Book Plunge: What Really Happened To Jesus?

Does Ludemann have a good argument against the resurrection? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

I recently finished Gerd Ludemann’s book, “What Really Happened To Jesus?” Ludemann has been called an atheistic NT scholar, though I understand there are some that question that. We can say he at least is not a conservative Christian at all since he denies the bodily resurrection. So what is there in this book?

To begin with, there are some statements that I was happy to take and add to my apologetics database as I think it’s important to see what scholars who are not Christian are saying about the historical facts concerning Jesus. Two such examples suffice. The first is on page 17:

The fact of the death of Jesus as a consequence of crucifixion is indisputable, despite hypotheses of a pseudo-death or a deception which are sometimes put forward. It need not be discussed further here.

This is something important to mention since among internet atheists, this is itself often disputed. Note that Ludemann isn’t even taking seriously the claim that Jesus never existed. He’s bypassed it entirely.

Another claim that might surprise some people is found on page 81.

The only thing that we can certainly say to be historical is that there were resurrection appearances in Galilee (and in Jerusalem) soon after Jesus’s death. These appearances cannot be denied.

Yes. Even the appearances cannot be denied according to Ludemann. Of course, he does not think that they were appearances of the real risen Jesus. Instead, these would be hallucinations.

Before getting to that, there are a number of places I find Ludemann’s case straining to try to get something to fit. One such example is his looking at the appearance to the 500 described in 1 Cor. 15. Ludemann says on page 100 that:

The appearance to ‘more than 500’ as a historical phenomenon can plausibly be represented as mass ecstasy which took place in the early period of the community.

Ludemann says the likely event is the speaking in tongues in Acts 2. Is this really plausible? Are we to say people had this mass hysteria and this hysteria was enough to convince a number of the well-to-do (Since Meeks has argued that a reasonable number of early Christians were upper class) who weren’t even around at the time?

For one thing, I do not know of any case where speaking in tongues in church history was seen as an appearance of Christ. Further, at the Pentecost event, there were over 3,000 present since we know that many converted. One might say there is difficulty counting, but that does not mean that no one could tell the difference between 500 and 3,000, and a crowd for a Passover event in Jerusalem would surely be excessive.

Is Ludemann then saying this because he really thinks it’s accurate, or because the creed in 1 Cor. 15 can’t be denied and a mass appearance like that would be problematic, so we have to find some way to explain it!

I fear too often it is the conclusion that is driving the interpretation of evidence rather than the interpretation of evidence shaping the conclusion.

So what about Paul? Paul was prone to having visions.

The problem is the creed in 1 Cor. 15 doesn’t really allow that. For instance, while Paul did have visions at times, he does not treat the creed like that. These are appearances with a word used for normal every day sight. As N.T. Wright says on page 382 of “The Resurrection of the Son of God”,

The word heoraka, ‘I have seen’, is a normal word for ordinary sight. It does not imply that this was a subjective ‘vision’ or a private revelation; part of the point of it, as Newman stresses, is that it was a real seeing, not a ‘vision’ such as anyone in the church might have. The same is emphatically true of the other text from 1 Corinthians.

In fact, Paul adds that Christ appeared last of all to him, meaning that the time of appearances was at an end. Visions could still happen from time to time of course, but not appearances. Note Paul was writing this to a church that was also making much of experiences which would include visionary ones with the implication being that what the witnesses in the creed has differs in kind.

Ludemann says on page 103 concerning 1 Cor. 9:1 that

In my view it is certain that here the apostle is thinking of a vision of Jesus in his transformed spiritual resurrection corporeality. Otherwise it would be hard to understand how Paul could refer to ‘seeing’ (1 Cor. 15:4ff.) for the certainty of the bodily resurrection.

Yet how would this square with Ludemann speaking of Paul being one prone to visions yet at the same time Paul speaking of his case as a last of all sequence? Surely he would know that many in Corinth were having spiritual experiences as well! Paul’s testimony is that of claiming to have seen Christ risen himself just as much as anyone else did.

To explain why Paul would have such an experience, Ludemann has to have Paul experiencing guilt. Ludemann knows of interpretations that say that passages like Roman 7 are not biographical, but simply says his interpretation is not ruled out. Then we move on to psychology!

For all the talk we have about “God-of-the-Gaps”, most skeptics I meet when it comes to the appearances have a “psychology-of-the-gaps.” If you don’t know how to explain it, give a psychological disorder! You don’t have to understand psychology. You don’t have to study psychology. It just has to sound really good!

