The Denominations Myth

How many denominations are there? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Have you ever heard the claim about how many denominations there are in Protestantism? This is used by people in Catholicism, Orthodoxy, and even atheists and agnostics. The former against Protestantism and the latter against Christianity. How can anyone take Christianity seriously when there are so many different groups?

The number is often exaggerated and without looking at the source for it. Any high number should be viewed with suspicion, especially if it goes into the tens of thousands. Still, this claim is not without some evidence behind it and even this from a valid source.

If you look at The World Encyclopedia of Christianity you will find that it does indeed say there are over 30,000 denominations. Well, time to pack it up and go home. After all, we’re way too divided if that’s the case.

While there is some division, it is not as much as one would think at a closer look. The division is into six major ecclesiastical blocks. It’s strange how that isn’t the first position cited. Actually, no. No, it’s not. Many people wanting to use arguments without checking their source thoroughly will go with something that falls along their biases. We are all guilty of this tendency and we must all check ourselves.

This is a list of these kinds of groups. If you look, you will find that Orthodoxy and Catholicism both have a number of denominations listed in them. This is based on the kinds of rites that they follow. It’s doubtful whether any practitioner of these traditions thinks that these all count as different denominations.

Some denominations are also based on a particular need. Consider the case of a Korean church for instance. They want a church that speaks their language and understands their culture. Their beliefs could be identical to the Baptist church down the street in terms of doctrine, but they would still be another denomination.

Also, consider that in a city like mine, Atlanta, you could have churches in different areas that are independent Baptist. These are not tied to a hierarchial order. Suppose they all have the same beliefs doctrinally, but they are far apart because this is a big city and not everyone wants to drive fifty miles or however much it is to get to church. Each of these would count as one denomination.

Someone might say, “Well, Nick. Of course, you’re going to say this. You’re a Protestant.” Fair enough, but first off, that doesn’t deal with the evidence I present. Second, it doesn’t deal with the fact that a Roman Catholic writer also recognizes the problem. Does this show that Catholicism or Orthodoxy are incorrect? Not at all. It does show that this is a bad argument for their position, just as there are bad arguments for Christianity, Protestantism, Sola Scriptura, and any other position.

For a humorous look at this, I recommend also the video my ministry partner, J.P. Holding made.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Does Jesus’s Prayer Show Christianity is false?

Is disunity a disproof of Christianity? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

It’s always interesting to me the arguments skeptics of Christianity will present. I prefer to always go back to the case of the resurrection to show Christianity is true, but too many skeptics go everywhere else. It could be something such as “Well geez, in the OT it looks like slavery was allowed and I don’t like that so Christianity is false”, though this doesn’t show how Jesus rose from the dead. Some think that if they can show an error in the Bible, then this means all of the Bible is thrown out and Christianity is false. Some think that if we can’t explain starving children in Africa, then Christianity is false, though this does not show Jesus did not rise from the dead.

Now I’m not saying that those are unimportant questions and objections. They are and we should be ready to answer them, but if you want to prove that Christianity is false, you have to go for the main point. You have to demonstrate Jesus did not rise from the dead. Unfortunately, Neil Carter did not get that memo.

Carter starts off his argument by saying that Christians love to move matters of faith from objective matters to subjective ones. For too many Christians, I sadly agree this is true. There are too many Christians that look at their lives and their emotions and experiences as proof that Christianity is true. Unfortunately, Mormons are also very good at saying the exact same things and Mormonism and Christianity are directly opposed to one another. Christians must move their arguments to objective matters. After that, it is fine to show what a difference Christianity has made in your life, but Christianity is not true because it produces good results for you. It produces good results because it is true. It’s quite revealing also that Carter says he himself was one of these people. (Think you see the problem showing up already?)

Carter then goes on to say that

These folks always seem to want to attribute our skepticism to ulterior motives because that fits what they were taught from the pulpit. This interpretation also reassures them that our reasons for disbelieving cannot be truly rational ones. If they are rational, then they themselves might have to do a major overhaul of how they see the world, and let me tell you that’s no cake walk. I guess I can’t say I blame them. The social repercussions alone can be devastating, depending on where you live.

I find this quite amusing. Carter wants to accuse other people of knowing other peoples’ motives for disbelieving. He could be right or wrong, but the point is in the very next sentence, Carter does this himself! He says that Christians do this because they want to believe they are the truly rational ones. What’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. As far as I’m concerned, I don’t bring up a motive unless someone paints a very vested interest in something. Are there improper motives for being an atheist? Yes. Are there improper motives for being a Christian? Yes. What matters is the data.

Let’s go on.

Christian apologists insist that, strictly speaking, one cannot prove that God does not exist. But that depends on which God we’re discussing, doesn’t it? They rarely seem to understand why that detail matters so much. See, if we’re arguing whether or not a generic Supreme Being exists, devoid of any attributes whatsoever (is it a person? is it male? does it want things? does it tell us what they are?), then there’s not really much to debate. Generic Supreme Beings don’t make any testable claims.

