Book Plunge: Enlightenment Now—Part Two

Do I have further thoughts on Steven Pinker’s book? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

When I say part two, I don’t mean part two of the book but of the review. Part two really doesn’t have much that is objectionable, although there are a few things. He’s mainly talking about improvements in various areas over the centuries and there’s no reason to object. Some are questionable, such as equality since he throws in the redefinition of marriage and interestingly, leaves out the idea of if a baby in the womb counts as an equal human being.

Also, I question knowledge. No doubt, our knowledge as a whole has increased, but I question many times if people today are more knowledgeable. Keep in mind we’ve recently seen young people today eating tide pods and snorting condoms. Wikipedia is a favorite cite to use for informing oneself as well despite not knowing who wrote it and being able to Google is a substitute for research.

Now if there are problems in part two, I mainly leave that to others who have looked at those areas a lot more. I do not have the information nor do I wish to take all the serious investment in it when there are other things. I do wish to point out that there is no necessary connection established yet to the Enlightenment since Pinker presents ideas like science and reason as coming from them while ignoring that these were going on actively in the Middle Ages as well.

So let’s move on to the final part and objectionable material I’ve found since then.

Pinker talks often about how we can be blinded to one side and mocks conspiracy theories, which is good, but I think he buys into his own. He has a large anti-Trump rant where pretty much anything that is said is included, even making a point about being investigated for Russian collusion. One wonders what he thinks of this section now considering things like tax cuts and peace talks with North Korea.

On page 359, he talks about how we maintain ideas to maintain standing with a group. The example he gives is one must think like this to say that God is three persons and yet one person. One would hope that someone who wants to do great research over history would bother to have done a smidgen on religion and what a Trinitarian means when he says God is a Trinity. Apparently, Pinker did not.

That having been said, there is some truth to the idea about ideas having social standing and this is a mistake I think atheists have made with evolution. It has been made the case that to accept science you must accept evolution and to accept evolution, you must disavow God. It’s not that people are anti-science. It’s just that if told to choose God or evolution, they will choose God. In their minds, they often have more reason to believe in God and less to believe in evolution. As long as atheists (and Christians as well) frame the debate this way, it will always be science vs. religion, which is a shame.

On p. 364, he talks about moral progress saying that before the Enlightenment there was starvation, plagues, superstition, maternal and infant mortality, marauding knight-warlords, sadistic torture executions, slavery, which hunts, genocidal crusades, conquests, and wars of religion. He leaves out there were also hospitals being built, literacy being spread, ancient texts being copied, science being done, etc.

Pinker also doesn’t say much about gas chambers for the holocaust or the slaughter of millions by their own rulers in atheistic regimes. If we are to define the Middle Ages by events that are questionable, why not do the same with post-Enlightenment times? if the Enlightenment is only to be defined by the good that has happened, why not the Middle Ages?

Also, many physical problems were being worked on and the science that has dealt with them is a continuation of the Middle Ages science. It would be like saying cancer is around today because we don’t care about science. We do care, but we just don’t have a universal cure yet.

In talking about science on 393, he says that the traditional causes of belief were faith, revelation, dogma, authority, charisma, conventional wisdom, hermeneutic parsing of texts, and the glow of subjective certainty. Sadly, there is no citation of people from the Middle Ages showing any of this. It is also true that no doubt these sources get things wrong at times, but so does science. If we claim a belief such as “Murder is wrong” is revelation, does Pinker question that?

There’s also a great irony that this takes place just after talking about the causes of World War I and that it should not be explained in scientific terms. Could it be you might have to go and parse those texts that we have about the war to see what happened? Could it be some questions just aren’t scientific?

Also, in this chapter, Pinker is pointing out science as the greatest accomplishment of man. Is it? It’s a great one, but science is a means towards an end. Do we want to know how the world works just ot know how it works? Or, do we want to us those to bring about human flourishing, something Pinker talks about often. If we do that, why? Do we want our species to flourish because we really like our species? What is special about humanity? These are questions that aren’t answered by science, but in finding the true greatest good, the sunnum bonum, of humanity.

He says on 394 that a scientifically informed person cannot have religious conceptions of meaning and value. His basis for this is that we know more about our origins than religious people did back then based on their writings. There is no attempt to really wrestle with Genesis. There are multiple ways to interpret the text, but the only one Pinker sees is one that denies an Earth that is 4.5 billion years old. Pinker makes no attempt to wrestle with the meaning of the texts.

On p. 397, Pinker tells us that scientists have been responsible for misdeeds throughout history. He proceeds to tell us how that should not be used as a weapon against science. But wait a second, if that’s the case with science, should it not be that way for religion? We judge religion based on what it does wrong, but we judge science based on what it does right? What a wonderful system!

We’ll continue looking further at Pinker’s book next time. I do plan to finish it today.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Do We Take Christianity Seriously?

If Christianity is true, does it matter? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Our church has a stations of the cross going on now. Yesterday, my wife and I joined our small group there to go through it together. At one point, someone in our group asked a question along the lines of why we don’t seem to have excitement about this. We have a God who loves us so much that He did all of this. Does it really matter?

