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

Dear Freethinkers

What do I have to say to those espousing freethinking? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Dear Freethinkers,

I want to write to you today because I’m frankly confused by what I see of you. You see, you claim to hold to no statements of faith. You claim that by being a skeptic, the only position you have to have is to not affirm the existence of God. You claim that there are no doctrines to your position. Despite all of this, most all of you seem to think remarkably exactly alike.

You all come right out of the gates often with one of your favorite mantras. “No evidence.” Are you really thinking this? Are you thinking that every theist and Christian in history has just never considered that they have no evidence for what they believe? Sure, you might meet a layman like that, but do you really think everyone is like that?

When it comes to talking about God, we are told there is no evidence. Is that really supposed to convince us? You see, some of us read these things called “books.” We don’t rely on Google, YouTube, and Wikipedia. We also read books that disagree with us. When we say we believe in God, we do so because we are convinced that that is where the arguments lead. In fact, while we agree on the conclusion, we can disagree on the arguments. Some people like the ontological argument. I don’t. I like the Thomistic arguments. Some don’t. Some people think scientific apologetics works well. I disagree. That’s okay.

In fact, this is what real thinking is all about. Real thinking is not just seeing if you find a conclusion that agrees with you. Real thinking is asking if the argument really does have evidence for it that leads to the conclusion. Just because I agree with the conclusion that God exists, it doesn’t mean I agree with the argument given for it. In fact, I daresay I have gone after more Christian apologists using bad arguments than many of you have.

Another favorite one of mine is when you say that there’s no evidence Jesus ever existed. Now perhaps in some cases, atheism could be understandable, such as with the problem of evil, though I do not see that as a defeater at all, but this one really takes the cake. You know what makes this even funnier? So many of you naturally agree among yourselves that creationism is nonsense and we need to listen to the consensus of modern science. Fair enough, but you do the exact opposite with history. You don’t listen to the consensus of modern historians and mock Christians for not listening to the consensus of modern scientists.

You see, your position is even more of a joke because I can find you a list of scientists who dissent from Darwin. Are they right? Beats me. I don’t argue that issue. If you want to find historians who dissent from the base existence of Jesus, you can count the number on two hands at the most. Note that by historians, I mean people with Ph.D.s in a field relevant to NT studies. I don’t mean just any Joe Blow you can find on the internet.

You may not like it, but as soon as you start espousing mythicism, I immediately have no reason to take you seriously anymore.  I know I’m dealing with someone who doesn’t read the best material. I know this will be a shock, but outside his internet fanbase, Richard Carrier just isn’t taken seriously. You can guarantee you won’t be by hanging on his every word. In fact, as a Christian apologist, I thank God for Richard Carrier. He’s doing a great service by dumbing down his fellow atheists to accept the conspiracy theory of mythicism, and yes. That’s all it is. It ranks right up there with saying the moon landing is a hoax or that 9/11 was an inside job.

Since we briefly spoke about science, let’s go on with that topic. You all seem to think that if something cannot be demonstrated by science, then it is nonsense. It’s as if mankind had no knowledge whatsoever and never knew anything until science came along. This gets even funnier when you talk about miracles. “We know today that virgins don’t give birth, that people don’t walk on water, and that people don’t rise from the dead.” You really think people didn’t know that stuff back then? You think they were just ignorant? Sure, they weren’t doing experiments and such, but they knew basic facts that we wouldn’t disagree with. You don’t have to be a world-class scientist to know that when someone dies, you bury them, or that it takes sex to make a baby. They all knew this.

The fact is that we don’t really have a beef with science. We might disagree on what is scientific and what isn’t. There are Christians who have no problem with evolution. There are Christians who do. There are Christians who think the world is billions of years old. There are Christians who don’t. We debate this amongst ourselves. None of us though say that science is bunk and should be disregarded. Perhaps we are misinformed on what is and isn’t science, but we are not opposed to science.

In fact, you never seem to think about what you say about the scientific method. You never pause to ask if the claim that all truth must be shown by the scientific method is itself shown by the scientific method. You don’t even consider that science is an inductive field. Sure, some claims might have more certainty than others, but none of them are absolute claims proven.