At the start of his article, Carter had spoken of a claim as being unfalsifiable and here he is speaking of it not being testable. In this, Carter is likely turning the question into a scientific question when it is not. It is a metaphysical question. Could we do any scientific testing to demonstrate that the square root of 4,096 is 64? Could we do scientific testing to determine if a husband and wife love each other? Could we do it to determine that it is wrong to torture babies for fun? Could we even do scientific testing to demonstrate that the material world exists? None of these are questions answerable by science, but all of them are answerable.

I also find it odd that Carter says we insist that God’s existence cannot be disproven. I know many apologists who would disagree, including myself. What Carter would need to do is to show a disproof of all of the arguments, including the classical ones, and then a disproof, such as in showing a necessary contradiction in the nature of God. Thus, this is something that could hypothetically be doable. It just hasn’t been done yet.

As Carter goes on, he is right to say that the God of Christianity does make claims, but unfortunately, it looks like he uses the same kind of fundamentalist reading as the Christians he critiques. We will see this more as we go on, but he speaks about messages shared on Facebook walls. Now I have no problem with someone sharing inspirational messages and such, but there are many of these that Carter should also realize we think are just horribly ripped out of context or misunderstood. You can see examples of that with Jeremiah 29:11 both here and here. That’s just a start.

So we go on.

If the Christian faith were true, we shouldn’t have to endlessly debate the historical reliability of religious texts written centuries ago. If the Christian faith were true, there would be evidence of it everywhere, here and now, not just buried under thousands of years of sediment, or between the pages of an onion skin book.

Okay…..

Why?

Is it because it would be easier to deal with instead of doing things like, you know, actual historical research. (Which would get us into that objective stuff instead of subjective material.) Despite this, I do think there is plenty of evidence of it everywhere. As Chesterton would say, if Christianity is true, everything is relevant to it. If it is not true, then it is of no relevance whatsoever. As I said though, Carter uses a fundamentalist reading of the text and we see that coming up now.

Hospitals and prisons should have fewer Christians in them than they have people of any other faith. Why? Because both Jesus and James said that if the church prays for its sick, they will be healed, and the apostle Paul claimed that the indwelling Holy Spirit would not let any temptation befall you without providing “a way out so that you can endure it.” If either of these things were true, there would be a statistically significant difference between the outcomes of one religion versus another. The cold, hard fact is: There isn’t.

I would like to know where Jesus said this. I suspect he is referring to the discourse in John 14-16, but even there we do not really see a blank check. This is a common misunderstanding of people who live in a modern individualistic society instead of interacting with the culture Jesus lived in. In Jesus’s time, if you wanted to get a blessing, it was up to the generosity of the patron and if it furthered his honor overall, he would be likely to give. To ask in His name would mean in accordance with the will of Jesus. Sometimes what we want is not really along those lines. I suspect one such passage he has in mind is this one from John 14:

13 And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.

If this was to be a blank check, how do we explain these?

John 16:33“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

John 16:2 They will put you out of the synagogue; in fact, the time is coming when anyone who kills you will think they are offering a service to God.

John 15:20 Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also.

Unfortunately, many lazy skeptics will look and just say “Contradiction!” and then conclude Jesus did not rise from the dead. The researcher though tries to understand what is being said. Could it be Jesus is using terminology that is understandable in His day and not as much in ours? Indeed. Removed from the system of Jesus, the message makes far less sense to us. (Unfortunately at this point, the same lazy skeptics will say Jesus should have been clearer and spoken in Ancient Israel with a modern 21st century American audience in mind.)

The James quote no doubt refers to this:

14 Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. 16 Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.

This prayer however is more connected with sickness. After all, the same James who said that also said in James 1:2 to

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds.

Forgiveness and sin are however tied together in this passage which refers to a sickness due to sin in the life of the believer. Why go to the church? One good reason is doctors were expensive. You might as well go to a church. Oil was a medicine that was more available and nothing wrong with prayer.

Naturally of course, we have repeated the myth about more Christians being in prison. Carter also says that when we are tempted, there will be a way out. Indeed, there will be. Does that mean we will always take it? It’s as if in Carter’s world if everyone is not living a perfect Christian life, then Jesus did not rise. Maybe it’s just me, but it looks like this is a subjective disproof. I say the same about his main disproof in John 17:20-23.

I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you…that they may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me… (emphasis his)

Now this raises a number of questions, but first can we establish that this wish has most certainly not been granted? The church has done many things down through the centuries, but maintaining unity has not been one them. Jesus here likens the unity he wishes for the church to the unity of the triune God (a concept you won’t see so clearly in any other gospel, which is a problem in itself). But to date the Christian church has splintered into thousands (some would say tens of thousands) of non-cooperating traditions. Oh sure, they still read the same Bible (mostly), but they have proven incapable of worshiping under the same roof with anyone who believes or practices the Christian faith “the wrong way.”

We’ll ignore the thing about the Trinity for now since that will take us off course, though we could say Carter has not done any of the reading necessary in NT scholarship to realize that there are other ways to state something other than explicitly and Jesus’s actions would be definitely showing who He was in the other Gospels. As for the splintering into tens of thousands, this also is an internet myth. I would contend there is in fact more unity than Carter realizes. I happen to attend a Lutheran church and do the writing of the curriculum for them. Do I identify as a Lutheran? Nope. I don’t identify with any denomination honestly. I do ministry quite often alongside Catholics and people in the Orthodox traditions. I have zero problem whatsoever with this. I am happily married to a woman who I disagree with on some doctrinal issues. Are there always going to be people who major on the minors? Sadly yes, and such people need to look at Jesus’s prayer more.