Let’s use a different example. The Star Wars films are awfully popular, although I never got interested in them really. Let’s suppose something about them. Let’s suppose that we found proof beyond a shadow of a doubt that these events that happened a long long time ago in a galaxy far far away really happened. What difference would it make?

There would be several people wanting to go on space explorations to try to find the locations in the movie. Scientists would be researching in new ways once they realized that feats shown in the movie were popular. Many people would be doing whatever they could to tap into the force. Some would use it for good and some for evil.

Now let’s compare this to the claims of Christianity. God is the most awesome and powerful and intelligent and wise and good being of all. There is no one that compares to Him. He loves humanity greatly and sent His Son to die for us. By His death and resurrection, all who trust in Him will rise again in glorified bodies never to suffer or die again. Those who do not will face an eternity of judgment.

Before it’s even debated if these claims are true or not, let’s say something. They are serious claims. I hope we can all agree also that if they are true, they do make a difference. If God exists and has spoken, we should all want to listen to what He has to say.

But does it make a difference? Often, it doesn’t. One of the reasons I think this is the case for us is often many of us are too familiar with it. We have heard the stories all our lives and they no longer shock and amaze us. Too many Christians just know it’s true because it’s in the Bible, without bothering to see how we got the Bible and how we can know it’s treu.

It also is because there’s not much at stake for us. Today, we can often think the worst persecution is being made fun of on the internet or perhaps economic pressure from society. While these are something, they don’t compare to what goes on in other countries where being a Christian is a crime and you can be put to death. If you know that what you believe can get you put to death, you’re going to want to make sure of it’s truthfulness and if you’re sure it’s true, you should take it seriously.

Many times, it can also be we don’t realize the implications of what we believe. A lot of people just think, “Jesus rose from the dead. Therefore, Christianity is true.” The goal of Christianity is to make sure you get to Heaven. Very little of it seems to apply to this life.

If that is the idea you’ve got, then it’s a highly lacking one. Christianity says that Jesus is our companion in all things and the Holy Spirit lives in us. That means we have the third person of the Trinity (Maybe some Christians need to see what a difference that makes too!) living in us. We have a God we can come to in our hour of need. Jesus doesn’t just help us overcome death. He helps us in all of our battles here.

That also means all our suffering is redeemed. No suffering a Christian undergoes will be wasted by God. All of it will be used for His glory. That should really revolutionize the way we view suffering.

The resurrection also tells us that this world is good. It’s not an accident. Our bodies are good things and we should take care of them. It also means that there is something great and good worth focusing on. Sadly, many Christians say they love God, but they seldom bother to seek to understand anything about Him.

Think about this if you’re married and if you’re not, imagine you are. What kind of spouse are you if you only look to your spouse and think about the good feelings they give you and what they do for you? You’re not much of them. You need to seek to understand who your spouse is, do things for them, do what they want and like and need. There aren’t exact parallels, but the marriage relationship is the picture most often used of that of Christ and the church.

Now I haven’t said anything about if Christianity is true, but that’s a benefit of apologetics. By studying it, one sees that it is true and it does really change the way you live. If you haven’t studied any apologetics, I really encourage you to do so. If you found out that Star Wars really happened, it would change things. Won’t it change them if you find out Jesus is who He said He is and did what He said He would do and still does that?

If you and I are still unexcited about this, then maybe we need to examine ourselves.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

My Question To Bart Ehrman

Why does someone believe or not believe in miracles? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Recently, my father-in-law Mike Licona debated Bart Ehrman on Gospel reliability right here in Atlanta. I went to it with my wife and when the Q&A started, I rushed to the microphone to be the first to ask Ehrman a question. I had been thinking about what to ask and nothing in the debate changed my mind.

I asked Ehrman about a claim he made in Misquoting Jesus where he said that by definition, a miracle is the least probable explanation of an event. I wanted to know if this was something one would say before examining the evidence, which I could understand, or after. If it was after, isn’t one then saying that no amount of evidence will change one’s mind on a miracle? After all, you could show all the evidence in the world and it wouldn’t change the likelihood of a miracle being the true explanation of what happened, or if a miracle is the true explanation, one has a historical methodology that rules them out from knowing the truth.

One aspect I definitely remember of Ehrman’s answer is that believing in miracles is based on faith. If you’re a believer, you believe in them. If you’re a non-believer, you don’t. Seems simple enough. Right?

Not exactly.

First off, I don’t think this answers the question. When is a miracle thought to be the least probable explanation by definition? Who made this definition and how could it be changed? if it has to be that, then it would seem that no amount of evidence can ever change the situation to make a miracle more likely. (Although interestingly, I suspect it can somehow be made less likely!)

Second, this isn’t just a case of faith. This implies that believers themselves aren’t interested in evidence. If I want to judge if a miracle happened, I look at the evidence. Some claims have better evidence than others. Last night my wife and I were at a Bible study and someone told us privately about how they know someone who became a Christian and is convinced that God told them that Jesus would return before their mother passed away.

