Book Plunge: Christ-Centered Apologetics

What do I think of Joel Furches’s book published by Crosslink Publishers? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Awhile back Joel Furches sent me this book, which recently I finally got around to reading. Normally, the only direct apologetics books I read today are those that are sent to me and I mainly try to keep in mind how an audience unfamiliar with apologetics would take it. Generally, if you’re well-read, you won’t find much new in many classical apologetics books. That’s not a bad thing necessarily. Everyone needs a start somewhere.

So what are the positives of Furches’s book?

I certainly appreciate that Christ must remain the center of our apologetics. Furches rightly points out that too often we can get bogged down on secondary issues such as Inerrancy or the age of the Earth. The main point that needs to be proven is that Jesus is who He said He was and that He rose from the dead.

I do appreciate that Furches has a chapter in here on how to do apologetics. I do not agree with all that he said, and more of that is coming up later, but knowing how to do apologetics is just as important as having the content of apologetics.

Furches is also right on how this must be done in our churches today. Christianity is in a state of lethargy here in America with most people not knowing what they believe beyond “faith.” The new atheists can make easy pickings of such people, not because the new atheists are so strong, they’re not, but because the ones they are going against are so weak.

I also agree that too often our worldviews have been like a house of cards. Each doctrine of Christianity has been given as much importance as every other one and so if one falls, then everything falls. To point to earlier examples, I know of Christians that if they found out the Bible had an error in it, they would abandon their faith immediately. I also know several who thought Christianity was disproven when they were convinced the Earth is old.

Now what are my concerns?

First, while Furches does often cite Biblical scholars, many times, he does not, and these times can be concerning. I really don’t like seeing John MacArthur used as if he was a Bible scholar when there are real New Testament scholars to go to for the matters that MacArthur is consulted on. Also, while I do respect people like J. Warner Wallace greatly, it can too often look like an apologist quoting another apologist. I would prefer to go back to the scholarly sources. Wallace certainly cites them in his work, so why not instead of citing Wallace, go back to the people that Wallace cites?

Second, I thought some arguments could have used some improvement. I am thankful for a look at each of the Gospels to show they are by eyewitnesses or trace back to eyewitnesses, but would this not have been a good time to mention Richard Bauckham’s groundbreaking work on the topic? Since the most defense was applied to Mark, would it not be helpful to show that Mark is an inclusio account that directly links itself to Peter?

Third, some arguments were just suspicious to me. Consider for instance the claim that there was some of Mark found among the Dead Sea Scrolls. I do not know a specialist on the Dead Sea Scrolls today who takes this opinion. Putting an argument that could be highly spurious in a work could lead people to question the rest of one’s research.

Fourth, I found the section on prophecy troubling. To begin with, there was nothing about how to interpret prophecy in the OT that I saw. What is a Christian to do when met with passages like Hosea 11:1 being cited in Matthew 2? Without an informed hermeneutic on the NT’s usage of the OT and how prophecy was understood in Second Temple Judaism, you could quickly be devastated by others who are sadly just as ignorant of such realities. I also was surprised there was no mention of Daniel 2 or Daniel 9 which I consider excellent prophecies with the timing of Jesus.

Finally, with how to do apologetics, I would disagree in some areas. There are times I am answering a question and I am NOT trying to get the person to come to Jesus. The person is hostile, but it is a public place. My goal is to shut them down since they are a threat to others coming to the cross. I think in such times being more tough in one’s approach can be helpful and in fact I see this in the Bible regularly.

In conclusion, it’s kind of a mixed bag. If you don’t have any apologetics training, this could be a good start. I would hope in future editions the author would take my concerns into consideration as areas for improvement.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Deeper Waters Podcast 5/23/2015: David Marshall

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

Some of you might have recently seen a hilarious “debate” on the resurrection of Jesus between John Loftus and David Wood, if you can call it a debate. I really hesitate to do so because Loftus just did such a horrible job in it. My wife was unfortunately trying to take a nap at the time and she kept being woke up because I was just laughing too much. Still, we can be sure that Loftus will just keep on kicking. Despite this, there is one person who definitely takes Loftus seriously, and that person is one of his greatest critics, David Marshall.

Who happens to be my guest this weekend.

DavidMarshall

David Marshall is the writer of numerous books such as The Truth About Jesus And The Lost Gospels, Jesus and the Religions of Man, and The Truth About The New Atheism. On this episode, we’re going to be talking about his latest book, How Jesus Passes The Outsider Test. This last book is in fact one I have reviewed and I found it to be excellent. I’m not the only one to suggest that we could be looking at a book that could be a Mere Christianity of our time. It’s just that good.

Dr. Marshall will be joining us from China where he and his wife live. He is an expert on world religions and his idea in response to Loftus’s book is to take Loftus’s idea of the outsider test for faith and in fact to make it even stronger than Loftus has made it and show that Jesus passes the test. He does this by a stellar collection of data from around the world and some of the best scholarship that is available. The book is filled with factual information that will drive you to want to study Jesus more and also has a great deal of humor that will make it an enjoyable read.

We’ll be talking about Marshall and his interactions with Loftus as well. Who is Loftus really? After all, many people have not heard of him though they have heard of the four horsemen of the new atheism and other names like Richard Carrier. What exactly is the Outsider Test for Faith as its called and why does Loftus think it is so powerful? Why is it that Marshall in fact thinks that it is a challenge that is worth taking seriously? What about charges that Jesus did not do this and that in fact there has been much suffering brought about in the world as a result of Jesus? Isn’t the name of Jesus the cause of much of the violence in the world after all?

I’m really looking forward to this interview and I hope that you’ll be encouraged to pick up the book. It will be a read that you will take great delight in and will open your eyes to many realities around the world that Marshall sees on a day to day basis.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

A Brief Look at Remsburg’s List

Is there a problem when contemporary sources don’t mention Jesus? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

One of the hallmarks of internet atheism today is to hold that Jesus never even existed and there’s no evidence that He did. Now this position is one that is laughed at in the academy of New Testament scholarship, but on the internet, it’s treated as if it’s a lively debate. (These same people will be howling if you dare question evolution, which also isn’t really questioned in the scientific academy and since I am not a scientist, I do not raise up questions to it either. It makes no difference to me.) It’s quite amazing that for all the people I meet who claim to be freethinkers, they all seem to think exactly alike.

A popular tactic to use is one called Remsburg’s list. For instance, on site called Positive Atheism has a reference to Remsburg’s list by putting up chapter two of Remsburg’s own book. You can see it here. To the unsuspecting Christian, this seems like something remarkable, especially since in our day and age Michael Paulkovich has come out with a similar list with his joining the mythicist bandwagon.

To an unsuspecting Christian this list looks powerful. To an uninformed atheist, this list looks like a silver bullet.

Alas, I must say I am more skeptical than my skeptic friends apparently. You see, when I come across a claim, I actually want to question and investigate it. Let’s see the claim this way.

Jesus was a wildly popular figure in the ancient world.

Since Jesus was so popular, He should have been talked about by everyone.

Jesus was not talked about by everyone.

Therefore, Jesus didn’t exist.

