about it, those few who hold that they are born for fidelity, modesty, and unerring sureness in dealing with the things of sense, never conceive aught base or ignoble of themselves: but the multitude the contrary. Why, what am I?–A wretched human creature; with this miserable flesh of mine. Miserable indeed! but you have something better than that paltry flesh of yours. Why then cling to the one, and neglect the other?”

Seriously. If God says you are His son (or daughter) on what basis do you downplay yourself? Is it a lowly thing to be a child of God? It’s really prideful to try to overrule that with lowly thoughts.

Ephesians 2 tells us that God has already seated us in the heavenlies with Christ Jesus. He will have us in His presence for all the ages to show the love He has for us. Get that? God loves us so much that He will take eternity to show us how much He loves us. If it could ever be fully expressed, it’s not much of a love.

Why do spouses pursue and chase after each other? (Or they should.) It is because they can never fully express the love they have for the other. The beautiful thing also about such love is it keeps growing itself. It’s a cycle that the more you do loving things, the more you love. The more you love, the more you do loving things. I love my wife today more than I did when I married her. I hope when we’re together for fifteen years I will say, “Wow. I didn’t have a clue what love was back then compared to what it is now.”

Paul goes on to tell us that we are no longer strangers and aliens, but we are citizens of God’s house. We are fellow citizens with saints. We are not slaves in the household. We are heirs in the household. We aren’t hired hands. We have been asked to live there and it’s not because we provide a service, but because we are wanted.

In Philippians 3, Paul will refer to the people as citizens of the Kingdom. This was said to a colony where everyone was a Roman citizen, the most powerful empire on Earth at the time. That citizenship didn’t matter nearly as much as citizenship in the Kingdom of God.

Peter tells us we are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession. It’s like Peter is trying to lay it on us how much God has done for us. This was to be the case for Israel, but now it’s the case for us.

1 John 3:1 is a very explicit passage. It’s about the love that God has lavished on us that we should be His children, and that is what we are! It’s as if John cannot really believe it or doesn’t really think we’ll believe it, or both. He has to restate it so it will hit home.

All of this and more is what God says of us. If anything, our problem isn’t humility, but pride. We think we know better than God. We think we know who we are and He doesn’t.

How are to respond to this? Think of the way a spouse responds to another. If you respond with arrogance, it’s wrong. When I realize the love my wife has for me, it leaves me in humility. It leaves me amazed that someone like me is loved and it makes me want to be a better man.

God does not love us because we are worthy. He loves us even when we are worthless so that we can be worthy. The lesson of Beauty and the Beast is that you must love something before it becomes lovable. It’s not that we’re so awesome God loves us. It’s that God loves us because He’s so awesome, and that love makes us pretty awesome in the end too.

In the same way a spouse should respond, so should we. I can assure you if I responded to Allie’s love by acting like I was all that, I would be very unlovable. Nothing wrong with confidence. That’s good. Something wrong with inflating your own ego. Graciousness and appreciation is the way to respond.

Christian. You are loved. Have an honest assessment of yourself starting with what is said in Scripture about you. It will help immensely.

Book Plunge: Evidence Considered Chapter 29

Is Jesus the Son of Man? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

We return to Glenton Jelbert’s Evidence Considered to look at Darrell Bock’s work on Jesus being the Son of Man. Jelbert isn’t too impressed with this essay apparently as this is one incredibly short chapter. Just as soon as I thought I was beginning it, it was over. It’s a shame because in my thinking, Jelbert really doesn’t treat the evidence fairly at all.

Jelbert says Bock seems to take for granted the existence of God and the credibility of the Bible. On the former, yes. Bock is not supposed to give the Kalam Cosmological Argument or anything like that every time. Many Christian Bible scholars could give that, but they won’t be like a William Lane Craig and specialize in it. Still, I don’t even think theism is necessary to make the case. It could be making the case for Jesus gets us closer to the case for theism.

As for credibility, Bock has written several works on this so there is nothing that he just assumes in this. When New Testament scholars make their case, they make it based on the data they have and if they think their case requires treating a text differently or suspiciously, they say so and why. Bock is just fine with what he is doing.

Jelbert says part of the problem is that Bock says the phrase means a human being. This isn’t an immediate problem since Jesus is indeed a human being. Not only that, it’s an essential of Christian theology that Jesus is a human being. If Jesus is not a human being, then there is no Christianity. That’s another point and I won’t go on on that one for now.

Naturally, Daniel 7:13 comes up and Jelbert says that one problem is it’s a dream. So what? The text of Daniel makes it clear this dream was from God. Jelbert doesn’t believe that? Big deal. Jesus and His audience would. The Sadducees could be an exception, but most of the people in Israel would think that.

Jelbert makes much about the statement about like and the use of a. I think these are just common Biblical descriptions. If this is where your strongest argument lies, then your case is pretty weak.

Now though, we get into one of my favorite parts. It’s a topic I love to discuss. This is the best way I think to see the evidence.

Jelbert says that the usage of Son of Man shows that Jesus was an apocalyptic prophet who thought the end times were imminent. Interestingly, he points to Ehrman’s Did Jesus Exist? rather than his Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of a New Millennium. I have reviewed the latter book. Jelbert says Jesus thought this, but He was wrong. The end times did not arrive.