Now do I believe in the return of Christ in the future? Absolutely. Do I believe that God can speak to people today? Yes, though I think it’s extremely rare. Do I think this happened in this case? Not a bit. I have seen enough people make crazy claims about when Jesus is returning and I have no reason to think God told this one guy.

On the other hand, consider a New Testament scholar like Pinchas Lapides. He was a Jew who never believed Jesus was the Messiah and never became a Christian and his Ph.D. is in the New Testament. What does he conclude about Jesus? Jesus rose from the dead. What’s that based on? The evidence.

Some of you might think I am only open to miracles in my own religion. Not at all. My basis is always the same. Whatever the miracle claim is, just present the evidence. If it’s sufficient evidence in my opinion, I should believe it. My Christianity is not threatened by a miracle on the outside.

The problem with saying faith is that one is ultimately saying it’s not a matter of evidence. If that is one’s position, then we have to ask who is really living by faith? If your methodology has already ruled out miracles a priori, then if a miracle has happened, you will never know what did happen. If you assert one has never happened, then you have to show that, and if your methodology again won’t allow that, then we are arguing in a circle.

I conclude with a summarization of the thought of Chesterton.

The Christian believes in the miracle, rightly or wrongly, because of the evidence. The skeptic disbelieves in the miracle, rightly or wrongly, because he has a dogma against them.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: The Triumph Of Christianity

What do I think of Bart Ehrman’s latest published by Simon and Schuster? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

When I first heard about The Triumph of Christianity coming out, I was quite excited. The survival and eventual triumph of Christianity is something I consider to be a great argument for the truth of Christianity, especially since Christianity did not spread through force and was spread in a society that would want to eliminate it and that it was a very shameful faith. I was quite looking forward to seeing if Ehrman would either add to that thesis or challenge it.

This book sadly was disappointing in that regard. As I go through, I don’t find many clear answers. I do thankfully find that Constantine is not the reason the faith succeeded, although he might have made it’s eventual triumph faster. Sadly, Ehrman doesn’t seem to have much of an idea why it did. You get a basic answer of people talked to one another and each time someone became a Christian, paganism lost. Pagans would still be pagans if they worshiped a different god. They wouldn’t be if they worshiped Christ.

Ehrman also has the positive of talking about the things that Christianity has done. The Roman Empire at the time of Jesus was one marked by dominance. Slavery was unquestioned. Men had to be the leaders. War and conquest seemed natural. (p. 5)

Christianity changed that. We all think it’s natural to want to care for the sick and the poor. That’s because of Christianity. Without Christianity, we might never have had the realities of health care that we have today. Ehrman says we have simply assumed that these are human values, but they’re not. (p. 6)

This I can support definitely. So many times when atheists argue today, they point to the claim that the Bible condones slavery supposedly. It is taken for granted that everyone knows that this is wrong because we’re all humans. Go back to the Roman Empire in the time of Jesus and it would more likely be the opposite. You would be the oddball not for approving slavery but for condemning it.

One of the first places Ehrman goes to is talking about Constantine. I find this quite odd seeing as Constantine is about 300 years later. It’s important to get to, but why go there so quickly? I want to know how Christianity even got to that point.

Ehrman does have some interesting points here. He is right that pagans were fine with you worshiping another god provided you were not excluding others with that. The Christians would not have really been a problem had Jesus been presented as one other deity in the pantheon to be worshiped. That is not what the Christians did. The Christians said God had revealed Himself in Jesus and that was the only way to worship Him. All other gods were false gods.

One author who has brought this out well is Larry Hurtado in his book Destroyer of the Gods. One would hope that Ehrman’s not interacting with that book is because it came out after the manuscript was done, but it’s hard to say since Ehrman can be good at giving the sound of one hand clapping and not interacting with the best of his critics.

Hurtado points out that by a gentile becoming a Christian, he was putting himself on the outs socially. It could be compared to someone leaving a cult today, and I mean a bona fide cult. If you have left the Jehovah’s Witnesses or the Mormons, that would be such an example. A Gentile would go into the home of a friend and all of a sudden, he couldn’t honor the household gods. He couldn’t go to the meetings of the gods at work. He was on the outs with his society entirely. He was risking everything.

A Jew could be given a free pass because the Jewish beliefs were ancient and thus, they were seen as something that could have been a valid path to God. For the ancients, those that came before them were even closer to the gods and knew how to get there. A religious idea that was new was viewed with suspicion. Hence, one of the early apologetic works was called “Neither New Nor Strange.”

A great work on this is Robert Louis Wilkens’s The Christians as the Romans Saw Them (Yet another work that Ehrman never interacts with). One who became a Christian was embracing a religion that was shameful. Your entire reputation and even identity was being put on the line in the Roman world by becoming a Christian.

Speaking of being a shameful religion, this is something Ehrman also never interacts with. He never looks at how the ancient world was a world of honor and shame. This permeated everything. Having honor in the ancient world meant more to them than paying our bills means to us. You won’t get this reality one iota from Ehrman’s book. It never enters the equation when it should be central to the equation. This is a glaring problem to me in the book.