To begin with, the whole thing is a total non sequitur. There are any number of reasons for not mentioning people and this would include more famous ones not noted by their contemporaries such as Hannibal, who nearly conquered Rome, and Gamaliel, who was one of the greatest teachers of Torah in Judaism. None of these were worthy of a mention by their own contemporaries. (And it’s quite odd to think that a general who nearly conquered the Roman Empire would go without a mention, but a crucified failed Messiah (In the eyes of the world) should have been mentioned. Of course, there is more to the answer than this.

Let’s first consider that Jesus was wildly popular. Not really. Jesus was a flash in the pan in the ancient world as it were. In His lifetime, many people did talk about Him, but His greatest popularity was with the peasants in the area. The educated elite saw Him as a threat and not someone they would want to talk about. This is in fact only in Judea. As I have argued elsewhere, for the rest of the world, Jesus was not worth talking about. Let’s list some reasons why those outside of Jesus and who heard about Him later on would not want to talk about Him.

He had a low honor birth. He was born in a shameful part of the world in a low-honor town and could have in fact been seen as illegitimate. His immediate parents were peasants.
Aside from Egypt as a small child, He never left the area of Israel.
He never went to battle.
He never ran for political office or held political office.
He did not write any books. (And actually, while Paulkovich considers this odd, rabbis did not write books nor did many great teachers. Their followers often did. See Sandy and Walton’s The Lost World of Scripture.
He was seen as a miracle worker. (Think charlatan. This might convince eyewitnesses, but if you weren’t there, what are you going to think? You’ll more likely treat Him like most people treat Benny Hinn today.)
He did not establish a philosophical school.
He was crucified.

I cannot emphasize that last one enough. Jesus would be seen as a failed Messiah figure. The Jews would have considered Him a blasphemer to YHWH and He didn’t even conquer the Roman Empire and set the Jewish people free like surely the Messiah would do. The Gentiles would have seen Him as someone who challenged Rome and got crushed by them. That He got crucified would put an end to any of His career and thus render Him someone not worth talking about. Add in a bizarre belief in a resurrection, which would have been shameful since most people saw the body as a prison you would want to escape, and well that’s just another example of superstitious people.

The shocking thing is not how few people talked about Jesus. The shock is that anyone did at all.

But now let’s consider some of the people on the list. Many of them were not people who would mention Jesus anyway. Ptolemy was writing about astronomy. Why would he mention Jesus? Why would Philostratus write about Jesus? He was trying to promote his own guy and a great way to shame the Christians would be to not even mention Jesus. Why would Epictetus? These were teachings on stoicism and personal philosophy. Martial wrote poetry and satire. Why would any historian of Rome need to mention a failed Messiah?

So let’s go into some other figures.

Philo is often mentioned, but we need to see evidence Philo had a great interest in writing about failed Messiah figures. It’s also not accurate to say that Philo was in Jerusalem at the time of Jesus. He wasn’t. Even if he had been, a crucifixion would have ruled Jesus out as someone worth talking about. Of course, if he had seen him and believed he was resurrected and wrote about that, then skeptics would count that testimony as biased and not accept it.

Plutarch wrote about lives of virtue to be emulated, but they were not Jewish figures. Furthermore, to have Jesus be crucified would immediately put him down as a list of people to not emulate.

For Justus, we do not possess his work. We just have a Christian much later saying Justus did not mention Jesus. Again, why should he? Justus from what we gather was interested in political figures. Herod would be included. Jesus would not be.

Figures like Josephus and Tacitus did mention Jesus but lo and behold, these are interpolations. (Read that as “Idea difficult for my viewpoint so I have to say it’s questionable.) These ideas are not popular with actual scholars of Tacitus and Josephus, but then again, keeping up with scholarly work has not been a favorite pastime of mythicists.

In conclusion, looking at the list, there are several people who would have had no interest and the position ignores the ones who did mention him. Arguments from silence are notoriously bad arguments and if your position hangs on it, you might need to seriously question it.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Envy Is Not Jealousy

Can God be loving and jealous both? Let’s plunge into Deeper Waters and find out.

If you ever want to know how not to read the Bible, one of the best things to do is to just go to an atheist web site and look at the attempts to show Bible contradictions. Most of them are outright hysterical. It’s so bad that you can even find satire illustrating the position, and this one is so excellent. I’ve sadly found several people who don’t even realize it’s satire, some of them commenting on the piece itself.

One of the latest fundamentalist atheist hits is this little image going around:

jealousyisnotenvy

It’s incredible to see how much this image has spread and that anyone finds it to be a convincing argument shows how badly our thinking capacities are being damaged in this day and age.

Let’s start out with something that should be a simple point but is apparently not.

Envy is not jealousy.

You see, when a person is envious, that means that they want something that someone else has that they do not have and they resent the person for having it. Many of us can want something someone else has and so we go out and buy it or work hard to get it or something of that sort. That’s not what’s being talked about. An example in the OT is King Saul and David. David was getting more honor than Saul and Saul thought he had a right to that honor. He decided he needed to kill David to get that honor. This is especially so when the ancient world had the concept of limited good. That meant that all goods were seen as limited, including honor. If you had honor, that meant someone else lost it. David gaining honor would mean Saul was losing it. It’s also the same reason the Pharisees wanted to kill Jesus. Jesus was getting honor and taking it away from the Pharisees.

Now God does desire honor, but He also has the right to all honor for He is the greater good. God is also jealous. This will not be denied as it is said in the Old Testament. God’s jealousy is geared towards His own people and in the ancient world, this would have been seen as something honorable. If you had exclusive rights to something, it was shameful to let it be used for a contrary reason. Many of us today still practice this. I would be more than willing to let you borrow a book from my library. Do you want to enjoy the same rights to my wife that I enjoy? Better not even think about that one!

The jealousy a husband nobly has for his wife is like that which God has for His people. God is in an exclusive covenant relationship with His people and He does not want anyone else intruding on that and in fact, it is for the good of His people. It is because He loves and honors them. The reason I do not let anyone else sleep with my wife is not because I want to ban her from having any pleasure. It is because I do not treat her like a common good and know that she has an exclusive relationship with me and I have one with her and in turn, I do not sleep with any other women.

Once again, we see pitiful fundamentalist atheist hermeneutics at work. I will believe fundamentalist atheists are people of evidence when I see some evidence they learn how to actually research the topics they argue against.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Three Things Youth Need To Relearn

Has youth ministry gone the wrong way? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Recently, Addie Zierman wrote an article that appeared in Relevant Magazine about three things she had to unlearn in youth ministry. Unfortunately, looking at the list, it looks like three things that we still need to learn about youth ministry.

So let’s look at the first. The first item to learn is that youth are not going to be persecuted for what they believe. So what is Zierman’s evidence for this?

I spent the duration of junior high and high school braced against the entire student body, sure that they secretly mocked/hated/despised me. I wore Christian T-shirts like some kind of bullet-proof vest. I memorized all of the brilliant apologetic arguments in favor of Christianity in case any teacher or student ever cornered me in the hall and forced me to debate my faith.

But no one ever did.

What actually happened is that I distanced myself from everyone who didn’t believe like I did. It wasn’t that they didn’t like me—it was that I had barred my arms in an eternal defensive pose, and no one could even get close. So after a while, they stopped trying.