I also find it so amusing when you talk about the Bible. You all have the hang-ups that fundamentalist Christians that you condemn do. You think that the Bible absolutely has to be inerrant. Many of us hold to inerrancy, but some of us actually do not, and we debate that. Still, even many of us who hold to inerrancy do not see it as an essential and think Christianity can be true and inerrancy false. For you, the Bible is an all-or-nothing game. Either everything in it is true or none of it is. This is remarkably similar to your position on Jesus where either He was the miracle-working God-man Messiah who rose from the dead or He never existed. Your positions are entirely black and white. There is no shade of gray.

You then throw out 101 Bible contradictions and expect us to keel over immediately. We don’t. Many of these, you’ve never even studied yourself. You’ve just gone to a web site, got a list, and then suddenly thought you were an authority. It never seems to occur to you that in thousands of years of studying the Bible no one has ever seen these before.

When it comes to interpretation, you have a big hang-up on literacy. You think that everything in the Bible has to be “literal” although you have not given any idea of what that means nor have you even bothered to tell us why that must be so. The Bible is a work of literature like many other books and it uses all manner of ways of speaking. It uses metaphor, simile, hyperbole, allegory, etc.

You also seem to think that the Bible has to be immediately understandable to 21st century Western English speakers. God should be clear. Well, why should He? It’s as if you think you are part of the only people who ever lived and God should have made things clear to you immediately without having to do any work whatsoever.

In all of this, you’re just like the fundamentalists you condemn. The difference isn’t your mindset. It’s only your loyalties. You think everything in the book is wrong. They think everything in it is right. None of you really give arguments. It’s just a personal testimony and faith.

And yes, you do have personal testimonies. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve heard “I used to be a Christian, but”. I mean, do you want me to break out a chorus of “Just As I Am” at that point? It’s like all you used in your Christian days was a personal testimony and today, that’s still all you have. All I normally see is you went from an uninformed Christian to an uninformed skeptic.

As for faith, you never seem to understand it. You’ve bought into all the new atheist gunk that says that faith is believing without evidence. You never bother to consult scholars of the Greek and Hebrew languages to see what the Bible means by the term. What we mean is a trust that is based on that which has shown itself to be reliable.

You would be greatly benefited by going to a library sometime. You see, if all you read are the new atheists, you’re not going to make a dent. You might get some of what is called low-hanging fruit, in that people as uninformed as you are will be convinced, but not people who actually do study this kind of stuff seriously. You think that Google is enough to show you know everything. It isn’t. You don’t know how to sift through information and evaluate it. All you do is look and see if it agrees with you. If it makes Christians or Christianity look stupid, it has to be 100% true.

You should also know this doesn’t describe all atheists and skeptics out there. There are atheists and skeptics that do actually read scholarly works that disagree with them. I can have discussions with them. We can talk about the issues. They can agree easily that Jesus existed without thinking they have to commit ritual suicide at that point. They can have no problem discussing scholarly works. Many of these would even say that while they disagree with Christians, that a Christian can have justification for his belief and is not necessarily an idiot for being a Christian. You could learn a lot from them. Be like them. Don’ live in the bubble of just reading what agrees with you and buying everything you read on the internet. Study and learn.

Until you do this, freethinkers remind me of a slogan someone used years ago that I have taken. It’s not original to me, but I like it. With freethinking, you get what you pay for. Why not pay the price of being an informed thinker by reading and studying. You’re not hurting us by your actions. You’re only hurting yourself and your fellow skeptics.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Let Me Google That For You

Do we live in an age of upcoming geniuses or fools? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

This past week, I heard different people saying the same thing. Young people in school are no longer answering “I don’t know” to something. Instead, the response is being “Let me google that for you.” Now of course, in some areas, this is fine. If you want to know the weather or the location of a good restaurant or who won the World Series in 1962, this is okay. The problem is that this is increasingly becoming our way of knowing.

Except we have to ask are we really knowing? Think about when you were in school and you spent that time cramming before that big final. You might have done really well on the final and passed, you might have even aced it, but how many of you really recall what you studied then? You learned it for the time being and then threw it out. It was knowledge only needed for the moment.