Psychology is difficult enough to do with the patient sitting right in front of someone and able to answer questions and ask questions. It’s far more difficult to do when the patient is dead, lived in an entirely different culture with a different way of thinking, and because of those two is incapable of interacting with you. It would be hard enough for a professional psychologist to do! (Consider Erik Erikson’s “Young Man Luther.”)

For Ludemann’s idea to work, Paul has to be thinking like a modern in our culture and struggling with guilt feelings. Paul must have secretly been wanting to be a Christian, but could not do it. Therefore, he started having a hatred for those who were and sought out to persecute them to contain his own inner hatred. On the road to Damascus, he reaches a breaking point and has a vision of Jesus.

The only problem is the theory is high on speculation and low on factual data.

Never mind all the problems there are with the hallucination idea, this is not the way we see Paul at all. If we think that we have biographical material in Romans 7, that biographical material is not about Paul’s life in persecution but Paul’s standing before the law. Note that we’re usually told the Jerusalem church, to which Paul would have been responding to the most, was supposed to be that of James which placed an emphasis supposedly on the Law. If they were really a Law-free community, whence comes this supposed dispute between James and Paul on the Law?

In the end, I will simply go with a solution that is not ad hoc and only depends on one other proposition that I think can be well-supported, “God exists.” The best interpretation then that explains all the data that Ludemann accepts is still that God raised Jesus from the dead. Nothing else I know of explains the rise of the early church when they should have not only not survived, but not even got started at all.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Profit With Delight

What do I think of Pervo’s take on Acts? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

Richard Carrier has said that if you want to know Acts isn’t reliable, read Pervo. I found a work of his on the genre of Acts, though this is not the one I think Carrier is referring to. Still it is worth sharing my thoughts on this one.

Pervo’s thesis in this work is that Luke is writing a kind of historical fiction. At least, that’s the impression when one does not see Pervo ranting about how obviously unhistorical the work is, something that plays a huge distraction from the content that is already in there. Pervo wants to jump at any chance he can get to show why he doesn’t think Luke is historical. (To be fair, I think this book was written before Colin Hemer’s massive work.)

This is not to say that the work is without any merit. For instance, the chapter on humor and irony in Acts I find to be quite pleasing. It is a mistake we’ve made with the text of Scripture that we often do not look to find any humor in it. In fact, this is a topic I’m interested in doing more research on someday.

If the rest of the book had been like that, I would not have had as many concerns, but alas, it isn’t. The whole idea of the thesis comes as that the book is so incredibly inaccurate that it could not possibly be considered to be historical in genre, therefore, it must be some sort of fiction.

Unfortunately, Pervo isn’t that accurate I find with the data that he presents. One such example is found where he writes about how ancient writers liked intrigue and conspiracy with the following:

“Evil Chenephres, jealous because of Moses’s civilizing innovations, tries to do away with him by ordering that he invade Ethiopia with an army of untrained peasants. After Moses is nonetheless victorious, Pharaoh strips him of this command and alienates his Egyptian lieutenants. Assassins are secretly sworn. They back out. Pharaoh does not. Having gained the allegiance of one Chanethothes, he dispatches Moses on a diplomatic mission, planning to ambush him on the road. An insider reveals the plot. In flight (on advice from Aaron), to Arabia, Moses meets and kills Chanethothes in single combat. The resemblance to Acts requires no comment.” (Pages 33-34)

The resemblance to Acts?

What resemblance?

It’s seeing claims like this that get me to think that I have to take everything that is said in here with a huge grain of salt.

Pervo’s thesis has not found wide acceptance, and for good reason. Most do realize that Luke is intending to give a historical account. Even if there were errors in it, that is certainly the intention. One can say that there are statements in Luke that match novels of the time, but that could be said of most any work in ancient history. A writer would write in a way that would catch his audience’s attention. Luke was a skilled and talented writer, in fact, so skilled that those who are learning Greek are told to not start trying with Luke. Luke is a highly difficult writer in Greek to understand since he knows it so well.

The reader is encouraged to instead go for ideas that have far more scholarly backing. A good reply to Pervo can be found in The Jesus Legend by Boyd and Eddy.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Prosperity and Poverty

What are my thoughts on E. Calvin Beisner’s book on economics? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

Economics is a topic often not talked about in the church today, aside from the discussions of how much people need to be tithing, but it is a topic that should be discussed far more often. When we look at our country today, the reason we’re in an economic crisis is because people believed several myths about economics. For Christians wanting to redeem the world for Christ, that includes the economic world and that will mean being able to dispute those economic myths.