So all we have is her anecdotal evidence. Okay. If that’s what counts, then I will give anecdotal evidence of people coming to me talking about youth or youth themselves talking about how they receive this exact same treatment. I could point to how young atheists like David McAfee are developing followers among their own young people. I could talk about how you can find many teenagers and other young people on YouTube more than happy to tear apart anyone who does anything Christian. I could talk about how many young people on Facebook and even some in ministry that I saw had the equals sign on their Facebook page showing they were interested in redefining marriage and how my own wife had people going after her because she dared to do something horrible like go to Chick-Fil-A on Chick-Fil-A day. I could also point to the numerous people who go off to college and lose their faith because they were not intellectually equipped when a challenge to it came. Yes. All of this is going on.

I could also point to the research done by sociologists like George Yancey on the problem of changing attitudes towards Christianity and Christians, and they’re only getting worse. While I think it’s an insult to call this persecution in light of real persecution going on around the world, it is foolish I think to look at our world and think it’s not coming and each year, people are getting more and more hostile to the Christian message and that is going to affect our youth.

So the first lesson to learn for youth? You are a soldier of the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of this world is radically opposed to the Kingdom of God. If you are not ready, then you will be ineffective or you will be a casualty.

The second lesson is that your friends’ salvation does not depend on how well you can defend Christianity.

It’s a wonder Zierman knows the friends of people she’s never even met before.

Zierman in this part refers to our giving of trite answers which yes, I must admit happens too often, but I would say I’m more impressed that anyone is actually giving answers because when I was growing up in youth group, no one was discussing this kind of stuff, and I know of many who have undergone the exact same situation. Zierman wants us to understand that we are not the savior and we are not going to save anyone. (This despite Paul said he lives in such a way in 1 Cor. 9 that through all possible means he might save some. Apparently, Paul didn’t have the hesitancy of language that many of us have today.) Of course, if this is meant to say no one can give an argument to force someone to convert, then this is absolutely true.

In the same way, no one can do a loving action to force someone to convert either.

So by that standard, we should cease to be doing loving actions for other people as a means of evangelism.

If trite answers are a problem, and I agree that they are, how about giving real and effective answers that will help those outside the faith to be refuted and to provide assurance for those that are within. Zierman goes on to say

Later, when they begin to grapple with the inconsistencies and the doubts and the hard things in their faith, it won’t be trite answers that see them through. It will be that glimpse they’ve had of the beauty of God. It will be the muscle memory of having dived deep into something real. And if and when their friends question them about their faith, it won’t be about showing them a diagram. It will be about showing them Jesus.

It’s really sad that I can picture Mormon leaders saying this to Mormons. It would work just as well. “You might come across challenges to your faith and inconsistencies between archaeology and the BOM or the BOM and the Bible or other such things. When those times come, do remember that you have a burning in the bosom and let it be that people will see that passion you have for Jesus and know that your faith is real. Show them Jesus.”

Of course, I have no opposition to showing people Jesus and I have no opposition to people having powerful religious experiences. What I have opposition to is the foundation being someone’s own personal experience. This feeds into our rabid individualism that is destroying the church. I can already tell you is that if all you have is the love of Jesus, new atheist types out there will chew you up and spit you out. They will not be persuaded. You might get a “Well I’m happy you found something that works for you” or they could just think you’re still a deluded person and your delusion will be harmful if it spreads.

There are people like Peter Boghossian out there who want to get 10,000 street epistemologists out there and each one is to have the goal of deconverting 100 people. These people will not respond if you simply point to feeling the love of Jesus. Well, they will respond, but it will not be in the way you’d like. Also, when someone comes home from college having been hit with Zeitgeist or evil Bible or Jesus mythicism or the problem of evil or any number of problems, it won’t be feeling love that will get them through. It will be having an intellectually robust faith where they know that there are answers and those answers inform how they live.

The third belief we need to get rid of is you have to do something to make a difference for God.

Yes. She actually says that.

Now I do think she is right when she says

The Christian walk is a long journey—so often mundane and difficult, putting one foot in front of another—seeing nothing, feeling nothing. And linking faith with extraordinary actions and extraordinary feelings makes it so much harder for us when we slam into the inevitable ordinary.

Of course, there won’t be constant mountaintop experiences and exciting adventures every day. Not everyone is going to be a famous evangelist or apologist or what have you.

But if you want to make a difference for God, yes, you have to do something and yes, you should be striving to do more than you are. Zierman goes on to say that

You can’t do anything to make God love you more.

You can’t do anything to make God love you less.

You are already enough.

God is already doing amazing things through you—even if it all feels hopelessly average.

How does Zierman know God is already doing amazing things through the reader? Maybe the reader really isn’t growing and striving in their faith at all. Maybe the reader never says a word in evangelism. Maybe the reader has no prayer life and does not study the Bible and simply comes to church because their parents make them. An article like Zierman’s can lead to great complacency and notice where the focus is at the end of this.

God can’t love you more.

God can’t love you less.

You are enough.

You are already being used by God for amazing things.

You. You. You.

And this is part of the problem. Most of us in our culture think way too much of ourselves already. You can’t do anything to make God love you more or less. Okay. I agree. So what? What does that have to do with your evangelism and how you are to live? Do you really do what you do because you’re wanting God to love you more or less? You have a pretty bad theology already if you do. Would such an attitude work in a marriage if you had it? “I don’t really need to strive to do something amazing for my spouse because they already love me as I am and they think I’m amazing enough already.”

God have mercy on me if I ever approach my Allie with that attitude.

Should I give God any less?

All the things Zierman says she thinks we need to unlearn, I would prefer if we relearn them and actually teach them.

We have too many casualties already and it’s only getting worse in America. The individualistic ideologies being thrust onto our youth will only compound the problem.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Deeper Waters Podcast 5/16/2015: Matthew Flannagan

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

Sorry for the delay in the blog. I’ve had some circumstances come up beyond my control so today, I’m giving the entry for the show that I will be recording in a few hours and this week, my guest is Matthew Flannagan.

How could a good God kill innocent children? This is one of the thorniest objections that comes up against God today. To some extent, some could perhaps understand God sending a grown human being to Hell who has lived a wicked life, but what about the children? What have the little children done to deserve a death? What kind of God tells people to go into a city and destroy men, women, and children? What kind of being do Christians worship? Matthew Flannagan is here to help us answer those questions. Who is he? According to his bio:

Matthew Flannagan Cropped for 6x4 and 8x12 inch prints Different background colours are avilable by request January 2014
Matthew Flannagan
Cropped for 6×4 and 8×12 inch prints
Different background colours are avilable by request
January 2014

Dr Matthew Flannagan is a theologian and ethicist. He holds a PhD in Theology from the University of Otago and a Master’s degree with honours in Philosophy from the University of Waikato. Matthew currently works as a teaching elder at Takanini Community Church and regularly participates in local and international conferences, panel discussions and public lectures. Matthew is the author of numerous articles on ethics and philosophy and contributor to several books on apologetics, he recently co-authored Did God Really Command Genocide? Coming to Terms with the Justice of God (BakerBook: 2014) with Paul Copan. He and his wife Madeleine also run the popular blog MandM at mandm.org.nz.

The book Did God Really Command Genocide? can be purchased here and based on my review it is a book I highly recommend. In fact, it is one of those books that the further you get into it, the better it gets, which for a non-fiction book is quite a rarity. The book is highly exhaustive and will cover the major issues in the debate very well.