Of course, this unity would be a way of showing the world that Jesus came from the Father, but that does not mean that if the unity is not reached that Jesus did not come from the Father. The ultimate establishment of that was in the resurrection of Jesus. What Carter would need to show is Jesus saying “If they are not in unity, then I am not the one you sent.” That is not what was said. (Let’s also not forget that Jesus had hoped for any way also to avoid the cross and yet He didn’t.) Carter goes on to say

That was a really, really bad move. Maybe even worse than the time when he promised that the people standing there in front of him would witness the Second Coming and the Judgment Day before the end of their lifetimes (see Matt. 16:27-28 and 24:34). Whoops. Lots of theologians have worked hard to explain that one away, and they can manage to cover some of it by referencing stuff that happened around the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. But some of the events Jesus foretold there most certainly did not happen within the lifetimes of his original listeners. It doesn’t matter how much you try to chalk up to apocalyptic language and metaphor.

It’s worth pointing out that neither of those passages are about the return of Christ. One is about seeing the Son of Man coming in His Kingdom. That does not say return. It is a fundamentalist reading Carter has thrown onto the text. The same with Matthew 24:34. Jesus hadn’t even left and His disciples would have thought He was becoming king. They had no concept of Him leaving so why would they ask about a return? No. This is also talking about the same thing and I would contend that both of those happened in 70 A.D. Carter says it doesn’t matter how much you try to chalk it up to apocalyptic language or metaphor. Yes. Because obviously Jesus should have spoken for modern 21st century Americans and if He didn’t, then we can just throw it out. Sounds again like a subjective criteria….

Now we get to what Carter says the excuses are. (None of them speak of reading good scholarship on the material of course.)

One could perhaps argue that this prayer of Jesus shouldn’t count as a “testable promise” in the same vein as the other things I mentioned above. But then why was it recorded for us in the first place, if not to be communicated to the world along with the rest of their message? Clearly we were meant to know of this request, so recalling it here is completely appropriate. Often the Bible says that Jesus went off alone to pray, and presumably we shouldn’t know the content of those prayers since no one would have been around to record them (and yet we still are privy to some of them even though Jesus didn’t write any of this stuff himself). But in this case we are told what he prayed because he did it out loud in front of his followers.

Again, I question the testable claim, but how about saying this is shown because we are to know how Jesus handled the most important week of His life, the passion week. We are also to know Jesus’s prayer so we as good followers of His can do what we can to fulfill His desires. Carter assumes a modern scientific understanding of testing the claim, which again puts us in a bizarre world. It could be that there is sufficient evidence that God raised Jesus from the dead vindicating His claims and yet somehow Christianity is false? Huh?

What about the second one?

One could also argue that there’s still time for God to answer this prayer in the affirmative. After all, doesn’t the Good Book say that “with him a thousand years is like a day?” Isn’t that the very rationalization used by Peter after decades had gone by with none of the apocalyptic predictions coming to pass (see 2 Peter 3:3-9)? He argues there that God is holding off on incinerating the earth out of a patient desire to allow as many to change their minds as possible. Isn’t that gracious of him?

Never mind that Carter’s literalism is coming in again, but I also don’t take this passage in that way. Do some things take time? Yes. No need to jump to 2 Peter 3 for that. Carter will contend as he does that that means that people for 20 centuries had no reason to not buy into Christianity, but this assumes that Carter’s idea is true that this is the clinching proof of Christianity, and it is not. The clinching proof is the resurrection. (Again, Carter seems to like to use subjective criteria. Looks like not much has changed in his thinking. It’s only his loyalty that’s different.)

Perhaps the saddest part of all to me is how the more self-aware Christians will take a post like this and just use it as yet another tool for beating themselves up. If the Christian message teaches people anything, it’s to be responsive to guilting. But beating up the church for its inability to maintain unity down through the centuries doesn’t make sense, either, because aren’t prayers supposed to be asking God to make things happen that only he can do? If this is something miraculous, something which requires divine provision, then why are you guilting yourselves for the failure of this prayer? Which one of you is God, now?

No. This is not said to be something miraculous. If anything, for the time of Jesus, everything was thought to come from God or the gods. You were to give thanks in all things and there was no divide between the natural and the supernatural for them, which is another reason I don’t accept the distinction. The divine was involved in everything. The same would go with obedience. You were to pray to be faithful, to not be led into temptation, etc. This does not involve God shooting you with a magic power to make you do His will. This is just your prayers become a way of actively subjugating yourself to God and thus changing your will to work with His.

Does this mean there is no grounds by which the church should speak to itself? Of course not. We are to motivate one another to good works and this prayer should raise a desire for all of us to try to come together. Will we agree on everything? No. Can we agree on the essentials? Yes.

Now let’s hope internet skeptics up their game and try to go after the resurrection instead of, you know, this subjective stuff.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Faith vs. Fact Part 2

Does Coyne get any better? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Last time, I spoke of a big blunder coming up in Coyne’s book. It was one paragraph I definitely had to type out immediately because it shows what is so symptomatic of the problem. Note that Coyne would not be happy with someone like me who does not study science seriously speaking on something like evolution. He would be right in that. Yet somehow, Coyne thinks he has justification to speak on history and Biblical interpretaton. How? Let’s take a look.