Of course, this isn’t just to dispute myths, but also out of Christian concern for the well-being of all, including the poor. There are many programs out there designed to help people in poverty, but in reality, they help keep them in poverty. Beisner’s work is designed to help us realize all of this from a Christian perspective.

It interestingly begins with the story of the rich young man and starts to setting the context in a Christian framework there by making it clear Christ must be worth everything. Beisner begins by setting in play biblical values such as what justice is biblically, what work is, and what the importance of rest is.

From there, Beisner goes on to discuss modern economic policies and not just how they have failed but how it would have been known and in fact was known that they would fail. All of this is regularly interspersed with references to passages of Scripture, particularly the Ten Commandments, much of that being on the commandment to not steal. The emphasis is that the moral way and the effective way is also the biblical way.

Some readers will wonder about biblical texts such as the year of Jubilee or the coming together in Acts 2 and wonder if these violate the principles? Beisner goes to great detail to show they do not, although I as an orthodox Preterist would add that Acts only happened in Jerusalem since Christians there knew Jesus was going to judge the place soon so what good does it do to hold on to even the treasured land that they normally saw their identity in?

Beisner also gives us a warning that we should not show partiality to the poor even if we want to help them, which we should. A law that favors the rich is unjust. So also is a law that favors the poor. As he says “God is not ‘on the side of the poor’ despite protests to the contrary. Any law, therefore, that gives an advantage in the economic sphere to anyone, rich or poor, violates Biblical justice. (Page 52)

Beisner explains why many solutions to modern economic problems do not work, such as minimum wage laws or price controls. He also tells us to ask ourselves the key question of who benefits from these laws. When we do that, we will find it is not the poor that are supposedly being looked out for.

Finally, he offers the solution and shows how the church can handle the burden and should be handling the burden. We have made it a point of letting the state handle the situation when we ourselves are to do that as followers of Christ. Government need not be in the business of charity.

There are three ways I think this work could improve.

The first is that there is an appendix at the end explaining the relation of biblical law to economics. Beisner says he is not a reconstructionist. I would have liked to have seen this explanation at the beginning. Otherwise, throughout the book one can think they are reading an argument from theonomy rather than from natural law. The advantage of natural law is that biblical laws can be seen as “Just your religion” but natural law thinking says “These are truths anyone can know through reason.”

The second is that I would have liked to have seen a glossary of terms which I think would be helpful in case this was someone’s first read on economics. It would be beneficial for someone to be able to say “What was marginal utility again?”, go to the back and look up a definition, and then return to their reading.

Finally, there are books on a Christian philosophy of government, but I would like to have seen some on just economics, such as Henry Hazlitt’s “Economics in One Lesson”, or Ron Nash’s “Poverty and Wealth.” Also would be writings from people like Von Mises, Walter Williams, and Thomas Sowell. People interested in economics will need more places to go to.

Still, I do conclude that Beisner’s work is a helpful work for anyone wanting to understand a Christian philosophy of economics and give it my endorsement.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: The Jesus Quest

Where does Ben Witherington see the quest going? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

In The Jesus Quest, Ben Witherington surveys many of the latest writings (at the time) on the historical Jesus by scholars and critiques them. Rarely does he make a statement about his own view. He interacts with all sides, but he does seem to have more non-Christian scholars being critiqued rather than Christian ones.

The book starts with a quite brief explanation of the first two quests that could be read in about ten minutes or so. This gets us then into the third quest, which is of course the meat of the work. The start before looking at the various views of Jesus is looking at the views of Galilee.

As Witherington says, the quest for the historical Jesus is also becoming the quest for the historical Galilee. We cannot separate Jesus from the time and the culture that He lived in and understanding this has been an essential step in looking at who the man was and the way He saw Himself and the way His contemporaries saw Him.

At this point, Witherington does his readers a great service by familiarizing them with many aspects of the culture of Jesus that would not be known by most. For instance, he gives a brief explanation of an honor/shame culture and what it means to say a society believes in limited good.

The next chapter goes into looking at the Jesus Seminar and their methodology. Witherington points out that a minority of fellows on the voting panel could think Jesus did not say something and yet it will still show up in the results that Jesus did not say it despite it was the opinion of a minority. Also of course, there’s the troubling aspect that the group had a bias against miracles and did not represent members from leading educational institutions or even other countries.