Dr. Flannagan, a father himself, will be answering the hardest questions I can give to him on the topic since your friends and opponents will be asking you similar questions. Couldn’t God have found a better way to do things than this? Why is God so bloodthirsty? Doesn’t He kill people for minor offenses? If people can kill back then because they’re so convinced that God is telling them to do something, then what is to stop a government official today in office from doing the same thing? Is it true that something is good because God says it is good, or does God say that it is good because it is good?

I hope this show will equip you to answer questions that you get on this topic, which is a favorite among skeptics on the internet. I also hope it will give you a greater understanding of the Old Testament texts and how to read them as well as deal with issues in relation to Inerrancy. Be watching for the next episode of the Deeper Waters Podcast.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Is Life Better Without God?

If you remove God from your life, will it be better? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Recently, someone on twitter sent me a link to an article by Skeptic Mom on the question of if life is better without God. I took a look and saw a whole lot of issues that I deal with in the modern day church and figured this would be a good example. Now looking at the post, I don’t see Skeptic Mom at this point as some anti-theist, but just someone who is skeptical of religious claims, which is just fine, but I wonder how many of these claims she’s skeptical of are Christian claims and how many are cultural Christian claims. Let’s start with the first one.

For Skeptic Mom, the first benefit is that her life is more her own. What does that mean? Let’s look at what she says about this:

At church, we were taught stories about biblical characters, such as Jonah, who were punished for putting their own desires over God’s. Stories such as Jonah and the whale (or great fish or sea monster) were told to remind us that God had a plan for each of us and that we must follow his plan. Our job was to discover God’s plan and to follow the path he had chosen for us. We were told to trust that God knew best.

Now that I am an atheist, I no longer have to try to determine what God wants for me. I feel free to determine what I want out of life. I can set my own goals and make my own decisions. The realization that we create our own purpose in life has been a very freeing experience for me.

This is an example of how far our church education has gone. I do not fault Skeptic Mom for this. I fault our churches and the teaching curriculum that we often have. Let’s take a story like Jonah. Do we really think the writer of Jonah sat down and wrote the story hoping that the end lesson for his audience would be “God has a plan for your life.”? Unfortunately, too many of us are taught that. I still remember being in the Sunday School class at a church once and hearing that Joshua wrote the book of Joshua so that the Israelites would learn to obey God. This was in fact not a children’s class. This was the college class of which I was a member.

Our college students are getting simplistic teaching at their churches and Ph.d. atheism in the universities (Along with a culture of wanton sexuality) so why are we surprised that so many are falling away into atheism? It’s not really a contest.

If I was starting to teach on the book of Jonah, I’d want to ask some questions first. For instance, do we have any idea of who wrote it? Maybe it was Jonah. Maybe it wasn’t. Do we have any idea of when it was written? What was the context it was written in? Do we know who the audience is? For some books, we might have better answers then others. Then I’d want to know the historical situation going on. Why is this book important enough to be in the canon? For the Old Testament, what did it mean to the early Jews? For the New Testament, what did it mean to the early Christians?

Then I’d want to see what is going on in the book. For Jonah, this isn’t a book about following the will of God, though one certainly should. This is a book about the grace of God. God is a gracious God who desires to see all people come to Him, even a pagan nation like Assyria. In fact, Jonah tells us the reason he did not want to go to Nineveh is because he knew of the grace of God. This is a preacher who has a massive revival after a few days of preaching and he is upset about it. The point we have to ask from the story is who is the God described in the book of Jonah and how are we to live in response?

Much of what Skeptic Mom has here unfortunately comes from a rabid individualism that we have in the text that we center on what the text means for me. We often jump straight to application instead of doing a rich and rewarding look at the text. This also fits in with the idea of “God has a plan for your life” which is something not really taught in Scripture and no, do not dare try to individualize Jeremiah 29:11 on me. Try to look up the context of what is going on in that passage first.

Sometimes people come to me with what they think is a difficult question. They want to know what God’s plan is for their life. I tell them that’s really a simple question and they’re usually surprised. I tell them every time that the answer is to conform them to the likeness of Christ?

“Well what does that say about who I marry?”

“Well you need to marry a Christian of the opposite sex, but the more important question is not what kind of spouse will you marry, but what kind of spouse will you be?”

“What does that say about my career?”

“Don’t work somewhere immoral, but it’s not who will you work for but what kind of worker will you be?”

“Where should I live?”

“It’s not a question of who will be your neighbors, but what kind of neighbor will you be?”

Notice how many times we ask these questions, it’s about what the world and others can do for us instead of the other way around?

So as it turns out, I have great freedom here and so do you. I tire of the idea that we have to find God’s will as if it’s an Easter Egg Hunt and God will give us clues that we’re getting warmer or colder. #1 then is a belief of cultural Christianity. It is foreign to the Bible. Let’s move on to #2. This is about intellectual growth. Skeptic Mom writes that:

When I was a Christian, I did not often think deeply about religious issues. One reason for this was because I didn’t view religion as complex. I thought it was a matter of finding the true religion and the right answers. Often, I simply looked to an authority, such as a trusted minister or the Bible to find answers. The other reason I rarely thought deeply about religion was because my beliefs were rarely challenged. Almost everyone I knew was religious, and those who were not did not challenge my beliefs. It was a subject that was rarely discussed on anything more than a superficial level.

Now that I have become an atheist, I think more deeply about religious issues. Because the majority of people I interact with are people who do not share my perspective on these issues, I am forced to confront another point of view. Even when my beliefs are not directly challenged, I often hear people stating an opinion that differs from my own. This forces me to think about my position on issues to determine what I really think and to determine if I have a good reason for holding my position. Even when I am speaking with another atheist about issues that we agree on, I find the conversations tend to be deeper because we often look at the issues from other points of view to determine if our opinions and assumptions are correct. I think that the reason we can more easily look at different perspectives and possibilities is because neither of us believe that there is a right answer given to us by a deity.

This one really saddens me in particular. As many readers know, I have been on a long crusade to stop anti-intellectualism in the culture. Now do I think in many cases this has hit the atheist movement. Absolutely. Most arguments I see on the internet from atheists are quite frankly embarrassing to look at. I think many in the movement who claims to be “brights” and intellectuals are anything but. Yet if it happened there, I believe it happened because it started with the church first.

And this is the anomaly. You go back and look at the early church and the medieval period and the Reformation era and these were guys who took the life of the mind very seriously. The abandonment of intellectualism in the church around the late 19th century and the early 20th century was one of the worst choices the church ever made. Too many Christians live in a climate of anti-intellectualism where any real thinking is seen as going against the virtue of “faith.” This faith however is certainly not any kind of faith that the Bible endorses. That I have written about elsewhere.

In fact, I would say when I get together with my Christian friends, we have rich intellectual discussions. It’s not “The Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it.” When we do quote the Bible, we also have a great discussion on what the various passages mean and how best to apply them today. My own wife could tell you that if I need to tell her something, I could quote Scripture. I could also quote Lewis or Chesterton or Aristotle or Epictetus. I believe in having a rich intellectual reservoir to draw from and that includes those outside of the church. Christianity provides me a wellspring of knowledge to draw from.