This is what our Google age is doing. People are going to Google and thinking that by being capable of looking up an answer, they are capable of understanding an answer. This doesn’t follow. Using Google, you can find any argument you want for any position and if you do not know how the field of the question works. You can look up an answer on evolution, but if you don’t understand science, you will only further your ignorance if you argue from that. You can look up a question on the historical Jesus or the Crusades, but it won’t help you if you don’t know how history works. You can look up a question about ontology, but it won’t matter if you don’t understand how philosophy works.

How do you learn how these fields work? You go and read the books. You can find good material online, no doubt, but books are still the best place to go. Most scholars in the field don’t put up their material for free online. (One possible exception is my podcast where you can hear interviews from them online.) If you can’t afford books, no biggie. Go to the library. Use an interlibrary loan and order books from other libraries. Right now, I’m reading a book ordered from the Georgia State University and I didn’t have to drive all the way over there.

“But this is hard work!” Yes. Yes, it is. You actually have to read and you can’t expect to be an expert in a field if you’re not willing to study it. If you’re not willing to study it, then sit down and be quiet. You don’t have a clue what you’re talking about. By all means, ask questions, but don’t speak as if you’re someone who should be taken seriously. You’re not.

Unfortunately, if people do not read then they will not be able to speak on these issues. This is why we have a generation that has more access to knowledge than ever before but is incapable of thinking for itself. We feel more than we think. People do not know how to follow an argument to its conclusion or how to analyze one. This is why we have so many conspiracy theories out there.

Please also don’t tell me that this is just one side. Atheists and Christians and others both have this problem. Atheists will buy into any argument often that makes Christianity look bad, be it that Jesus never existed or the Middle Ages were the Dark Ages or anything else. Christians meanwhile, will also do the same thing. Christians can also add in in Illuminati conspiracy theories and ideas based on a futurist eschatology.

I have also regularly stated this happens on Facebook. People see stories all the time and they don’t check up on the sources and hit share anyway. It’s horrible to have someone do this. It’s far worse when a follower of Jesus Christ does this. Why? Because if they can see you wrong on something they can check up on within minutes, why should they invest so much time in studying the resurrection of Jesus?

Google is also often repeatedly killing our attention spans. If we watch or read something, it has less and less time to get our attention. If we read something online, we often don’t read the whole thing much anymore. We just skim. We are trying to find shortcuts to being an expert, but there are no shortcuts. One must work. You cannot cheat and cut corners or else when push comes to shove, you will really see that you don’t have a clue and so will everyone else.

What’s the solution? Parents will need to get their kids off of the internet and into books some more. Make sure it’s an area they really enjoy. If your child enjoys dinosaurs, get the best books you can on dinosaurs. If your child enjoys space, get the best books on space. If they want to learn about World War II or chemistry or anything else, get the best books on the topic that you can.

We will also need to teach by example. Be the student you want your own children to be. Always be learning the best you can. Get the books and read them and you will be better informed and better able to talk to other people. You can know what you’re talking about instead of having to rely on whatever is being popular at the time.

Of course, if our young people or we ourselves have an allergy to work, then we will have to suffer the consequences. It will make it harder and harder to do evangelism if people can just find a quick answer that agrees with them, and anyone can do that. The benefit for us is that if we are the ones doing the hard study, then in the future we can corner the market in that area.

If you’re a youth minister or Sunday School teacher, especially get your young people reading. There is a time for fun and games of course and such, but they need to be an informed populace in order to function in our society. If we look at our world today, we have to say that a lot of people, especially in America, are not really capable of the kind of thinking needed to make things go smoothly in society.

An informed populace starts with you and me.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Halloween Research: A Case Study

How can we research claims? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Around Halloween, I always find myself debating with people who want to claim that Halloween is pagan and I’m compromising with the devil by celebrating the day. Of course, I’ve been accused of compromising in so many areas that it doesn’t really affect me anymore. Many times, I’m told that what is being taught is common knowledge.

You know, like the fact that the Council of Nicea determined the New Testament canon, or that the ancients all believed the Earth was flat until Columbus sailed, or that the Dark Ages were a time where the church ruled the world and scientists were oppressed. These are claims that everyone knows. No need to back them.