So now we get into more specific looks. Witherington’s first group is the cynic sage group which consists of Crossan, Mack, and Downing. Next are the ones who see Jesus as a man of the Spirit, which includes Borg, Vermes, and Twelftree. (Twelftree being the first Christian being reviewed) For Jesus as an eschatological prophet, the views critiqued are that of Sanders and Casey. Next is the prophet of social change where Witherington interacts with Theissen, Horsley, and Kaylor. In the seventh chapter, there’s a look at the Jesus as the Wisdom of God, though from a different perspective, the feminist scholarship of Fiorenza. It is in this chapter Witherington goes into the most detail of his own view of Jesus as God’s Wisdom. Finally, he reviews the idea of Jesus as a marginal Jew and as a Jewish Messiah. Knowledgeable readers should recognize John Meier for the first view. For the second, Witherington critiques Stuhlmacher, Dunn, De Jonge, Bockmuehl, and finally, N.T. Wright.

Witherington’s book provides an excellent read. Witherington is known to have a fascinating memory and is a fair critiquer. He points out benefits made from the views of others and is dismayed that some people will not read their books due to their wild ideas. He treats the Christian authors just as critically.

I was dismayed at Witherington’s arguments when it came to eschatological passages like Mark 13. For instance, Witherington says that passages like Mark 14:62 and 13:26 are not about vindication as Wright says since Casey says that the events of God’s judgment take place on Earth but not in Heaven. I do not think Wright would disagree with this! It is the point that earthly events are a sign of what is going on in the Heavens. I am under the impression that Witherington sees 1 Thess. 4 and the Olivet Discourse as referring to the same event, when I do not see that at all. After all, if the Olivet Discourse is the same as 1 Thess. 4, it strikes me as odd that the resurrection would be left out of that.

In spite of all of this, a reader wanting to learn about the quest for the historical Jesus and about interacting with the scholarship on the quest will be benefited by reading Witherington. My concerns after all are about a secondary matter and do not drive away from the value on primary issues that this book addresses. For those who want to know about leading scholarship in this field, I recommend it without hesitation.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: The Jesus Legend

What do I think of Greg Boyd and Paul Eddy’s book. Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

I have often made the complaint about how weak our apologetic material is due to a lack of real scholarly interaction. Many popular writers avoid it. There have been writers in the past who have not taken this route such as Lee Strobel in interviewing numerous scholars, and J. Warner Wallace, who in the back of his book “Cold-Case Christianity” lists a number of scholarly works and authors to go to.

Fortunately, the Jesus Legend is not like that. I noticed on the back of the book that even Robert Price encourages people to read this book alongside of his. Unfortunately, I suspect most who read Price’s book will not take the time to read a work like this one.

The Jesus Legend is a work written to deal with many of the ideas out there that say Jesus is entirely mythical or that there was much baggage added on to a historical figure that came from pagan sources. You’ll find everyone from Robert Price to John Dominic Crossan dealt with here.

Boyd and Eddy are upfront about their bias at the start. They are Christians. They have no thought that any of us will come to the data entirely neutral. I agree with them. We all have our biases and presuppositions that we bring to any area of study.

The start of the work is about the methodology that will be used, which is absolutely essential. Too often claims are made with no idea given as to how those claims are reached. Boyd and Eddy give reasons why the assumption that miracles cannot happen and all happens on a naturalistic system should be called into question. They are not against someone being critical, but they are stating that those who are critical of miracles should just be just as critical of their skepticism of miracles to make sure it is well-grounded.

From there, the writers lay out the groundwork of first century Palestine. Again, this is a must. Jesus must fit into his historical context somehow. This also includes looking at the question of the relationship of Judaism to Hellenism. Would they be open to making up a Jesus and use pagan ideas to do so?

The next part deals with ancient history and Jesus. We are often told today that if Jesus was so important, surely some people would talk about him! In reality, we should be surprised anyone did. Jesus’s account would have been seen with skepticism and many a Messiah figure was walking around town supposedly doing miracles and such.

In fact, that he is mentioned by Tacitus and Josephus and others instead of all these other would-be Messiahs is incredible. It shows Jesus had the farthest reach, and why should this be the case? Could it be because there is more to the case for Jesus than for anyone else?

What about Paul? Paul wrote when there was a heavy background tradition orally sharing much about Jesus, yet there are allusions to the work of Jesus in Paul and facts about his life. In an oral community, these would have been recognized. (The authors want us to keep in mind we live in a post-Gutenberg culture so it’s difficult to understand how an oral culture would work.)

Speaking of the oral tradition, that’s our next stop. Boyd and Eddy give a rundown on how oral cultures work and what impact writing would have on them. Also, they ask the question concerning if the events in the gospels really happened, or were these the result of prophets in the early church having revelations about Jesus and getting them imposed on him for the gospels?