For #3 Skeptic Mom says that the world makes more sense because:

When I was a Christian, there would be times I would learn something that did not fit with my Christian worldview. Often, I would have a brief moment of thinking, “if this is correct, Christianity is not.” Instead of revising my worldview, I would find a way to rationalize my beliefs, decide the information must be incorrect, or ignore that piece of information. For example, I used to believe that our personality was contained within our soul. When we went to the afterlife, our personality would be intact. When I learned how after Phineas Gage suffered a severe head injury his personality changed so drastically that his friends said he no longer seemed to be the same person, I began to see personality as a function of the brain and not the soul. For a moment, I questioned my religious teachings about the soul, but I quickly dismissed this thought and tucked it away in a corner of my mind.

Once I allowed myself to truly consider that my Christian beliefs might be wrong, thoughts I had dismissed came flooding back to my mind. Once I looked at the information without my lens of Christianity, it made more sense. It is very freeing to know that now as I come across new information, I can accept it without trying to make it fit into a preconceived worldview.

I can’t really buy this last part, because we all have a worldview and we will all try to interpret new data in light of that worldview first. Few of us would see a piece of data and decide to chuck our whole worldview at that point. For that to happen, it must be an incredibly convincing piece of data and if you trade in your faith lightly, then it was a faith that you took lightly to begin with.

Now I would like to state that I do not attempt to answer questions really on the relationship of mind and body or dualism like that. That’s not my area. I know many people who do and they happily address objections like this one. This I think is an important part of worldview thinking. You cannot be a master or authority in everything, so you need to learn to be an authority on select issues and seek to learn as much as you can about those. Still, this is a secondary question for Christianity. The primary questions are “Is there a God?” and then “Did He Raise Jesus from the dead?” If one is convinced of these, then one can look at an objection and say “I do not understand that, but I see it does not touch these primary issues so I am willing to think about it, but I am not willing to base my worldview on it.”

I would in fact argue that the world makes more sense on theism. I think theism best explains morality, existence itself, statements of truth, and the life and resurrection of Jesus. I do not think atheism really explains anything. This is part of the problem. I hold my worldview because it makes the most sense. Someone holds the opposite for the same reason. I advise those curious to read the best scholarship on both sides. From there we move on to #4 which is about having a morality that makes sense. Skeptic Mom writes:

I used to assume that whatever God said was right was good. And, anything God said was wrong was a sin. However, there were several Bible stories that I learned in Sunday school where it seemed that God was wrong. For example, I thought it was wrong for God to test Abraham to see if he would sacrifice his beloved son. Even though God did not make Abraham go through with the sacrifice, I thought that the experience had to have been horrifying for both Abraham and Isaac. I also thought it was wrong for God to demand that his subjects be so loyal that they would even be willing to sacrifice their own children. I would not have wanted my parents to be willing to sacrifice me to God and I knew I would never be willing to sacrifice children I might have one day. I struggled to understand how God was right in this and other Bible stories. My Sunday school teachers taught us that when we could not understand God’s ways it was simply because human beings were not smart enough to understand. Assuming that must be the case, I tried not to think too deeply about those stories. Later in life, I also began to question if everything I was taught was a sin was really a sin. Some things that I was taught was a sin, such as premarital sex, did not seem really wrong, at least not all of the time. I had a tough time reconciling how certain things could really be sins worthy of eternal hellfire. Yet, somehow, I assumed they must still be sins if god said they were.

Now that I am an atheist, I no longer believe in the concept of sin. I am not concerned with what the Bible says is right or wrong. I decide for myself whether something is right and wrong based on whether the action is harmful or whether it promotes human flourishing. My judgments are now based on my values. And, when I learn of immoral acts that are by the Bible, I condemn them.

The start is a basic version of Divine Command Theory, which I do not hold to. Still, even a holder of that viewpoint would want to flesh it out even more beyond that. I understand the problem with stories in Sunday School. One key part is that when difficulties were raised, students were told humans are just not smart enough to understand. While there could be some truth to this, in that surely the way a deity could act would be hard for me to understand, let us not dare make a statement that will dissuade the asking of questions and the seeking of answers! When we do that, we are creating atheists.

Just like Skeptic Mom.

Looking at the story of Abraham, it’s important to note that Abraham was told to do this for Isaac was not just a random child, but was the son of the promise. The way to know that Abraham believed the promise was to see if Abraham would act in a way that would put the promise itself in jeopardy. Abraham had himself interacted with God many times and seen miraculous events in his own life, so it wasn’t that he just heard a voice in his head and that had no bearing in reality. He had even spoken to God when God came before him in the form of a human messenger to discuss the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.

Abraham was also an old man and Isaac would have been a much younger one. Anyone really think an old man like Abraham could force Isaac to get on an altar? Isaac was seen as a willing sacrifice, and Isaac lived in a culture where many would die at a young age and death could come from wild animals, enemy raids, or disease at any moment. Finally, let’s not forget that God STOPS the action from taking place. We also see how shocking this must have been for Abraham because the request is so unusual and out of character for God that we think that something has to be up in this whole story. Indeed, there is. This was the way of showing Abraham really believed the promise.

Yet I do not think morality makes sense in atheism. What is the good? What is the evil? To say that which promotes human flourishing is too vague. No doubt many slave owners thought human flourishing was benefited by owning slaves. No doubt many Nazis believed human flourishing was benefited by the final solution. No doubt many communists believed that human flourishing was established by removing those who were impediments to the rule of Communism. We can even ask it on a smaller level. Did the refrigeration industry cause human flourishing when it put many in the ice industry out of a job? Why should we care about human flourishing anyway? What makes us so special? Maybe we should stop having bacon and put pig flourishing primary?

Then of course, what is goodness itself? How does it exist? Is it a reality that is found in things and actions, or is it just this idea that exists in the mind that we apply to those things and actions? Those are two very different positions. One ends in objectivism. One ends in relativism.

I also do not think for a moment that we should take the position that we need the Bible to know right from wrong. I think the Bible teaches many great moral truths, but these could be known apart from Scripture. In fact, passages like Romans 2 that speak of the Law written on our hearts agree with this. The only reason the people in Romans 1 can be held accountable is that they already do have an idea of right from wrong. It is also not like that the Israelites got the Ten Commandments and said “Wow! We have to stop this murder thing! Turns out that’s not a good thing to do!” Christian morality should be informed by the Bible, but also by sound thinking in the study of philosophy and metaphysics.

The last part is a focus on life and here I will quote just the first paragraph.

When I was a Christian, I spent a great deal of time trying to make it to heaven and avoid being sent to Hell. I spent time trying to avoid activities that would bring the condemnation of God, feeling guilty over being a sinful human being, and begging for forgiveness from God for displeasing him. Instead of trying to make this life the best one it could be, I spent a lot of time worrying about the next life.

At this point, I have to wonder what kind of environment Skeptic Mom was in. It sounds like one that was highly legalistic and very anti-intellectual. This is a kind of Christianity that should be abandoned. Let’s consider something interesting about guilt. Recently I did a search on Bible Gateway after a guest on my show noted that guilt is never talked about in Romans. I went to the search tool and put in the word guilt. It was not in Romans, but I noticed something about every time guilt was used. It never once referred to a feeling of guilt. It referred to guilt in the legal sense. The same with innocence. Yet guess what we focus on here in America? Yep. The feeling of guilt, something not talked about at all in the text.

Are there some feelings talked about? Yep. Honor and shame. These permeated the Biblical worldview and yet how often in churches do you hear sermons on honor and shame? If you’re like me, never. In fact, a search for these terms in the Bible show that they showed up far more in the NT than their Western counterparts.