On the contrary, (To quote Thomas Aquinas) Jesus did think they were going to arrive and Jesus was right. The question is, what were the end times the end of? If you think the end of the world, then you are mistaken. Let’s consider Jesus speaking about the temple. The disciples want to ask Jesus the sign of His coming and the end of the age.

Odd question isn’t it?

I mean, what do they mean with His coming? Jesus is already there! Did they mean His return after His resurrection? Doubtful. These guys hadn’t even realized Jesus was going to die yet, let alone die, be resurrected, and ascend to come again later. What did they want to know?

And if this is the end of the world, why point to just the temple? Won’t that be the case with everything? A lot of what Jesus says doesn’t make sense if He means the end of the world. “Flee to the mountains!” Because, you know, the mountains will be totally safe if the world comes to an end. Pray that it not be in the winter on a Sabbath. After all, if the world comes to an end, let’s hope it’s in the summer on a Thursday.

Could there be some other way to understand this? Why yes there is. It’s in the sense of what is meant by a coming. A coming refers in the Old Testament many times to judgment. Consider Isaiah 19:1. The Lord rides on a swift cloud and is coming to Egypt. So is the Lord going to be like kid Goku riding on a nimbus cloud in judgment? No. Coming and clouds are both tied in. Clouds for deity and coming to refer to judgment.

In Revelation 2:5, Jesus tells the church at Ephesus that if they do not repent, He will come to them and remove their lampstand. Whoa! The second coming is going to take place if this one church doesn’t get their act right? Nope. This is about judgment.

One of my favorite passages on this is in 2 Samuel 22.

1 David sang to the LORD the words of this song when the LORD delivered him from the hand of all his enemies and from the hand of Saul. 
2 He said: “The LORD is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; 
3my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation. He is my stronghold, my refuge and my savior— from violent people you save me. 
4 “I called to the LORD, who is worthy of praise, and have been saved from my enemies. 
5 The waves of death swirled about me; the torrents of destruction overwhelmed me. 
6 The cords of the grave coiled around me; the snares of death confronted me. 
7 “In my distress I called to the LORD; I called out to my God. From his temple he heard my voice; my cry came to his ears. 
8 The earth trembled and quaked, the foundations of the heavens shook; they trembled because he was angry. 
9 Smoke rose from his nostrils; consuming fire came from his mouth, burning coals blazed out of it. 
10 He parted the heavens and came down; dark clouds were under his feet. 
11 He mounted the cherubim and flew; he soared on the wings of the wind. 
12 He made darkness his canopy around him— the dark rain clouds of the sky. 
13 Out of the brightness of his presence bolts of lightning blazed forth. 
14 The LORD thundered from heaven; the voice of the Most High resounded. 
15He shot his arrows and scattered the enemy, with great bolts of lightning he routed them. 
16 The valleys of the sea were exposed and the foundations of the earth laid bare at the rebuke of the LORD, at the blast of breath from his nostrils. 
17 “He reached down from on high and took hold of me; he drew me out of deep waters. 
18 He rescued me from my powerful enemy, from my foes, who were too strong for me.
You can search all you want through the life of David in 1 and 2 Samuel. You will never find a passage with YHWH hitching up on Gabriel and Michael and riding through playing Green Arrow. You will never find a massive event where the valleys of the sea are exposed and we see the foundations of the Earth. Yet here David says all of this took place.
Why?

Because for David, as for other Jews, political actions and such were depicted often using cosmic imagery. We do the same when we refer to an event as earth-shaking, without necessarily speaking about an earthquake. The great mistake is to take apocalyptic imagery as if it was literal.