To get back to Constantine, Ehrman does admit that Constantine wasn’t a perfect Christian, but he was at least a Christian. He did take his conversion seriously. Much of this material will be troublesome to people who are of the mythicist variety and think that Constantine is the only reason Christianity survived. (Again, I still want to know how the religion survived until Constantine.) Also, speaking of sources never interacted with, there is no mention of Peter Leithart’s Defending Constantine in all of this.

Ehrman then goes back to Paul, who I think would have been a much better start for the book, and in here actually says that in the life of Jesus some people did believe He was the Messiah. I am quite thankful to see this said from Ehrman. It’s also stated that the resurrection is what confirmed that Jesus was the Messiah. (p. 48)

It’s important to note how that works. Jesus isn’t the Messiah because God raised Him from the dead. God raised Him from the dead because He is the Messiah. The resurrection confirmed what Jesus had already demonstrated with His life and teachings.

Ehrman also will irritate the mythicist crowd by pointing out that while Paul never mentions the message he gave to potential Christians in his letters, that’s because he doesn’t need to. That message was given in person. The letters were to deal with other matters.

Something else interesting about Ehrman’s thesis, and yet confusing from his perspective, is that Christianity spread because of the belief in real miracles. Ehrman even admits that Paul says at times in his letters, such as in Romans 15, and I would add in 2 Cor., that he did miracles himself before his audience. Something important about this is that it’s easy to make a claim like that to people who already believe you’re the apostle to the Gentiles. Try saying that to the church in 2 Corinthians who is questioning your status because of the super-apostles. Paul is trying to get his opponents to remember what was done. You don’t point to what your opponents will remember unless you’re sure they will remember it and not dispute it.

But Ehrman doesn’t believe in miracles! That’s right, but he does say people did believe they had seen miracles or that the stories were reliable about miracles somehow. He thinks most often it happened because the people heard about miracles.

As a Christian, I do believe miracles happened, but Ehrman never interacts with skeptical ideas at the time. What about Lucian who seemed to make a habit of exposing miracles? Ehrman seems to take it for granted that this was an age that believed in miracles very easily. Maybe it was, but I’m not so sure, and that is something that Ehrman should argue. Still, there’s something odd about someone who doesn’t believe in miracles arguing that belief in miracles was the reason that Christianity gained converts.

Absent is one other possible explanation. Maybe people investigated the claims and decided Jesus rose from the dead. How would this happen? A group of people or one high honor wealthy person would send an investigator or a number of investigators to Jerusalem and the surrounding area. These people would talk to eyewitnesses and gather facts and report them back. Note that someone with high honor would have the most to lose by joining Christianity and so they would want to make sure the facts were right. There had to be such people since 1 Cor. 1 says that not many were in an honorable position, which means some were. Also, the church had to have some financial backing for the extensive letter writing and Gospel writing that went on. Those were not cheap.

Ehrman never seems to consider this idea. For him, word of mouth is sufficient, but that is a lacking idea. People would join a movement without checking where they would put their entire identity on the line by identifying with a crucified man? I don’t think Ehrman really understands the social consequences of becoming a Christian in that world.

On a positive note on the other hand, Ehrman does say that Paul did not invent Christianity nor did he invent the idea that the death and resurrection of Jesus brought salvation. (p. 71) This is not original to Paul as it was part of the package he came to believe. Paul had to have known what he was persecuting and how to recognize a Christian.

Ehrman also will not be a friend to the mythicist crowd when he says Mithraism could not have overtaken the empire. (p. 81) Mithraism was not exclusive like Christianity was. Exclusivism made it risky to become a Christian.

Ehrman is also right that people did not believe in life after death. What is not right about this is that that would have made Christianity a plus. For many, it would be like returning to a prison again. The body was something that you wanted to escape. A spiritual resurrection would have been much easier to accept. Teaching a resurrection to a body of flesh would not have been.

For this, Ehrman often thinks that Heaven and Hell were great motivators, but why should this be? If you don’t believe the person who makes the threat, why take the threat seriously? People speaking about hell would have likely been seen as wild-eyed fanatics.

Ehrman is also right about how the Romans were generally tolerant, but that’s because other religions weren’t stepping on any toes. Saying you shouldn’t worship the gods of the state or worship the emperor was going against that. Another movement Ehrman says was attacked by Rome was the Bacchanalia movement due to licentious practices. Christianity would have been seen as treasonous due to their being no separation of church and state. To deny the Roman gods was to deny Rome itself and a Gentile could not get away with that because we all know Gentiles are not Jews.

Ehrman does have his statement about other Christianities being around, but there is no reason to think any of them were close to dominating. Ehrman regularly does this kind of thing sadly. He will speak of a church that used the Gospel of Peter, but it was only for a short time and it was one particular area. There is nothing about how Egypt was even the most heterodox area and yet when we look at what we find there, orthodox manuscripts of the Bible outweigh the heretical works greatly. This is in Charles Hill’s Who Chose The Gospels? (Another work that there is no interaction with)

On p. 143, Ehrman does say that many people believe in miracles today not because they have seen them, but because they’ve heard about them, and eventually they just believe that they are possible and then true. Why should we think that our society will mirror the ancient one? People would risk everything again just because they hard a story and didn’t bother to check it? It looks like Ehrman hopes his readers are just as gullible as he thinks the ancients were.