I also see in Skeptic Mom an idea that Christianity should be focused on the next life. To be sure, Christians should be heavenly-minded, but not at the expense of Earth. Earth is not an afterthought. It is not a mistake. It is the place God designed to dwell with His people. We might have interrupted the plan, but we did not ruin it. That is still His plan. The hymn is true that this is my Father’s world. We should focus on Christ, but never lose sight of this life that He has given us. This is the world we live and serve and worship in. This is the world that we are to seek that His will be done here as it is in Heaven. This is the world that we seek to have brought to Christ that He will rule over it.

Too many churches do have this idea that this world doesn’t really matter. Christ does not share that idea. This is the world that He loves.

In the end, I conclude that I have all the things that Skeptic Mom says she has and in fact, I think I have overall a better explanation of reality. Now to get into the arguments for that, there are many other posts on my blog here that can go into each of those, but I especially think Christianity best makes sense of the life and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. It looks like Skeptic Mom got a legalistic and anti-intellectual version of Christianity and sadly threw the baby out with the bathwater. I wonder if she has ever considered reading someone like N.T. Wright and the depths of his knowledge on such subjects.

I also think this is a warning to the church. The Christianity Skeptic Mom abandoned is rampant and people see it as real Christianity. It is not. I do not doubt people in it are real Christians, but it is not because they are following the Bible well and the long Christian tradition. Our churches could all be benefited by better equipping the saints with good theology and doctrine and teaching them how to think and examine both sides of the argument.

Hopefully in fact, both sides of this argument will do that. We could have much better debates.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

A Brief Look At Alexander Cain

Should you really consider buying Alive After The Fall? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

So I was recently asked to give some thoughts on something called Alive After The Fall. Unfortunately, the manuscript is quite expensive and I don’t have the resources to purchase it, but I did look over the web site and it didn’t take long to realize I was looking at the same kind of stuff behind scares like Y2K. It is by an Alexander Cain, which is supposed to be a pen name by someone with a doctorate in theology and ancient history, though one web site said archaeology instead at one of the largest universities in Arkansas. My looking has not been able to establish who this person is at this moment.

So let’s start. Basically, Obama will not finish his second term. He is our last president because we will be attacked by an enemy worse than ISIS, Al Qaeda, North Korea, and Iran combined. (You can’t help but wonder if he’s thinking of a scenario like Independence Day at this point. Supposedly also, the church knows about this, but they don’t want to say a word because they don’t want to cause fear. More of this conspiracy theory cover-up nonsense taking place. So what else does Cain say?

How come America, the world’s only super power, the greatest evangelical nation on the earth, is not even mentioned in the Bible?

After all, as we know, the Bible accurately predicts so many other historical events:

The two world wars, man reaching outer space, the rise and fall of communism and the return of the Jews to their homeland after centuries of exile…

No. We don’t know that. Some could make a case for 1948, but even that one I’m suspicious of. Cain tosses this kind of statement out as if it was self-evident. It’s not. It needs to be argued for, but this will be par for the course for Cain.

Cain wants to know why America isn’t mentioned, and then he centers in on Babylon.

Because, you know, that’s never before been done in the history of interpretation….

So Cain wants us to look at how verses are supposedly about Babylon, but how can they be when they talk about pollution?

But if this is true why do the prophets speak of pollution since there was no pollution in ancient times

“Because thou hast destroyed thy land” (Isaiah 14:20)

“I have polluted mine inheritance, and given them into thine hand” (Isaiah 47:6)

It’s hard to believe that someone with a doctorate in theology does not recognize that in a society that is concerned with ritual cleanliness that pollution would just as much refer to moral pollution. In fact, in the second case, it is God who is doing a kind of pollution. He is allowing his inheritance to be polluted as it were by Babylon for what Judah had done. Cain’s reading of Scripture gets even worse.

Babylon will reach space as it “mounts up to heaven” (Jeremiah 51:53) and “raises its throne above the stars of God” (Isaiah 14:14)

Cain like many futurists is indeed a literalist, but this seems quite bizarre. This is really supposed to be about the space program? It’s hard to believe that anyone will take this seriously. Still, many will. This language is used to refer to pride and not to a literal action that is taking place.

How could Babylon be democracy weighed down by its huge government when we all know the state of Iraq has never had a real democracy?

“Thou art wearied in the multitude of thy counsels.” Isaiah (47:13)

Yes. It’s surprising that someone with a doctorate in ancient history would not know that even in those days, governments had advisors and counselors. The whole of the passage is about those people that Babylon and its rulers would listen to. It is not talking about a Democratic government.

Babylon is a coastal nation, with deep-water ports and many rivers… Most of Iraq is a desert and it has very limited access to the sea
“O thou that dwellest upon many waters, abundant in treasures” (Jeremiah 51:13).

And Babylon is set in the same area and it had a moat to protect it. The Jews in captivity were said to dwell by the waters of Babylon, so what exactly is the problem here?

The country that can fulfill all these descriptions is obviously not ancient Iraq…

The only nation that reached space, has become the world’s only super power, is a democracy with a huge government, a mighty military, pollutes its land and sits on waters abundant in treasures is the United States of America in present times.

But what else do the prophets say about it:

Its beginning was unique and awe-inspiring(Isaiah 18:2): The US was the first state to break away from the British Empire.

America was created out of the former British colonies, a nation made out of many states just like the prophets foretold (Isa 13, 47, Jer. 50, 51).

We speak the English language and we are the descendants of the first British colonies…

That is why the prophet Jeremiah describes England like a mother to the US in verse 50:12.

According to the prophets the mother of Babylon has the symbol of the LION (Daniel 7:4; Ezekiel 38:13; Jer. 51:38; Psalms 17:12)… The royal symbol of England is a lion.

Once again, citing this kind of stuff should be its own refutation. Cain assumes his own interpretation with cut and paste ignoring the larger context of what is going on in the passage. For the symbol of the lion, a lion is a common royal symbol. We might as well say that this refers to Jesus since Jesus is symbolized by the Lion of Judah.

From here we go on to other ideas such as so many billionaires in America are Jewish and thus, this is the nation that was created by the Jews and therefore, we are the ones spoken of in prophecy. This is all said to be very very precise.

Perhaps it is if you play hopscotch with Scripture…

The next area is Babylon being described as a woman. Ah, but the U.N. pretty much rules the world now (Yes. More conspiracy theory stuff) and they meet in New York and what is there but the Statue of Liberty!

ooooooooooooh.

Libertas in Latin, Liberty in English is the name of the ancient Roman goddess of personal freedom especially in sexual matters…

She was referred to as the Mother of Harlots by the famous Roman historian (and senator) Cicero’s and she is considered the matron goddess of prostitution

This means that the statue of liberty is actually a statue of a pagan goddess of sexual freedom and prostitution.

So, does this mean any reference to liberty then is a reference to sexual freedom and a pagan goddess? It would also be nice to know where Cicero makes this connection. None of these claims have any sources. One would think a serious professor of this field would tell where these claims come from. Without being able to establish the premises, I see no reason to believe the conclusion.

We go on to more such as how we use the dollar as an act of sorcery and that we produce so much pornography in this country. Therefore, because of that, we are all obviously being spoken of as ancient Babylon. There can really be only one response to this kind of stuff after awhile.