So what was Jesus talking about?
He tells you. It was the destruction of the temple. Jesus says the temple will be destroyed and all the things He speaks of will take place. (By the way, for those who think this is the same event as 1 Thess. 4 or 1 Cor. 15, where is the resurrection? What timeframe does Jesus give? This generation will not pass away.
The temple was destroyed in 70 A.D.
Jesus was right.
Of course, some might be wondering about interpretations. I recommend looking up the position I have given, Orthodox Preterism, and see how the passages are interpreted. Even if you don’t agree, realize it is an acceptable view within Christianity.
Jelbert then goes on to say that sometimes Jesus refers to someone else as the Son of Man. This isn’t as momentous as Jelbert thinks. There was a common practice to refer to oneself in the third person. Paul does the same in 2 Corinthians 12 when writing about the man he knew who had an experience of heaven. Paul is speaking about himself. He says Ehrman makes a case that Jesus would have thought a future figure would be this Son of Man.
Ehrman does make such a case, but I think Michael Bird has a better one. Bird has pointed to a passage like Matthew 19:28-30. This passage is after the rich young ruler comes to Jesus and Jesus tells His disciples that when the Son of Man comes, they will sit on twelve thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel. So what’s the big deal? Maybe Jesus is talking about another man coming in the future.
Doubtful. For one thing, this passage is quite likely an authentic one by skeptical standards since it refers to the twelve apostles judging the twelve tribes. A later writer would not have that since that would imply Judas. Yet if this is what happens to the apostles, where is Jesus? Is Jesus just slinking in the background somewhere? If the apostles get this great honor, doesn’t it fit that Jesus would have the glory of the Son of Man?
Furthermore, Son of Man is not a title the early church would make up. It doesn’t show up in Paul and it doesn’t normally show up in the Fathers unless they’re quoting Scripture. It’s quite an anachronism unless Jesus said it. The only times it shows up are in places like Acts 7 and the stoning of Stephen, and in my view, Stephen says that referring to Daniel 7 and the Son of Man standing in judgment. Hebrews tells us that Jesus sat down next to the right hand and Psalm 110:1 which says “The Lord said to my Lord, ‘sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.’ ” (By the way, that’s the most quoted Old Testament verse in the New Testament.) Why is Jesus standing then? I think it’s because Jesus is judging the nation of Israel there as sealing their fate for stoning the first Christian martyr.
Also, another passage that Jelbert points to is the one that before the transfiguration has Jesus saying that some listening to Him would not taste death before they see the Kingdom of God come in power. Jelbert again thinks this is about the end of the world. It’s not. It’s about the kingship of Jesus being vindicated in A.D. 70 with the destruction of the Jewish temple showing the age of the Law was ended and the age of the Messiah had come.
Some Christians think this is referring to the transfiguration, but if so, it’s a weak prophecy. Imagine if I went to my church next Sunday and gave a sermon and said, “Some of you will not taste death before next Sunday comes!” I would not be heralded as the most awesome prophet of all. 99.9999% of the time I am sure I would be correct. Even with a higher mortality rate in the past, it wouldn’t be that great.
The transfiguration was a revelation of who the king is, but His rule would be established in the destruction of the temple. Jelbert thinks we have to redefine terms. No. We just have to abandon a Western literalism and go with a more Jewish approach to the text. If Jelbert wants to say I’m wrong, he’s free to engage me on my exegesis, but what he thinks is a passage showing a great weakness in Christianity is one that I think shows one of its great strengths. If I wanted to show a great proof that Jesus was a true prophet, I would go to these passages that Jelbert thinks are such a problem.
In the end, I have every reason to think Jesus spoke of Himself as the Son of Man and He spoke truly. He truly was an apocalyptic prophet and He truly was right. I am not waiting for Jesus to be the King. Jesus is the King right now and His enemies are being made a footstool for His feet.
In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Light From The Christian East

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

This book is a Protestant look at the movement of Eastern Orthodoxy. Orthodox readers might be suspicious at first, but they shouldn’t be. If anything, one could say not that Payton is too critical, but that he isn’t critical enough. In my talking with him, I honestly just asked him “Why aren’t you Orthodox?” I’m not, of course, but the book can seem so gushing at times I couldn’t help but wonder why he isn’t.

The work is largely a work of wanting to be ecumenical, which it succeeds at. Payton takes us through many aspects of the way that worship is done in the church and how it differs from many Western perspectives. He answers questions about their worship style. The work is largely aimed toward Protestants.

Questions center around what is the church, how do Orthodox people pray, and what’s with all the icons? Many Protestants who go to an Orthodox service will walk away wondering what was going on. My wife goes in and sees something that she thinks is beautiful. I am sure she does, but I am one who doesn’t really get the same pull at all.

Along the way, the reader will get a lot of history. One might think that 1054, the year of the great schism is the most important year in differing between Orthodoxy and Catholicism. Not so. 1204 is far more important when the Western church refused to help the Orthodox Church during the Crusades. The reader will also learn a lot about the iconoclast controversy.

An aspect that seems to come out repeatedly is that the West and the East are both asking different questions and getting different answers. We in the West do tend to take a much more academic approach to Christianity. The East seems to take a much more mystical approach where the idea of Orthodoxy is thought to be intuitive.

I understand Payton wanted to write something ecumenical, but I did often wish he could have highlighted why he thinks the way he does. Why is he not Orthodox? He does say he has his own criticisms of the Orthodox Church. I would have liked to have seen them. There is nothing inherently wrong with a good critique after all and it can be a way that iron sharpens iron.

I would have also liked to have seen more on aspects of Orthodoxy I do find troubling. I have a problem when it comes to the Mariology and the treatment of the saints, practices that I do not find any Biblical basis for. The idea of how those outside the church are seen can be problematic. I remember reading on an Orthodox web site put out by the Orthodox Church about Protestants being heretics. How serious is this? Are we placed outside of the Christian faith according to the Orthodox? I do find it troubling since I think we should all be able to name what the Gospel is and who all is believing it or not.

I also wonder when we talk about Western and Eastern if it’s so much the denomination as it is the culture. What could we see in an Eastern Protestant Church? Do Orthodox Churches in the West have many of the same problems that can be found in Western culture?

Still, those wanting a good introduction will be benefited by this book and it’s not just me saying this. I have even seen this book for sale at an Orthodox cathedral during a Greek festival event. If the Orthodox can think it’s an accurate enough description of their faith, I think a Protestant can read it without problem.

In Christ,
Nick Peters