The following paragraph is one that is so full of mistakes it is hard to know where to begin. If I had to say what is the most ignorant part in this book, it would be this paragraph:

“If you want to read much of the Bible as allegory, you must overturn the history of theology, rewriting it to conform to your liberal, science-friendly faith. Besides pretending that you’re following in the tradition of ancient theologians, you must also explain the way you can discern truth amid the metaphors. What is allegory and what is real? How do you tell the difference? This is particularly difficult for Christians, because the historical evidence for Jesus—that is, for a real person around whom the myth accreted—is thin. And evidence for Jesus as the Son of God is unconvincing, resting solely on the assertions of the Bible and interpretations of people writing decades after the events described in the Gospels.”

Internet atheists will eat this up as if its a powerful indictment of their enemy. Anyone who has bothered to study any sort of history of the New Testament or taken a single course on hermeneutics will just be shaking their head wondering how someone can consider themselves an intelligent person and write something like this.

Let’s start at the beginning. Reading the Bible as allegory will not overturn much of history. Before the rise of modern science, Origen and Augustine were already doing the same. Some of the ways the early church read Scripture was indeed quite creative. The reason Coyne does not know about this is that quite simply, he has not read them. Coyne asks us how can we tell which is allegory and which is not as if this is a stumper question. Well geez. How about we use the same kind of methodology we’d use when we study any ancient document. Heck. Just use what you’d use for modern documents. Look at this review of Super Bowl XXII. Here are some key phrases:

Like worthless documents the Denver Broncos were cut up, torn apart and scattered about San Diego’s Jack Murphy Stadium by Olle North’s favorite team.

The Washington Redskins’ Sunday massacre was 42-10.

The slaughter was on.

A tremor started Super Bowl week in San Diego. A Washington earthquake ended it.

How do you know what’s literal? How do you know what isn’t? Now to be fair, sometimes you see terms like “like” which are a clue, but sometimes you don’t, and this is common in this kind of writing. How does Coyne tell? Most of us have a good rule. We use our brains and figure it out. In Coyne’s world, it is all-or-nothing. Either the whole Bible is literal or it’s all allegorical and metaphors. There’s no attempt to try to understand the genre of a passage. (For instance, most Old Testament scholars note a difference between Genesis 1-11 and the rest of Genesis and most New Testament scholars agree the Gospels are Greco-Roman biographies.) When you read wisdom literature, you are reading a lot of heavy poetry. When you read the prophets, you can expect many times to see apocalyptic imagery that is not to be read literally. This problem was also confronted by C.S. Lewis in his day who said in Mere Christianity that:

“There is no need to be worried by facetious people who try to make the Christian hope of ‘Heaven’ ridiculous by saying they do not want ‘to spend eternity playing harps’. The answer to such people is that if they cannot understand books written for grown-ups, they should not talk about them. All the scriptural imagery (harps, crowns, gold, etc.) is, of course a merely symbolical attempt to express the inexpressible. Musical instruments are mentioned because for many people (not all) music is the thing known in the present life which most strongly suggests ecstasy and infinity. Crowns are mentioned to suggest the fact that those who are united with God in eternity share His splendour and power and joy. Gold is mentioned to suggest the timelessness of Heaven (gold does not rust) and the preciousness of it. People who take these symbols literally might as well think that when Christ told us to be like doves, He meant that we were to lay eggs.”

I do not have to agree with all of Lewis’s interpretation, but I think he is treating the text better than literalists like Coyne.

But it gets worse for Coyne.

Coyne actually says the evidence for a historical Jesus is thin. This is another case of Coyne stepping outside of his field and probably relying on people like Dan Barker and Richard Carrier. Carrier is at least a scholar in the field, and he’s on the fringe. He does not teach at an accredited university for instance. There are thousands of NT and classical scholars out there and the number that hold that Jesus never existed can be counted on one hand. You can find more people with doctorates in the relevant field who hold to geocentrism than you can people who hold to Christ mythicism. For a man who write so much about the lunacy of ID in his mind, he should not speak here because there are far more credentialed scientists in the field of ID than there are credentialed historians of the time who hold to Christ mythicism.

Do I have any works to show Jesus existed? One that shows up in the bibliography of Coyne’s is actually Bart Ehrman’s. He could also consider these videos:

Another work is Maurice Casey’s book on the topic. Finally, he could go with Van Voorst.

He will in fact find few scholars writing on this simply because it really isn’t on the radar and most scholars don’t waste their time with arguments on the internet. From a non-scholarly perspective, he could go here or to the series of Ebooks on the topic here.

Of course, we also have the decades later claim. Of course, the writings are decades later, but in the ancient world, so is practically everything. Our biographies of Alexander the Great are centuries after his time. Coyne lives in a world where you write things down immediately so everyone can hear about them. Not so then. Oral tradition was more reliable to the people and it was absolutely free. Writing the Gospels was incredibly expensive and would have in fact reached fewer people since fewer people could read. Coyne could have been better served by reading a work like Walton and Sandy’s. Robert McIver’s work would have done him well as well.