On p. 181, in writing about 1 Peter, Ehrman does say they were facing opposition for their faith, but we don’t know what it was. It wasn’t an empire wide persecution. What could it have been? It never enters Ehrman’s mind apparently that it was shaming from their society. This is again the glaring blind spot in the book. Ehrman does not interact with what the culture was truly like.

When we get to the end of the book, we find Ehrman going on a different track, and one that is very mistaken. This is talking about intolerance, and this largely in the context of later Christian emperors opposing paganism. Ehrman says that intolerance is “the principled rejection of other beliefs and practices as wrong, dangerous, or both.” p. 256.

It doesn’t take much thinking to see the problem here. By this definition, anyone who thinks they are right in anything is automatically intolerant because all contrary beliefs have to be false. If Ehrman doesn’t even think that what he is presenting in a book is right, why should I bother listening to him? Apparently, Ehrman thinks it’s intolerant for Christians to think they are right. Is Ehrman intolerant then if he goes out and argues for his case as he does in debates and tells his opponents why he thinks they are not right?

He also has a section on the death of Hypatia which he says was at the hands of a Christian mob. The reality is despite what he thinks, we are not most fully informed. Every side tries to claim Hypatia and use her as a weapon against the other. A good source on her is here.

Oh. All this intolerance? It started with Jesus Himself. Jesus was not tolerate of the beliefs of the Pharisees. (How dare Jesus disagree! Rabbis never ever did that with each other!) Ehrman plays the card again about the Jews being addressed in John 8, not realizing that doesn’t mean all Jews of all time but would refer to a specific group of people. A good look at that can be found here. It’s interesting that Jesus and Paul are the intolerant ones, when they were the ones being put to death by their opponents.

Ehrman also says Paul was intolerant with issuing a divine curse on anyone who preaches a different Gospel. Yes. Paul does that. The stakes are high for him. Note that he never says though that he is applying the curse himself or to go out and kill the people of a different persuasion.

Ehrman on p. 285 says that tolerance was encouraged and freedom of religion was embraced. This tolerance was lost with the triumph of Christianity. Note that Ehrman says this in a country founded on Christian principles where he’s allowed to freely write as an agnostic and publish books arguing against Christianity. Yes. That is truly an intolerant society.

Note also pagans reveled in diversity to a point. There was no reveling in the new Christian movement at all. The Christians did not have the freedom to worship. Now do I think it is wrong when Christians get the power to use it to force Christianity on the populace. Still, it is quite bizarre to say the pagans were tolerant. It’s easy to be tolerant when those who disagree with you only disagree on what you consider a minor point and aren’t a threat at all. At least Ehrman acknowledges again the positives he stated at the beginning such as caring for the poor and the sick, but this tirade on intolerance is not really fitting and Ehrman always says on the one hand he wants to be neutral as a historian, but when he says something like this, he is hardly neutral.

In the end, I find this book just lacking. It’s almost like Ehrman is writing a book just to write a book and get something out there. You can see him picking out a few favorite source repeatedly and relying on them. I know Christianity triumphed and I have some good ideas why, but I don’t see why Ehrman thinks it did.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: The Jesus Crisis

What do I think of David Farnell and Robert Thomas’s book published by Kregel Academic? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

In The Jesus Crisis, we have a look at a book oft-cited in the Inerrancy debates. I had heard a lot of negative statements about this book, but I decided to go in with an open mind. Some things starting off aren’t so bad. There is some serious questioning of the two-source hypothesis and since I’m skeptical of Q as a source, I have no problem with this. I do agree with the authors that when we look at the authorship and writing of the Gospels, we do need to take the church fathers seriously. Certainly, they’re not infallible, but we don’t need to ignore them.

I was also surprised to see David Farnell’s style of arguing in this. In many of his writings, he has often looked as one in a hysterical panic. This was a side that was much more reasonable and measured and the kind that I would have preferred to have seen more often.

Ultimately, insofar as we’re talking about the origins of the Gospels and looking at various forms of criticism, I could agree with some matters. I wonder what the editors would think of Richard Bauckham talking about the death of form criticism. That being said, the further one gets in the book, the more there are areas of concern.

The problem often is that Inerrancy is taken as the starting presupposition and while the writers make an effort to knock down historical methodologies of today, which is fine if they want to do that, they give nothing in the place of how history should be done. The only way seems to be with starting off with the idea that the Bible is the Word of God. Of course, while from a confessional statement I would agree with that, I do not start that way. After all, why start with that book instead of the Qur’an or the Book of Mormon?