The final section deals with the use of the gospels as historical sources for Jesus. It starts with answering the question of genre. If the gospels are shown to be Greco-Roman biographies, and they are, then this increases their credibility. Next the authors evaluate the gospels as sources. Are they reliable? Can we give them general trustworthiness? Finally, they have a section completing their cumulative case. The end result is the Christ of orthodox Christianity is the same as the Christ of history. No other Christ better fits the picture.

I hope there will be more works coming out like The Jesus Legend. The only downside is that few people who read someone like Price will bother to pick up a work like this one. It is their loss when they refuse to do so. Christianity needs more material like this than it does soft apologetics that lacks in-depth scholarly research.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Who Was Jesus?

Is Wright right and Spong wrong? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

I am an avid fan of N.T. Wright and try to read absolutely anything that he writes. My latest read of his came from reading “Fabricating Jesus” where Evans dispenses with people like Barbara Thiering yet says N.T. Wright has written a response to her in “Who Was Jesus?”

That’s enough to get me looking for that on my next library visit!

Thiering is not Wright’s only target. Wright has other chapters on A.N. Wilson and John Shelby Spong.

It’s hard to read this book without thinking that seeing N.T. Wright go after these guys is like watching a tank be used to squish an ant.

Wright’s book starts off with a brief summary of Jesus studies to this point, largely by looking at what Schweitzer did. He goes on from there to say where the studies have led us and then brings out Thiering, Wilson, and Spong as examples of how not to do these kinds of studies, all the while still commending some good points that can be found in them.

Reading Thiering, it’s a wonder how such a work as hers got published. Thiering’s idea is that practically everything in the gospels is code and the way to understand the code is by looking at the Dead Sea Scrolls. As Wright points out, Thiering is quick to dispense with her idea of a code whenever it is convenient for her to do so. Based on her reading, Thiering has dates on when Jesus escaped death, married Mary Magdalene, later left her and married Lydia of Philippi, (Seriously. I’m not kidding), and eventually died.

Yes. Wright takes the time to dispense with such a bizarre theory as this. One cannot help but imagine the reaction these three authors might have had knowing who was critiquing their work.

A.N. Wilson comes from another angle. For Wilson, Jesus was a Galilean holy man, but Paul came along and messed everything up! Wilson does have more right than Thiering (Granted, not much of an accomplishment), but there is still too much that is wrong. Wilson does not interact with the latest of scholarship on the issue and gives the impression of being stuck in works from the 1960’s. Amazingly, some parts of his writing are quite accurate and had I not known they were from him, I would have thought they were from a conservative Christian.

One of Wilson’s great weaknesses is his idea about seeking unbiased sources. As Wright points out, they don’t exist. Everyone wrote with a motive. No one is neutral on the Jesus question and it is a mistake to think anyone is. Yet as Wright has said elsewhere, even if the sportscaster has a bias for which team he thinks is the best and wants to win, that doesn’t mean you must doubt the score he reports.

Furthermore, if we wanted an unbiased work, it would not be Wilson who makes it clear he has a hammer to use against anything that is religious. As usual, it is the ones who are claiming the most to have no bias who in fact do have the most bias.

Finally, we come to Spong, who has a hang-up over the virgin birth. Wright is just perplexed, as am I, over the idea that Spong has that we today know better. As Wright points out, they might not have known as many details about sex as we do, but they certainly knew what it took to make a baby. That’s why Joseph sought to divorce Mary at first. He knew what it took to make a baby, and he knew he hadn’t done it.

Spong also has a vendetta against literalism, which I can understand, but yet praises the Reformation and goes against the ECF. Yet it was the ECF who were more pron to going with an allegorical interpretation of the Scriptures and the Reformers who wanted to return more to a literal interpretation.

Spong also includes a comment about what Midrash is, an account that Wright thinks is nonsense, and that scholars of Midrash would disagree with. Like the other writers, Spong can sound impressive on paper and the notes and bibliography of the books Wright comments on can make them seem scholarly, but it is only a veneer. The real heart of the works is anything but.

As with any Wright work, I do recommend this one. Wright gives an excellent example of how to deal with so much misinformation in the popular culture. It is a shame more people will read Thiering, Wilson, and Spong, but never get around to Wright. I am thankful for Wright and thankful indeed that Wright is right and Spong is wrong.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Atheist Delusions

What’s my review of David Bentley Hart’s “Atheist Delusions?” Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

Psalm 11:3 “When the foundations are being destroyed, what can the righteous do?”