Oral tradition was hardly like a game of telephone. The stories were told in community and repeated often and there were people branded gatekeepers as it were who would make sure the story was being told accurately. Minor details could be changed provided the whole thrust of the story stayed the same. We do this in our own storytelling today where we recount a story and we will change minor details in a story while still maintaining the basic truth or we will omit a part for one audience. If Mormons come to visit me, my parents will get an account of how the discussion went. If I call my in-laws, who are much more apologetically inclined, they will get a much fuller account.

Coyne also writes about the life of Jesus and how historians of the time did not write about it, particularly the events surrounding the crucifixion. This is more of a Remsberg’s List type of approach to the matter which probably came from Barker, yet even atheists have a problem with it. Jesus in His time was a nobody from a town called Nazareth, which no one cared about, in an area of the world valued mainly for its path for trade but whose customs were viewed as bizarre by others, who never traveled outside of his country as an adult, never went to battle, never wrote a book, never ran for office, and didn’t establish a philosophy. To top it off, He was crucified, the ultimate shame and disgrace in the ancient world. What would a Roman say far off in Rome who heard about Him? “Not worth talking about.” Oh! But He did miracles. This would make it worse. Jesus would be seen as a huckster then much like Benny Hinn is today. The stories about what happened would be seen to non eye-witnesses as Old Wives’ Tales.

In fact, if we want to talk about historians of the time, let’s talk about Hannibal. This was the guy who was Rome’s great opponent and nearly conquered them and who trampled over most every army Rome sent after him. This was a master general. In light of his great achievements, how many of his contemporaries talk about him? Answer? Zero.

How about Queen Boudica who raised an uprising against Rome. How many contemporaries talked about her? Zero.

How about the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius that destroyed two cites killing 250,000? How many accounts do we have? (Not allusions. Accounts.) We have one off-the-cuff remark in an exchange between Pliny and Tacitus. We don’t even hear about the other town from a historical account until Dio Cassius writes later on.

If we focus it in on Judea and ask how many historians we have writing about Messiah figures, that is an easy number.

We have one.

Josephus.

And he did talk about Jesus, despite what many internet atheists would have you think. The Testimonium account is seen by scholars largely as only partially interpolated. It’s a wonder Jesus is even mentioned. For other Messiah figures, you had to call out Roman troops. Jesus didn’t have anything requiring a massive army. Pilate seems to have no idea who Jesus is in the Gospels when he first sees Him.

On page 67 Coyne says

Theologians intensely dislike the definition of faith as belief without — or in the face of — evidence, for that practice sounds irrational. But it surely is, as is any system that requires supporting a priori beliefs without good evidence. In religion, but not science, that kind of faith is seen as a virtue.

Here’s why we dislike it. It’s for the same reason atheists don’t like being identified as God-haters. We don’t see it as an accurate description. Theologians go by evidence just as much. Coyne might want to say the Bible doesn’t count, but the reality is theologians have evidential reasons for believing the Bible is what it claims to be, and that’s because we study the claims from a historical perspective. It’s not because of some nebulous feeling. For theology alone, we also use philosophy and specifically metaphysics to study the nature of God. This was the exact way Aristotle did and I don’t think we want to say Aristotle was anti-evidential. He, like his intellectual descendants, the Thomists (Including myself) was an empiricist.

Coyne also wants to go after Tertullian for saying “The Son of God died: it is immediately credible—because it is silly. He was buried, and rose again: it is certain—because it is impossible.” Interestingly, there is no primary source cited which tells me that Coyne never read the original source. Not very scientific really. The reference comes from On The Flesh of Christ, which is a response to Marcion and a refutation of a more docetic position which denied that Christ came in physical flesh. All this is in the fifth chapter.