There is also a fixation on what Michael Bird would call the American Inerrancy Tradition. (AIT) This goes with the perspicuity of Scripture in that everything should be plain. The question is why should we think this? Peter wrote in 2 Peter (If you think he wrote it) that there were many things in Paul’s letters which were hard to understand. This shouldn’t surprise us. Not everything in Scripture is clear.

Also, the writers insist that we have to have the exact words of Jesus. Why should we? It’s possible that Jesus spoke Greek, but it could be less likely that the common populace spoke Greek and if they did, then one wonders why Matthew would write out a form of Matthew in Aramaic. If he wrote a Gospel in Aramaic and one in Greek, he obviously had to translate some words. One could say some things could have been said on multiple occasions. It is doubtful that Jesus only gave a great parable one time.

However, some things were only said one time. What did Jesus say when He was on trial and when He was on the cross? How many times did Jesus give the Great Commission? If Matthew wrote a Gospel with both of these, one text at best would have the exact words. The other would have a translation. Also, paraphrase would not be a problem since even in the Old Testament, Deuteronomy 5 gives a paraphrase of the Ten Commandments which were said to be written by the finger of God.

The writers may think it puts us in a panic state to not have Jesus’s exact words, but it really doesn’t. I also don’t think historical scholarship is in fact destroying the testimony of Scripture. I would contend the more we are doing good historiography, the more we are affirming Scripture. If one is scared to put sound historical methodology to use for Scripture, could it be one is scared of the outcome?

The saying has been that you treat Scripture like every other book to show that it is like no other book. I am not scared of applying the methodology of history to Scripture. If one wants to show a method is invalid, they need to show it and do so without question begging.

Ultimately, had we just had something like say the first half, this book could have been fine, but the more one gets into the text, the more one sees the panic button being pushed. What if? What if? What if? If one is worried that research of some kind could disprove Scripture, it says little about the Scriptures. It says a lot about them.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

Jesus In America

What happens to Jesus in America? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

I love America. I live here and I think it’s the greatest nation on Earth. Unfortunately, we do have many flaws here. One of the big ones is how individualized everything has become. While I am a capitalist, I do think greed is often a problem and we have Christianized everything and not in the Biblical way. Jesus has been used to turn slogans around to different Jesus messages and you can go and buy Testamints at your Christian bookstore. (Because, you know, giving someone a mint like that is a great way to witness.) This has happened so often that we have what has been called Jesus Junk.

Our sermons aren’t much better. We go to a church service and it’s not about serving. It’s all about getting ahead. What can we do to be more moral people? How can we better handle the problems in our lives? Nothing against being moral people and handling the problems in our lives, but there’s more to Christianity than that. My favorite part is at the end hearing an altar call where you can hear absolutely nothing about the Kingdom of God and the resurrection of Jesus, but you sure hear how you can go to Heaven when you die.

In this kind of culture, Jesus becomes a sort of glorified Dr. Phil. Jesus is there to be a self-help guru for you and to help you feel better about yourself. Is it any wonder that the prosperity gospel does so well here? Again, there’s nothing wrong with advancing ahead and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with having wealth, but what did Jesus really come for?

Go to most churches today in America and the idea that you get is that Jesus died for me. Well, yes. That’s true. He did die for you, but He died for a lot more than just you. He died for God. He died to bring about God’s Kingdom. He died to bring about God’s will on Earth. He died in service to the Father to reconcile God and man together. It’s not that God needs us, but that God wants to share His blessings on us. Thinking God needs us is just more of our self-centeredness.

This is why we don’t think much about service like we should in the churches. Most pastors would be thrilled if people would be able to give even just the 10%. There are many Christians who indeed are in need in our churches, and the churches are often the last place that they will go to to meet those needs. The churches don’t just give and support. Again, most of us are looking out for ourselves and Jesus is a convenient help to that.

We have lost sight of the idea that Jesus is the king. It could be because we have grown up in a country where our leaders are elected and we have a president and the idea of a monarchy seems like a quaint thing from olden times that we no longer need any more. Perhaps in a merely human sense, it is, but we are talking about the divine king. This is not an ordinary king who will make mistakes and raise our taxes and such, but make no mistake, this is a king who will call us to come and die.

Perhaps that’s the part we don’t want to hear. We want Jesus to give us more of what we want. Money, power, fame, sex, whatever it is. Jesus is a means to an end rather than the end in Himself. Most of us don’t really think about Jesus, unless we think about the things that He gives for us even if it’s just the feelings that we get with Him.

Today in America, for many of us, if we want food, we can go to a restaurant and get served quickly. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with that. If you want to, you can even get fast food. Today, we treat Jesus like that. If we’re hungry, we go to the restaurant. If we need to fill better about ourselves, we go to Jesus.

Of course, if this is all Jesus does, then there’s no need for unbelievers to really come to Jesus. If you need to feel good about yourself, there are several self-help books that can do that or you can go get Xanax or something like that. You sure don’t need Jesus for that. Now if you want something else, like divine forgiveness, or the Kingdom of God on Earth, you will need Jesus.