Indeed. What can the righteous do? When picking up Hart’s book, one might expect a lengthy reply to various new atheist arguments and criticisms of their approach. One will certainly find that, but not where one would expect. It will be in the first section of the book and the last section. The majority of the book does not even mention them at all. Do not come here if you are expecting a critique of Dawkins’s bogus 747 argument for instance.

Yet Hart does not hide his opinion of modern writing. The first chapter, “The Gospel of Unbelief”, has a number of great statements. The Da Vinci Code on page 4 is described as the most lucrative novel ever written by a borderline illiterate. On the same page, we are told Christopher Hitchens’s “talent for intellectual caricature somewhat exceeds his mastery of consecutive logic.” There’s Richard Dawkins who “despite his embarrassing incapacity for philosophical reasoning–never fails to entrance his eager readers with his rhetorical recklessness.” Describing Sam Harris’s “The End of Faith” on page 8, Hart says “It is little more than a concatenation of shrill, petulant assertions, a few of which are true, but none of which betrays any great degree of philosophical or historical sophistication. In his remarks on Christian belief, Harris displays an abysmal ignorance of almost every topic he addresses.”

Yes. Hart does not hold back and he gives more of the same in the end, but there is no need for Hart to waste time on those of the new atheists who have just as much faith if nor more than the fundamentalist preachers and believers that they are so quick to condemn. There is a sharp dichotomy with them. No goodness can be attributed to religion and no evil can be attributed to non-religion. If something works religiously, it has a “scientific basis.” If something goes wrong with a system of non-belief, that is because the part that went wrong has a “religious basis.”

What Hart wants to deal with is the foundations. These beliefs are being removed by the new atheists from their position of faith. It is a system of materialism that cannot allow anything contrary to its unproven presuppositions. If something seems outside of the material universe, it’s either just wrong or we’ll find an explanation for it someday.

It is a position that upholds the value of science but then takes that and turns it into a deity. Science is the new priesthood with its own standards of canonicity (No religious belief allowed) and its own statement of faith (No gods allowed) and built on a number of creedal statements (Religion poisons everything. Faith is believing something without evidence) and bad evangelistic slogans. (I just believe in one less god than you do.)

Keep in mind the very term “There is no God”, while it could be true for the sake of argument, cannot be determined by science, any more than the claim “Love is the highest virtue” cannot be proven by science. This is not because science is wrong. It is because science is the wrong tool. It is no more an insult to science to say this than it is an insult to hammers to say they are not recommended for treating a toothache.

While it might be said that a Christian will hide from a scientific discovery, and no doubt many do, it is just as true that the modern atheist tends to hide from anything that indicates any truth of a religious claim. Such can be found in how many even make it a mantra that Jesus never even existed. What is accepted as thoroughly proven amongst NT scholars and ancient historians and is practically a universal consensus, is disregarded, while the new atheists mock the Christians who do not accept the scientific consensus on evolution, held even by some Christians. Once again, which conclusion should be accepted depends on the presupposition. All of science is good and all of religion is wrong and biased.

Hart goes to great lengths to show that the problem is not really with science or religion. Men have a great proclivity to do evil and will accept any reason to do so. That reason can be religious or scientific. We must simply ask which one has had a greater power to curtail that evil within human beings. His argument is that Christianity has had that power.

To show this, he deals largely with myths of history and shows how Christianity changed the world through the building up of moral character based on the example of Christ. Hart contends that today, we accept many moral truths, but would we have accepted them if Christianity never came into the world? Probably not, except for perhaps Jewish people. Just look at the Greco-Roman world. Men and women weren’t equal. Some were by nature slaves. Unwanted children were to be left in the wild to die at the hands of wild animals. People watched other real human beings fight and die in the Coliseum for entertainment purposes. Did Christianity erase all of this immediately? No. But Christianity did set the seeds in place that eventually did so.

What happens then when these ideas that are rooted in Christian beliefs lose their Christian foundations? Will the belief itself live on? It could be a nice dream to think that it would, but where is the evidence? The 20th century has been the most secular century of all, and at the same time the most bloody century of all. If we are people to go by the evidence, then the evidence is in. At this point, when Christianity is removed, people have a greater propensity to return to their base desires.

Consider for instance the idea of what to do with the least of ours. The Romans and Greeks would leave their children to die in the wild if they weren’t wanted. Are we that barbaric? It could be, we’re worse. Peter Singer and others argue today that we should have the right to kill our own disabled children up to a certain time. As someone who is an Aspie, as is my wife, I take this claim quite seriously. Christianity, on the other hand, would hold that this one that is said to be useless in the sight of the world and holding us back from genetic success, fully bears the image of God and is worth more than the entire universe. Indeed, one could argue that in their weakness, many disabled people reveal the nature of God, the God who in Christianity took on human weakness in the incarnation, than many of us “healthy” ones do.