There are, to be sure, other things also quite as foolish (as the birth of Christ), which have reference to the humiliations and sufferings of God. Or else, let them call a crucified God “wisdom.” But Marcion will apply the knife to this doctrine also, and even with greater reason. For which Is more unworthy of God, which is more likely to raise a blush of shame, that God should be born, or that He should die? that He should bear the flesh, or the cross? be circumcised, or be crucified? be cradled, or be coffined? be laid in a manger, or in a tomb? Talk of “wisdom!” You will show more of that if you refuse to believe this also. But, after all, you will not be “wise” unless you become a “fool” to the world, by believing” the foolish things of God.” Have you, then, cut away all sufferings from Christ, on the ground that, as a mere phantom, He was incapable of experiencing them? We have said above that He might possibly have undergone the unreal mockeries of an imaginary birth and infancy. But answer me at once, you that murder truth: Was not God really crucified? And, having been really crucified, did He not really die? And, having indeed really died, did He not really rise again? Falsely did Paul “determine to know nothing amongst us but Jesus and Him crucified; ” falsely has he impressed upon us that He was buried; falsely inculcated that He rose again. False, therefore, is our faith also. And all that we hope for from Christ will be a phantom. O thou most infamous of men, who acquittest of all guilt the murderers of God! For nothing did Christ suffer from them, if He really suffered nothing at all. Spare the whole world’s one only hope, thou who art destroying the indispensable dishonour of our faith Whatsoever is unworthy of God, is of gain to me. I am safe, if I am not ashamed of my Lord. “Whosoever,” says He, “shall be ashamed of me, of him will I also be ashamed.” Other matters for shame find I none which can prove me to be shameless in a good sense, and foolish in a happy one, by my own contempt of shame. The Son of God was crucified; I am not ashamed because men must needs be ashamed of it. And the Son of God died; it is by all means to be believed, because it is absurd. And He was buried, and rose again; the fact is certain, because it is impossible. But how will all this be true in Him, if He was not Himself true-if He really had not in Himself that which might be crucified, might die, might be buried, and might rise again? I mean this flesh suffused with blood, built up with bones, interwoven with nerves, entwined with veins, a flesh which knew how to be born, and how to die, human without doubt, as born of a human being. It will therefore be mortal in Christ, because Christ is man and the Son of man. Else why is Christ man and the Son of man, if he has nothing of man, and nothing from man? Unless it be either that man is anything else than flesh, or man’s flesh comes from any other source than man, or Mary is anything else than a human being, or Marcion’s man is as Marcion’s god. Otherwise Christ could not be described as being man without flesh, nor the Son of man without any human parent; just as He is not God without the Spirit of God, nor the Son of God without having God for His father. Thus the nature of the two substances displayed Him as man and God,-in one respect born, in the other unborn; l in one respect fleshly in the other spiritual; in one sense weak in the other exceeding strong; in on sense dying, in the other living. This property of the two states-the divine and the human-is distinctly asserted with equal truth of both natures alike, with the same belief both in respect of the Spirit and of the flesh. The powers of the Spirit, proved Him to be God, His sufferings attested the flesh of man. If His powers were not without the Spirit in like manner, were not His sufferings without the flesh. if His flesh with its sufferings was fictitious, for the same reason was the Spirit false with all its powers. Wherefore halve Christ with a lie? He was wholly the truth. Believe me, He chose rather to be born, than in any part to pretend-and that indeed to His own detriment-that He was bearing about a flesh hardened without bones, solid without muscles, bloody without blood, clothed without the tunic of skin, hungry without appetite, eating without teeth, speaking without a tongue, so that His word was a phantom to the ears through an imaginary voice. A phantom, too, it was of course after the resurrection, when, showing His hands and His feet for the disciples to examine, He said, “Behold and see that it is I myself, for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have; ” without doubt, hands, and feet, and bones are not what a spirit possesses, but only the flesh. Howdo you interpret this statement, Marcion, you who tell us that Jesus comes only from the most excellent God, who is both simple and good? See how He rather cheats, and deceives, and juggles the eyes of all, and the senses of all, as well as their access to and contact with Him! You ought rather to have brought Christ down, not from heaven, but from some troop of mountebanks, not as God besides man, but simply as a man, a magician; not as the High Priest of our salvation, but as the conjurer in a show; not as the raiser of the dead, but as the misleader of the living,-except that, if He were a magician, He must have had a nativity!

Looking at the quote in its context, one can see that Marcion is trying to say that to have Jesus do the things Jesus did if He was deity is silly because no God would do that. Tertullian’s point is “Right. No one would make this up. That’s how we can be sure it’s credible.” Historians do the same thing today with the criterion of embarrassment. If a document contains information that’s embarrassing for the claimant or the side he represents, it has a greater likelihood of being true.

Coyne also is confused about the spirit of curiosity that is condemned, but that is not intellectual learning being condemned. It is looking into matters we have no business looking into for they serve no practical purpose and I would add, this includes occult knowledge.

As for Martin Luther’s view of reason, but as the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy says

German theologian, professor, pastor, and church reformer. Luther began the Protestant Reformation with the publication of his Ninety-Five Theses on October 31, 1517. In this publication, he attacked the Church’s sale of indulgences. He advocated a theology that rested on God’s gracious activity in Jesus Christ, rather than in human works. Nearly all Protestants trace their history back to Luther in one way or another. Luther’s relationship to philosophy is complex and should not be judged only by his famous statement that “reason is the devil’s whore.”

Given Luther’s critique of philosophy and his famous phrase that philosophy is the “devil’s whore,” it would be easy to assume that Luther had only contempt for philosophy and reason. Nothing could be further from the truth. Luther believed, rather, that philosophy and reason had important roles to play in our lives and in the life of the community. However, he also felt that it was important to remember what those roles were and not to confuse the proper use of philosophy with an improper one.

Properly understood and used, philosophy and reason are a great aid to individuals and society. Improperly used, they become a great threat to both. Likewise, revelation and the gospel when used properly are an aid to society, but when misused also have sad and profound implications.

On pages 70-71, Coyne seems shocked that issues at Nicea was settled by a vote.

Well what would he have preferred?

After all the evidence was presented, would he have preferred that Constantine open up the coliseum and let both sides duke it out and the winner would get to establish the view of Christ for the future? Would he have preferred that one side just claim a revelation from above as to the nature of Jesus and everyone else submit? (We can be sure Coyne would have been thrilled with that.) What was done was the same methodology we use today. I do not see Coyne complaining about using a jury system to establish if a man should get life in prison or not today. That’s also a pretty major issue, at least for the defendant. Coyne should also know that this was not a close vote at all. It was about 300+ to 2. That’s how serious the evidence was in favor of the orthodox position.