Jesus is not just a commodity on the market. He’s not just another self-help guru. He isn’t just giving us a message of peace and love, because messages like that don’t get people crucified. He is a real historical figure who walked and died among us and rose again. This isn’t a fairy tale or a story that takes place a long time ago in a galaxy far far away. This is real history. This has serious ramifications for us and things much more important than feeling good about ourselves.

It is my sincere hope that the American church will realize that while Jesus can make us good people and that can lead to good feelings, there is so much more. There is a real historical reality here. There are real ramifications for all of us. I’ve had enough of Jesus Junk. Let’s see how much better the real deal can do influencing our culture.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Did You Choose The Right Messiah?

Of all the claimants, are you sure you have the right one? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

During the night, someone sent me a message about a graphic they saw. I looked at it and realized very quickly that this is someone who really is uninformed about history and how research is done and sharing another thing that tells me they’re hoping that their audience is the same way. When my wife asked me about this, who is not an apologist, she came in and looked and saw the gaping error in it immediately. (By the way, that part is not an insult to my wife and is said with her permission.)

So what is it this time?

For the sake of argument, let’s grant that each of these figures really claimed either to be the Messiah or was thought to be the Messiah. That could be a huge concession, but I’m willing to grant it. How could you possibly tell that you have the right one?

I don’t know. Maybe we could just look at the evidence for each?

I realize that’s a stretch. I mean, when it comes to history, internet atheists aren’t really keen on evidence. The criteria is normally that if it makes Christianity look bad, it’s true. If it makes Christianity look good or neutral, we should all be skeptics. I often say that internet atheists honor reason with their lips, but their hearts are far from it.

Now I’m not going to go into a whole argument for the resurrection of Jesus. Many of you know that I have done that already. I just plan to go into historical methodology. How is it that we would examine the claims?

First, we’d want to look at historical documents. We could actually start with the Old Testament. Since the idea of a Messiah is one rooted in the Old Testament, we would look to see what the Old Testament says about the Messiah. Then once we have that information in, we know what we’re looking for. Who fits the profile?

Then we would examine the evidence for each of these people using the best sources that are deemed the most accurate and the closest to the time. We would ask for questions about which of them fulfilled the prophecies in the Old Testament. We would also look and see if any of them did anything remarkable that could be considered a fulfillment, such as a resurrection from the dead. (Incidentally, on just being the Messiah, I also highly recommend the books of Michael Brown.)

When I look at a graphic like this, I actually picture a town with a few thousand citizens and a murder takes place. Eventually, the police arrest someone and in court, the defense says “There are a few thousand people in this town. How do the police know they chose the right one?” They would do just what I’ve done. They would look at the evidence.

I’m quite thankful to see internet atheists using arguments like this today. If this is what is seen as an intellectually devastating argument, then Christianity is in good hands. It also makes me wonder how low their standards are if they will fall for weak arguments like this one.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

Deeper Waters Podcast 5/6/2017: Greg Koukl

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

On the next episode, I plan to have my guest sit down for story time. We’re going to tell the greatest story there is. We’re going to tell the Story of Reality. We might think fictional stories could be the most exciting stories of all, but we’re going to be told something different. We’re going to be told His story and how our story interacts with His story and we’re going to see if it’s even better.

The writer of the book is someone who has a great mind but also a great way of speaking and telling a story. Many of his books are very conversational in nature in that you think he really is talking to you and not just giving a talk and you’re sitting in the audience. This could be because he has his own radio show and regularly has to engage in topics with people from all persuasions live. That person is Greg Koukl.

So who is he?

According to his bio:

Greg Koukl holds MA degrees in both apologetics and philosophy. He’s spoken on over 70 university campuses and hosted his own radio talk show for 27 years defending “Christianity worth thinking about.” Greg is founder and president of Stand to Reason (str.org) and serves as adjunct professor of Christian apologetics at Biola University

Koukl says the story is about the beginning, the end, and everything in between. That’s quite a claim and we will be putting it to the test. What is this great story that Koukl wants to share? Why should we even call it a story? Couldn’t we say it’s just a story, much like a fairy tale and perhaps it would bring us some comfort, but it is again, just a story? What would it mean if the story was true? Is there any reason to think that the story is true?

How do we best communicate this story as well? Again, if we say that it is a story, then people will consider it like a fairy tale. How do we tell them that this isn’t a fairy tale but more in the language of Lewis and Tolkien, that this is true myth? This is the story that we have all longed for but has in the end turned out to be true?

Koukl is a talented writer who speaks to the everyday man on the street. I know Greg Koukl well and one thing I’ve always noticed about him is that he’s in many ways very ordinary in his life. One of my first memories of being with him involved being at a conference and wearing a hat and posing for a picture and just before it went off, he did a joke move and turned it to the side on me. When we lived in Knoxville and Charlotte and Greg came to both places, Allie and I made a point of seeing him.