Aslan Facepalm

He goes on to talk about Russia and how it will be involved in World War 3.

In chapter 11:40, Daniel tells of the two kings who are destined to fight the greatest war in human history at the end times.

He calls these two leaders the King of the North and the King of the south.

Once again, the assumption is that this is talking about end times. Well why should I believe that really?

The key to understanding this clue is the fact that in ancient times the birthplace was very important

And this is why Daniel identifies both kings by their birthplace relative to Jerusalem, the place where he had his visions.

Vladimir Putin was born in St. Petersburg, Russia which lies to the north of Jerusalem.

Does Putin fulfill the other Bible prophecies about him?

(Daniel 11:36): “And the king shall do according to his will”: Putin has absolute power, he controls the media, the military and the economy of Russia. (Daniel 11:37): “Neither shall he regard the gods of his fathers, nor regard any god: for he shall magnify himself above all”.

And we could easily find many rulers that were born north of Jerusalem that do as they will. Why should I immediately jump to Putin? Why in fact should I think that north and south mean north and south relative to Jerusalem? Do they do that anywhere else in the Bible? The southern Kingdom was not called southern because it was south of Jerusalem. It had Jerusalem in it!

It is very important to note that gods is not written with a capital letter because the gods of the fathers Daniel is talking about are the rulers of Communist Russia – Lenin, Marx and Stalin. These and other communist “gods” reigned in Russia for over 80 years. They were practically worshipped and pictures and statues of them were everywhere.

Even if we assumed that the manuscripts were not uncials, that is manuscripts written in only caps, it still would not follow that the gods would be Russian leaders of the past. Could it not be that gods could actually refer to, oh, I don’t know, gods that other nations believed in?

So from there, we move on to the southern king.

(Daniel 11:14) ”And in those times there shall many stand up against the king of the south”. The Obama administration has managed to antagonize a lot of countries: Russia, China, North Korea, a big part of the Muslim world including Syria, Egypt, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and the list goes on and on.

Unfortunately, it is clear that Barak Obama and Vladimir Putin are the kings of prophecy…

Well geez. If that doesn’t sink it in, then what will? Just take a couple of snippets devoid of a larger context, find two people you think it could refer to and presto, FULFILLMENT!

If you do think that this is clear, then please come speak to me about some oceanfront property I have for sale in Montana. I’m selling it cheap!

And from there, we go on to see that Putin is planning to use an Electro-Magnetic Pulse to attack America. While I do think America needs to do some work in case of a Carrington Event, this is just like Y2K all over again. Fortunately, we won’t have to wait too long to see what a fraud this is going to be.

There isn’t much after this except how you need this book to know how to survive. (Odd that Cain needs so much money when it’s going to be useless soon supposedly and isn’t that part of the sorcery of Babylon?) It’s unknown at this point if Cain is willing to refund everyone who buys a copy of his book and everyone who goes out and buys the supplies much like the Y2K scare tactics people did. Oh wait. It’s not really unknown. Even though the answer hasn’t been stated publicly, I think we all know the answer to that question.

You have better usages of your time and better usages of your money than giving them to someone who plays hopscotch with the Bible and makes wild conclusions from flimsy evidence.

Of course, Cain could answer that I’m just part of the church involved in the cover-up. (Because, you know, the church secretly has conversations with Putin regularly on how he’s going to use an EMP.)

But my serious advice is to please ignore people like Cain who are in my opinion ends times hucksters. We’ve seen it all before folks. It’s always been wrong before. How many times do these people have to be wrong before we finally stop taking them seriously?

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Why I Discourage Seeking Signs

Are you really on the right path? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

There’s an oddity in the Christian community that so many Christians are caught up in seeking signs to justify their decisions. How many of us have seen people make very foolish decisions based on signs? This is not to say that signs do not happen at times, but this is to say that we should not be consistently seeking them, as if God is arranging all the works of the universe around any one of us individually. Sometimes, some things just happen. The Christian’s main route to decision making is not to be looking for signs, but in using sound thinking, especially sound thinking informed by Scripture.

When we look in Scripture, signs are quite regularly condemned. Gideon looks for a sign repeatedly, but these signs are actually indicators that he does not have the faith that he should and in fact, he needs them repeatedly. Jesus condemns a generation that asks for a sign and says the only sign that they will be given is the resurrection. Of course, someone could say “What about Hezekiah? He asked for a sign that he was truly healed.” Yes. Hezekiah asked for one because he’d been given two different messages. Both of them were from God and one reversed the other so he needed to know which one God was truly authenticating.

Today, we look at most anything that we see as if it was a sign. This isn’t a new phenomenon. In fact, it was also going on back in the Civil War with each side of the war trying to interpret providence. Most of us have a hard enough time trying to understand what our own spouse is saying a lot of the time. Why should we think that we are going to be able to understand the way God is interacting with reality which has numerous numerous facets that we do not understand? Even sadder when we do this is that we often end up neglecting Scripture which we know He is behind and not treating that message as seriously.

When signs show up in the Bible, they are often there because God is wanting people to do something that is contrary to the way of wisdom. In Scripture, we have a whole book called Proverbs that is all about wise decision making. Perhaps if we are wanting to make a decision, we should consider the route of Proverbs? Let’s consider an important decision like marriage. When it came time for me to marry, what did I do? I looked at the situation. I looked at the things I knew about the woman I was wanting to marry (And I did end up marrying her) and I prayed and studied my Bible and I also took the step of talking to people who I deemed to be wise counselors. This last one is one that we often do not do as well, or sadly when we do do it, we end up not listening to them.

We have often made it a habit of interpreting the Scripture by our experiences. The reverse is true. We should interpret our experiences by Scripture. For those of us especially who claim to be of the Protestant tradition and say that Scripture is our final authority, it looks too often as if we are the final authority. What happens to us determines the way reality is. Along these lines, it can be our feelings that tell us what is going on in the world and how we are to live instead of letting our lives be guided by Scripture. If your feelings tell you one thing and Scripture tells you another, your feelings are wrong. It does not change that you are experiencing them of course, but it does mean you don’t have to listen to them. After all, you can only listen to one of the two if they contradict and if you choose your feelings, you are making your feelings the authority and in essence, making yourself a deity.

The end result is that we don’t think about matters of Christ enough and we listen to ourselves way too much. We become the focal point of reality. We lose the ability to study the Scriptures well and we lose the ability to think well and we become caught up in ourselves. Now I did say God can speak in signs earlier, but when He does, they will be clear, unmistakable, and they will be rare. These are going to be in intense times when the way we are to take really is not what we would expect with the way of Wisdom. Until then, God gave us brains and He intends for us to use them for His glory.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Redeeming Sex

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

Okay. It’s not much of a secret that men like sex and like to think about it. Well, maybe that last part isn’t as true. Men like to fantasize about sex. They like to dream about sex. They especially like to have sex. Not many of them enjoy really thinking about sex. I try to be different, although I certainly enjoy all the other activities, and so when I saw Hirsch’s book on sexuality, I decided to pick it up. Not only that, it’s often good to get a woman’s perspective on sex. Not only that, but it’s good to get the view of a Christian woman on sex.