Hart does not hold out much hope for our society as he does not see how such a revival can take place. Perhaps it is just for me that hope springs eternal, but I think it is possible. I think we are on the verge of a golden age in apologetics. If the apostles could change the Greco-Roman empire, why not think that we all today can do the same in our own world? The question is not the ability. We have the means to reach the world. The question is not the knowledge. We have the information that we need to do so. The question is the will. Are we willing?

Ultimately then, it comes down to a question of obedience. Christ has given us our marching orders in the Great Commission. There is no plan B. We have been told what to do. The question could then be said to be “How much do we believe in Christ? How much are we truly Christian?”

If we claim Christ is Lord of all and He has the power to change the culture, then let us go out there and do so. If we do not do so, it could be because parts of us don’t really believe that the Christ can do so through the proclamation of His message. This would be, as I’ve argued before, due to a lack of instilling of the importance of having a total Christian worldview to our churches rather than just teaching that we should be good people. Christians are to be good people, but we are to be not just good people. We are to be Christian people.

If I had a criticism of Hart’s work, it would be I would like to have seen more claims properly noted. There are many notes, but there are many claims I would have liked to have seen more noted. I also disagree with him that both Arians and Trinitarians could make a case from the Scriptures. They speak with one voice and they say “Trinity.”

Despite this, I do overall highly recommend the work to deal with a number of atheist statements of faith. The style is witty and engaging, yet it is certainly not simplistic, and one will learn plenty from reading a volume like this.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Reinventing Jesus

What do I think of this book by J. Ed Komoszewski, M. James Sawyer, and Daniel Wallace? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

I have read a number of books on the Historical Jesus that defend my own view, a conservative Christian view, but most of them are rather passe in many ways. You can hear the same old, same old, as if the writers just want to give you the mere basics of the case so you can make it. Now for some people, basics are good and necessary, but so often I really would like to read something more substantial from the conservative side and something that will give them a lot of firepower.

I picked up Reinventing Jesus not knowing what to expect, but found myself impressed thoroughly by this work. The authors lay out a powerful case and even better, they deal with the popular critics that will be mentioned in water cooler conversation. These are the ones largely quoted on the internet. Scholarship doesn’t really take their claims seriously, but such a situation has never stopped ignorant people on the internet from touting off the claims with the same degree of certainty as they condemn in a fundamentalist revival preacher.

So do you want to see Dan Brown dealt with? Got it covered! How about Acharya S.? She’s answered? Earl Doherty? Taken to task. Frank Zindler? Robert Price? Freke and Gandy? Aside from Price, who is on the fringe of scholarship, these are names not taken seriously, but that does not mean they should be ignored. It’s extremely important to show the massive ignorance that is often pontificated on the internet.

The authors start off with the case for oral tradition, which is an excellent start since the average lay reader knows little about this and can often think of modern concepts of memory which don’t really apply to an ancient society. In doing so, they show that the teachings of Christ would have lasted at least to the time of writing.

Well how about that time? Maybe the writings are wrong? That’s when we look at textual criticism and this section is an excellent tour de force. The authors have up-to-date statistics on when the NT manuscripts were written and how they were copied and deal very well with the popular criticisms that work against the idea as well as scholarly concerns. Let it never be stated they only deal with popular claims. They deal with scholarly ones as well.

What about the books that were copied? How do we know the canon was right? Again, this is an excellent topic that is not discussed often in literature. The writers put forward a presentation that demonstrates the integrity of the early church and show that they did not just blindly attribute authorship to a writer. They had the highest of standards. Much of this information I found immediately useful.

Did those books reflect the truth about Jesus? Extremely beneficial here is a look at what went on in the Council of Nicea to show that Nicea did not change everything. Also, there is abundant information to show that there was an early high Christology showing Jesus was perceived as included in the divine identity and that He Himself made such claims.

Supposing that’s the case, did the Christians not just rip off other pagan myths like Osiris and Mithra? I was extremely pleased to see a section on this! This is one of the most preposterous claims that goes around the net by people who have never read an original source on the topic. The writers have done us a service by giving a superb presentation to show that there has been no copying, unless you count copying by others of Christian claims and language.