I hope you’ll be looking for the next episode. We did have some technical difficulties last week and will have to reschedule, but we hope this week will go better. Please also go on ITunes and leave a positive review of the Deeper Waters Podcast.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

Deeper Waters Podcast 3/4/2017: Beth Sheppard

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

History. It’s always an area of controversy, but New Testament history is especially controversial. After all, from the side of conservative Christianity, we have a lot of strong claims. We have a man who claimed to be the divine Messiah of Israel and of one nature with the Father and who did miracles and died and rose again to show it. Skeptics look at these as extraordinary claims and want to see the evidence and usually, evidence that would not be demanded for anything else. At the extreme end here, consider mythicists, some who have even said that we have to have explicit mention of Jesus within three years.

Meanwhile, when we look on the other end, many non-Christians and liberals come up with explanations of the Biblical Jesus that look like extreme stretches. Christian apologist Ravi Zacharias once said that if you ever want to increase your faith in the resurrection, just read the counter-explanations that are dreamed up. There’s a lot of truth to that.

So what do we do in this case? We have two sides to this issue and both of them would want to do history right. How is it that we do this history properly? Is there a craft to the study of the New Testament? How should students of the NT on both sides of the aisle treat the NT?

To answer these questions, I have asked a specialist to come on. This is someone who is quite familiar with the field and has written a book on it. The book is The Craft of History and the Study of the New Testament. The author is Beth Sheppard, and she will be my guest. Who is she?

Dr. Beth Sheppard, Dr. Beth M. Sheppard

Beth M. Sheppard holds a PhD in New Testament studies from the University of Sheffield and serves at the Director of the Duke Divinity School Library and also teaches New Testament courses. Her research interests include not only library administration and practice, but also the Fourth Gospel.  She is particularly intrigued about the ins and outs of everyday life for early Christians.  Her dual research agenda is reflected in the diversity of the journals in which her recent articles have appeared including Theological Librarianship and Sapientia Logos.  She has also written a book entitled The Craft of History for the Study of the New Testament.  Prior to coming to Duke, Sheppard directed the library and taught New Testament courses at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary.

Although a United Methodist layperson, Sheppard has pastored in rural United Methodist congregations and continues to preach and teach in church settings when called upon to do so.  Her orientation toward service is also present in her work in the academy where she is a member of the editorial team for the European Studies on Christian Origins series published by Continuum.

I hope you’ll be here as we discuss how history is done and how we are to approach the text. Sheppard’s book is an excellent work in the field. Please also consider going on ITunes and leaving a positive review of the Deeper Waters Podcast.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: The Craft of History and the Study of the New Testament

What do I think of Beth Sheppard’s book published by the Society of Biblical Literature? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

History is a fascinating field to study. How do you do it? How do you study history seriously? What about when it comes to the NT? After all, many people view these documents as sacred documents. Does that not change the way that we view these documents and treat them historically?

Beth Sheppard has written a book for students who are planning to study the New Testament so they can better learn how to study it. She deals with information that should be basic, but we all need to learn. It’s usually thought about why there are so many differences in the Bible on the same issue. Sheppard points out that all writers will approach the issue differently due to all of them having different mindsets and matters they want to put out there more and other such issues.

Many historians will approach the same evidence very differently. Some might see item A for a case and think it means very little. The next historian could look at that and make it the centerpiece. There’s also no doubt the biases of the historian that approaches the text. Let’s be realistic and admit that a historian that holds to a worldview that denies miracles, for instance, is just as much biased as a Christian approaching the text. All historians have to learn to work past their biases and really look at the evidence. People have biases, but arguments do not.

Sheppard also looks at the philosophy of history and the mistakes that historians sometimes make. Sometimes a historian can think way too broadly for instance and sometimes a historian can rely way too much on those who have gone before him and still keep their same errors in his thinking. All of this information will be helpful for those who seek to do history and handle the NT.

The reader will also get an education on how history was done in the ancient world and up to the modern era. What was the role of eyewitnesses? How were hearsay accounts treated? How did other historians handle differences in accounts? All of these are important questions and questions like them have been debated for as long as we have been doing history.

Sheppard also looks at other movements in history lately. Sure, postmodernist history has been a big flop, but did it do anything for us? Sometimes having a great error come forward can show you a greater truth that had been overlooked. What about psycho-history? Again, Young Man Luther was a disaster to many, but does that mean the whole is a problem? Some could be surprised that even imaginative history and speculative history can be helpful. How would the world be different if Charles Lindbergh had been elected president? What if Jerusalem hadn’t been destroyed in 70 A.D.? What if Arius had won at the Council of Nicea?

In fact, those of us who defend the resurrection can use this. If Jesus did rise, we can expect some effects to take place. If not, then we would need a better explanation that can fit the data but explains the effects. While not much has been done in this area, some work would be welcome.

She ends the book with some case studies. What can we learn about studying clothing in the ancient world that applies to the New Testament? Is the woman in John 4 really a loose woman? Is Paul using medical terminology when he talks about the Holy Spirit in 1 Corinthians?

Sheppard’s book is eye-opening and she keeps her own biases well-hidden. Skeptic and saint alike could benefit from reading this book. You won’t study much of the historical claims themselves, but you will learn about those claims come about.

In Christ,
Nick Peters