Hirsch’s book details how she came to Jesus and she came from a lifestyle that had practically done everything sexual that you can imagine, and then some. Today, she says she has a more traditional stance, but when she became a Christian, she had a lot of questions about what the church had to say about sex. That shouldn’t be a shock since so many of us today have the same questions, both inside and outside of the church. Thankfully, Hirsch found a church that while they consisted largely of senior citizens while she and her friends were young rebel types, they loved her with the love of Jesus and the pastor made sure to get them to Jesus first and then let Him be the guiding light in their sexual issues.

So right at the start, I’d like to point out a problem we have in our churches. How often do we talk about sex? I mean really, how often in church do you hear talk about sex? It’s hardly ever. We barely say a thing and when we do, we tend to speak in euphemisms and if it’s some forbidden dirty topic. How often does sex meanwhile show up in the Bible? Abundantly. How much does it show up in the popular culture? Try to turn on the television and not see it! How often are we talking about it in politics? You seen all the debates going on on the nature of marriage? What are we saying about it? Squat.

Hirsch wants to have a real conversation about it and it goes beyond the “Don’t do this” that we hear over and over. It’s really about how we relate to one another. Hirsch says all of our relationships are really sexual to some extent. Of course, some of us are hearing that and thinking “What?! There are several people I don’t have sex with and I don’t have any desire to have sex with!” Hirsch would agree with you. What Hirsch means is that all relationships are to have some degree of intimacy. All involve some sharing of yourself. There is just one relationship for a Christian that is to involve genital sexuality and that is the one that takes place in marriage.

This kind of intimacy is what we all long for on some extent and even those who take a vow of celibacy are longing for it. They long for it with God, which is ultimately what Heaven is. (You know Hirsch’s book is going to be good when the first title is “Oh my God!”) The moment of release that all of genital sexuality is building up to is meant to be seen as a moment of unity and oneness. It is the end result of a final openness to one another, and it is a picture of what Heaven is like. So many in our society chase after that moment and those of us who are married when it comes to sex can suddenly find ourselves being obsessed when the possibility comes up. Personally, I’d consider it the closest one comes to having another personality. It really is reaching for something greater than yourself and getting caught in the experience of another person.

That’s what Heaven is also.

Heaven is not defined by streets of gold or by having a mansion or by playing a harp and sitting on a cloud. (especially since we don’t become angels, but that’s another point.) Heaven is defined by being in right relationship with God through Jesus Christ. Heaven is found by dying to ourselves and giving our lives to Him. Heaven is found by having total and exclusive openness to God and being open to all of His blessings in our lives. Heaven is standing before God naked in our being as it were with no secrets and Him making us to be who we are and giving His life to us.

Which is kind of what sex is entirely. Sex is the symbol that is meant to point us to the reality of God.

The sad thing is we can rob people of this when we tell them sex is something to be feared. Our culture wants to run to sex. We want to run from sex. In reality, Christians should be leading in the best sex that there is. Our God is the one who created sex. It’s all His idea. His pathway should be seen as the best pathway to the best sex that there is. The rest of the world should be looking at the church and saying “I don’t know what they have, but I sure want it.” Should they want us in our holiness and love? Absolutely, but that should also carry over into our sex lives that should be an example to the world.

Hirsch rightly quotes Chesterton who told us that when a man knocks on the door of a brothel, he is looking for God. I wholeheartedly agree. Our chasing after sex is a chasing after intimacy and being accepted and joy and openness. We just too often go to the wrong spot. We spend so much time with the symbol that we miss the far greater reality that sex is pointing to. We stop at the symbol talking about how good it is, and indeed it is, that we don’t realize we’re getting a foretaste. Is sex really just a happy accident in a cosmic meaningless universe, or is it a pointer to something beyond itself?

Also, Hirsch wants us to look to Jesus as our example. Jesus is indeed a sexual person. No. I don’t mean any nonsense like He had a romantic interest in Mary Magdalene or that He was having sex of any kind. I mean that everything He did, He did as a man. In fact, He also did this as a single man, which should be a reminder as Hirsch points out to those of us who can be tempted in the church to look down on singles as if there is something wrong with them because they do not have a spouse. Some of them might want one, and we can help, but some might just not want to get married, and that’s also okay. How can it be a wrong path to choose if Jesus chose it?

The sexual love that we want we often want cheaply, and this can be through promiscuous sex and through pornography. Real sexuality involves real intimacy. It involves being open to the other person entirely, which means you are capable of being hurt. Marriage is one of the most sacred institutions that there is, and it is also one of the most dangerous and risky ones to enter into. When you enter into marriage, you are tying your life to another person and saying that you are open to them. That entails opening yourself up to their love, which is good, but it also entails that you will get hurt from time to time. That’s part of the risk. I have to realize that sadly, I will hurt my wife from time to time. It’s a sad reality. I am a fallen sinful man and sometimes that flesh will come out. That’s part of marriage though. You are open to the hurt because the love you gain is so much greater.

The last half of the book focuses a lot on issues involving homosexuality. Hirsch makes a lot of good points here, though some will be a bit concerned wishing she took a stronger stance at times. Hirsch is certainly right that we have too often given the image of hate-filled and intolerant. Many of us do not, but sadly, the ones that usually get the microphone from the media are the ones we don’t want. Now in all of this, I will state definitely that I think homosexual actions are wrong. I think that marriage is to be between a man and a woman. At the same time, I do not have hatred for homosexuals and too often that is assumed. We have often treated homosexuality as if it’s a disease keeping people away from Jesus. For those of us who do disagree with homosexual practice, we need to realize still that the first way to love our homosexual neighbor, is to get them to Jesus, just like anyone else.

We also too often make a dangerous statement about God removing homosexual desires from someone if they come to Jesus. I’ve heard people say from the pulpit that Jesus will do that if you come to Him and you struggle with them. He could of course. He very well could. This is not a guarantee. As a heterosexual man, Jesus does not take away all my desires to sleep with other women, or take away all of my sinful desires specifically. There are many sins of the flesh that I still struggle with it. Why would we think that Jesus would take away the sinful desires of someone in the homosexual lifestyle and not do the same for someone in the heterosexual lifestyle? I still have my cross that I have to carry.

The first thing we have to do is to learn the person in the LGBT community as a fellow human being even if we disagree with their lifestyle to the core. I often tell men who are wanting to witness to male homosexuals is that the best thing to do is just to be a friend to them. I’m sure they’ve heard enough times what the church thinks about what they do. You don’t have to for a moment affirm what they do, but you do realize that they are human beings that Jesus loves and died for as well. Dare I say it, but maybe you should consider treating them the way you want to be treated? Of course, if they ask your opinion, that doesn’t mean you give a false opinion. If they ask you if you think they are doing something immoral, you can say that, but you yourself are also doing things you know are immoral and you are still to love yourself.

Ultimately, I think Hirsch’s book is quite good. I don’t agree with everything naturally. I don’t think the story of Origen emasculating himself is accurate for instance. The story shows up about a century later and Origen himself was someone who normally interpreted Scripture allegorically. Still, no essential point resides on such a claim. Also, while I do wish sometimes a stronger stance had been taken, I try to realize that Hirsch is trying to walk a very fine line here. There is much that is good in this book and there are plenty of parts I circled and underlined in my reading. I hope it opens us up more to a real conversation on sex and sexuality.

In Christ,
Nick Peters