On page 83, Coyne asks why believers in Islam and Christianity and other mainstream faiths are not as critical of their own religion as they are of new beliefs like Mormonism and Scientology. First off, this is just false. Many people do study other belief systems. I have read all of the Scripture of Mormonism. (Not all the statements of their president for sure, but I have done much reading.) I have also read the Koran and I have read the Tao Te Ching and the Analycts of Confucius. I happen to think it’s important to be informed on other belief systems. Do I have the time to investigate all of them? Not at all, but I do watch critically my own. That’s why I read books like Coyne’s regularly.

Coyne’s ultimate explanation though is that because Christianity and Islam are old, we can’t readily critique their claims of divine origin. One can’t help but wonder what world Coyne is living in with this kind of claim. Does he not know that New Testament scholarship regularly discusses this kind of claim for Christianity? What does he think Crossan is writing about in a book like The Birth of Christianity? What does he think Ludemann is interested in when he’s writing about What Really Happened To Jesus? These questions are discussed regularly. Once again, Coyne is just demonstrating his own ignorance on the subject matter. He needs to get back to evolutionary biology instead of embarrassing himself here.

Naturally, there must be the myth again of all the different denominations. Unfortunately, Coyne does not know what he’s talking about again. It is not as if all these denominations have wildly different beliefs. Some could be denominations of a specific people group, such as Koreans wanting to establish their own Korean churches where doctrinally, they’d agree with many Christians. Others could have different styles of worship. Even where there are doctrinal differences, Christians across the board tend to hold to the first four church councils.

But the biggest problem is that most people don’t know what counts as a denomination. For the purposes of the research done, a denomination is usually defined as a self-governing entity. Let’s suppose you live in a large town. There are two independent Baptist churches on each side of town because people want them and people on each side need to go there. These Baptist churches have identical worship styles and identical doctrinal statements. Okay. How many denominations do you have?

Two.

Why? They both worship the same way and believe the same thing. Yes. They’re also both self-governing.

Coyne, like many atheists, takes a brief statement and runs with it and doesn’t bother doing any research on the topic. Strange for someone who wants his beliefs to be evidence-based.

Of course, Coyne would probably exclude his own beliefs from any real research by studying the other side anyway. He naturally quotes with favor the Outsider Test for Faith by John Loftus, yet one wonders if he’s read David Marshall’s masterful response. Would Coyne be willing to read the best the other side has to offer to critique his view? He certainly hasn’t done so here. Perhaps the advocate of skepticism should practice the gospel that he teaches before suggesting we all join his movement.

He speaks disparagingly of J.P. Moreland on page 89 of his book asking Moreland to tell us which worldview is true and which is false out of all the faiths out there. Coyne might think this is a proper taunt to make to Moreland, but as one might expect, nowhere is Moreland’s Scaling the Secular City anywhere interacted with and it certainly does not make a mention in the bibliography. For one wanting to know what Moreland’s views are, perhaps Coyne would have been well served by going to a library and looking for them.

That’s enough for us to deal with today. Tomorrow, we’ll dive in even more. We’re only about 2/3rds in and already found this much problematic. Who knows what we’ll find next?

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Part 1 can be found here.

Part 3 can be found here.

Part 4 can be found here.

Part 5 can be found here.

Apostles Creed: The Holy Catholic Church

Can a Protestant say they believe in the Holy Catholic Church? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

Sometimes, I discuss the question of Catholicism, but in the long run, it doesn’t really interest me that much. As it stands, I have numerous other things to study and I tend to focus on what Lewis referred to as “Mere Christianity.” I am Protestant and actually attend a Lutheran church at the moment. Am I ready to sign on the dotted line and say I’m a Lutheran? No. Still, I think our church right now is simply wonderful and I look forward to what we’re doing and I’m honored to get to serve.

My own position with regards to Catholics and at this point I could say members of the various churches called Orthodox (With a capital o as really, all churches should seek to be orthodox in their teaching) is that they are my brothers and sisters in Christ. I am certainly not one of those who thinks the Catholic Church is hellbound or that the Pope is the antichrist or such ideas as that. I am thankful that my Catholic brothers and sisters that I interact with also do not call my Christianity into question.

Some readers out there might be saying that there are several lost Catholics out there. You know what? I agree with them.

There are also several lost Baptists, Presbyterians, Lutherans, Methodists, Pentecostals, etc.

Now the word Catholic really means universal. A good Christian can then say they believe in a universal church. Some might wonder about this with the supposed claim of x thousand denominations. (The number keeps changing.) The reality is that this claim is usually not looked into too much. You could have two churches in the same town that have the exact same belief and both of them could be counted as denominations. Why? Because these are self-governing bodies. There could be two in the same town because maybe it’s a really large area and two are set up due to the distances people are willing to travel to go to church.

For more on this, see this helpful and entertaining video by my ministry partner, J.P. Holding.

The main advice I’d give here is we all need to seek to avoid the extreme positions. I have learned much from my brothers and sisters of other denominations. Peter Kreeft comes to mind immediately and he is one who prays for the unification of the churches. I would hope that many of my Catholic and Orthodox brothers and sisters would say that they too have learned from reading the writings of those of us who are Protestant.