In conclusion, I recommend this fine work without reservation. If I was to teach a class on NT apologetics, this book would no doubt be required reading.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Studying The Historical Jesus

How is a Christian to go about studying the historical Jesus? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

Last night, I finished reading a book by Darrell Bock of Dallas Theological Seminary called “Studying The Historical Jesus.” In this book, Bock does not really set out to give conclusions. He is writing for an audience that I believe consists of lay people interested in this kind of study and perhaps as a textbook for people starting off their college career.

Bock also writes from a conservative perspective, which is just fine of course. It’s important to point this out since he is writing to people who I suspect might be apprehensive about doing historical Jesus study. “Study the historical Jesus? Isn’t it a matter of faith? Don’t we have the Inerrant Scripture? If that is the case, then how is it that we are to do historial study? Are we calling into question the reality of Jesus?”

Bock answers with a strong no and encourages us to enter into the field explaining to us how the work is to be done. He starts off by giving us some cultural context. What was the world like at the time of Jesus? What was it like right beforehand? How did the culture interact? I was quite pleased to see him talking about the importance of honor in the ancient world, something not at all stressed in most works that assumes the ancient person was just like us in their thinking.

Bock does give some brief apologetic, but it is not for the resurrection. It is simply for the existence of Jesus. Of course, even this historical certainty is coming into question these days largely by internet atheists who prefer reading non-scholars on the topic and wikipedia entries. Of course, events like this only encourage me seeing as this is a fine time for Christians to be learning real facts on historical Jesus study and how it should be done while our opponents intellectually bankrupt themselves.

Next, Bock gives us information about how the quests for the historical Jesus have progressed with the third quest especially going on looking into the Jewish roots of Jesus. (I have a suspicion we may even have a fourth quest going on with the look at the social-science information.) This is a highly helpful summary of the history for those who are starting out.

Finally, Bock lists the kinds of approaches to gospel study that are going on today such as form and redaction criticism. Bock urges Christians to not ignore these even if they are often done from skeptical bases. We can still use the information to our advantage and learn valuable insights on how to approach the text. After all, if the Jesus of orthodox Christianity is really the same as the historical Jesus, why should we be afraid of any historical study? True study will get us closer to that Jesus if not right there.

In conclusion, I recommend this book to help those who are wanting to learn more about Jesus study and how it should be done, as well as reminding us that being an orthodox Christian does not mean one cannot use the historical tools that have been handed to us. Why not take the weapons of our opponents and use them to our advantage?

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Portraits of Paul

What was Paul really like as a person? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

Portraits of Paul (POP) is a book by Bruce Malina and Jerome Neyrey, both of them NT scholars. The idea of the work is to help us get to learn what Paul was like. How can we really get to know Paul the man?

Or maybe that’s not really the idea.

People getting the book wanting to get a psychological profile on the apostle Paul will be disappointed. POP instead makes the case that a POP of the apostle makes no sense in the society he lived in. Paul lived in a collectivist society where persons were not known as individuals (It would be known that they existed of course, but you would not know one person on an intimate level) and not even to themselves! Your identity came from your group that you identified with. If anything, being an individualist standing out from the crowd would be seen as deviancy and a threat.

At this point, many readers are thinking “That makes no sense to me.” If so, that is because you are already thoroughly soaked in individualistic thinking without realizing that 70% of the world thinks differently. For those of us who live in America, we are tempted constantly to see our culture as the model and think that every culture must be like ours. (That having been said, politically, I do hold to American exceptionalism.)

Yet when we enter the world of the Bible, that world is not just like ours. Persons were not seen as individuals and when we try to look at them that way, we develop problems. We can too often throw the ideas of our own culture back onto the text. As with studying any text from another culture, we should seek to know that culture first.

At this point, the fundamental atheist reader is saying “Shouldn’t God have made it easier if He wanted us all to know His truth?” Yet the charge is just an example of what POP is writing about. It is the assumption today that study should be simple and plain and great truth and rewards should not require much effort. It doesn’t work with dieting. It doesn’t work with exercise. It doesn’t work with college. It doesn’t work with romance. It doesn’t work with a career. Yet somehow, we think it should work with religion.

The reader of POP will not learn necessarily much about Paul as an individual, but they will learn how someone like Paul would have been seen based on his group identifications. They will learn why he wrote what little he did write about himself and how he wrote appealing to his audience and how they would have seen it. They will learn about such truths as the word pistis, translated faith, really is used for a means of forensic proof (P. 87) and that saying “Let your conscience be your guide” would have mad no sense to the people back then. (P. 187)

Hopefully as well, they’ll emerge with a greater understanding of the NT.

In conclusion, this is another book I highly recommend. One of the greatest barriers to understanding the NT is the cultural one and this book will be a great addition to any library.

In Christ,
Nick Peters