Also, if I was asked to state what the church of Jesus Christ truly is, it is those who recognize Jesus as Lord and Messiah both. Wherever you have them gathered, you have the church to an extent. Christ is present in the midst of us. When we get to eternity, we will find people from the Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox traditions there together worshiping before the throne of God. We might as well learn to get along together now. Of course we can discuss our differences, but let’s strive to do so realizing that we all still proclaim Jesus as Lord.

In Christ,

Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Why Church History Matters

What do I think of Robert Rea’s book? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

Let’s be blunt. For many of us, history isn’t always the most exciting topic, which is quite really a shame since it impacts our lives so much. If we’re Christians, we love the Bible and we think it’s important to know what happened in it, but aside from perhaps something like the Reformation, many of us don’t know what happened in church history. Go to your average church and ask the people who know their Bibles well to name a single early church father. Most likely, you’ll get blank stares and some might say “Martin Luther? John Calvin? John Wesley?”

It’s a shame that those of us who have such a great love of Scripture so often do not bother to understand how our own history that went before us turned out. We act as if Jesus came and then perhaps something like the Reformation happened and lo and behold, we are here now and now we must live our lives.

Part of this is the individualism in our culture that places each of us in our own little vacuum of existence where what went before us doesn’t matter and what’s happening outside of us doesn’t really matter. It is our personal universe that is of the supreme importance. What difference can the Donatist controversy make? How can I be repeating the errors of the Gnostics today, whoever they were? Why should I care about those old arguments Thomas Aquinas put forward for God? Do I really need to care about how John Chrysostom interpreted Scripture?

Rea tells us that in fact church history does matter and if we are students of Scripture, we should be students of that history. We should be learning about the great men and women who came before us and realize that the lessons we learn from them in the past can be highly influential in our day and age and keep us from repeating their errors and help us to repeat their successes.

C.S. Lewis years ago gave the advice to read old books because when you do, you read another time and place that critiques yours and can see blind spots in your position that you do not see because of the unspoken assumptions you accept in your culture. Meanwhile, you too can see blind spots in the work that you are reading that they would miss for the same reasons.

In fact, the author suggests we read outside of the circle of our own faith tradition, our own time, our own location, and our own culture. In doing so, we will interact with areas we would never have considered before. If we are wrong, we can correct our view. If we are right, we are still the better for getting to see why others think differently.

The first part of the book is about tradition. How is it understood? The reality is Catholics, Protestants, and Orthodox (By orthodox, unless stated other wise, I mean branches of the church such as Eastern Orthodox) all place some value on tradition. Some place it on the same level as Scripture. Some don’t, but they see it as important to consider and insofar as it agrees with the Scripture, should be accepted. Bible-Focused Christians, as Rea prefers to call them regardless of where they land on the church spectrum, would all tend to accept statements like the Nicene Creed for instance.

Regardless of your position, tradition should not be ignored. Even if you think it is wrong in a certain place, it is helpful to learn how it is that that tradition came about, why it was held to in its day, and what the reasons were for believing in it. It would not be as if people just woke up one day and said “Hey! Let’s believe in the perpetual virginity of Mary!” There would be reasons for holding to it, rightly or wrongly, and a context that it was discussed in.

This part also includes a little bit about church history and how we got to where we are. As stated earlier, too many of us really have no idea even though we claim to be Bible-focused. This is interesting in an age where many of us like sites like ancestry.com where we want to see where our families came from, and there is no wrong in doing so of course, but our very Christian faith does not get the same treatment.

The second part is about the way we interact with the past. Can you form friendships as it were with those who went before. I am thinking of a debate I had with an atheist not too long ago where I stated that we do have the works that we can read by the past and we should critique them today and learn from them today. We can interact with the philosophers and others who went before us rather than leave reality up to only people today who happen to get a voice just because they’re conveniently alive at the time. There is a well of wisdom before us and we need to drink from it.

This includes finding mentors and accountability partners. No. You can’t communicate with them the same way you would with a friend, but you can still learn from them and let their lives be a blessing to you. I think of Aquinas for instance whose arguments I use today. When properly understood, they are incredibly powerful in our day and age. Too often, we have dismissed ideas just because they are old. Some ideas will stand the test of time and we will find we have just reinvented the wheel when we are done if we ignore them.

Finally, we have a section on how this affects us today. Can we bring the past into the present? What this deals with is how to interpret Scripture, such as by learning from the methodologies used in the past to interpret Scripture, and also how learning history affects our practices of worship and compassion and missionary service.

I will say I was a bit disappointed that despite being academic, when it came to this last section, nothing was really said about apologetic approaches. It would have been good to see how those of us who are in the apologetics ministry could look to the past for valuable mentors and friends in the field. Other important areas were mentioned, but this one was left out. I hope a future edition will include that as well as we can learn from great defenders of the faith in the past such as Augustine, Anselm, and Aquinas.

Still, this is a recommended read and got me thinking about the importance more of learning from the past and learning how to interpret Scripture as they did. You won’t find out much about church history per se, but you will find out much about why you should find out about it.

In Christ,

Nick Peters