Except these claims that everyone knows are just false.

Excuse me then if I grow skeptical, especially after finding out that such claims took for granted are just myths. If you want to tell me that a day is pagan, you’d better make a case. For anyone wanting to make this case about Halloween or Christmas or Easter or any other day, I have some rules for you to follow.

First off, find good sources. I’m sure your favorite pastor on television is a great guy and unless you’re watching Word of Faith teachers, they probably really love Jesus. Unfortunately, they can also be wrong. Pastors can be just as credulous as anyone else can be.

For instance, recently a picture has been going around Facebook that has even been shared by a well-known Christian apologist. This is the image that is going around.

laveyquoteonhalloween

Your average Christian reading this will be shocked by this. “My children are worshipping the devil?” Unfortunately, people on Facebook will take such a quote and run with it without bothering to answer some questions first. Here are some problems I notice with this meme.

Where did LaVey say this? There isn’t a quote. There isn’t a reference. There’s nothing. Now at this point, what you can do is take some of it and put it in quotes in a search engine and see if anything comes up. When I did this, I got nothing. Therefore, until someone shows otherwise, I do not give the benefit of the doubt to a random quote on the internet. I need to see the evidence.

Second, why should I care? Seriously. LaVey thinks children are worshipping the devil. Well, what makes him right? Is he infallible in this area? Could it be that children are just playing games and eating candy? Even if the quote is an authentic quote, why should I believe it?

These questions weren’t answered. Instead, the meme was just shared and a debate ensues immediately. Now notice in all of this that I have not claimed definitively yet that Halloween is not a pagan holiday. I have said that the claim has not been backed. So how can it be backed better?

I already spoke about preachers. If your preacher makes a claim like this, feel free to email him and ask him what his source for this claim is. Go and check that source. Look up what it says. What you especially want are historical sources close to the events under question. If you read about the Crusades, for instance, it would be better to have accounts from the time of the Crusades. An account 500 years later won’t have information in it nearly as good. If you read scholars today on the Crusades, make sure they cite those earliest sources.

Maybe you have a website. Good for you. Unfortunately, websites can make bogus claims. If you want to say Halloween is stolen from the pagans because you found it on a website, then brace yourself. I can show you several websites that claim the idea of Jesus dying and rising again was stolen from the pagans and by your standards, you would have to believe it.

If you have a website source, you need to see who wrote the article and how knowledgeable are they on the subject in question. Anyone today can set up a website. That doesn’t mean they are right.

“Hey Nick. You have a website as well. Do you want me to be suspicious of your claims?”

By all means be suspicious. Check out what I say. I am also not infallible. I can make mistakes. (Ask my wife. She’ll be more than happy to testify.) Check what I say with the scholars in the field.

If your website has links, check those links out. I am a political conservative, but unfortunately, I have found that many conservative websites just link to other sites saying the same claim without any primary source being cited or without specifically named individuals being cited. I refuse to share such stories then. Sadly, I find many of my fellow conservatives don’t think the same way that I do.

So let’s suppose then that you’ve found the proof that Halloween or any other holiday was originally a pagan holiday. Wonderful. Is your work done? Not a bit. You have to show me why it matters today. That’s an even more difficult argument to make.

The example I always use is wedding rings. Let’s suppose you convinced me that wedding rings were pagan in origin. Am I taking mine off? Not a chance. Mine is a reminder constantly of the covenant relationship I made with my wife years ago. It is a covenant made with her before God and man. It was not done to honor any pagan deity. You need to show that my actions are intentional wrongdoing. Showing that people did something wrong years ago is not enough to show I am doing such today.

Also, just saying that you will not have anything to do with the works of darkness or anything like that doesn’t work. That begs the question. Holiness, believe it or not, is not an argument. Because you think you are being holy in a position does not mean that you are being right. Just look at the Pharisees. These people were the ones who weren’t hanging out with “sinners” like Jesus was because they were too holy for that. We all know which side was right in this case.

Be careful on the internet friends. If you’re making truth claims, be ready to back them. This is especially so if you’re one in the public eye. People will take your claims far more seriously. Test everything. Hold to that which is true.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

 

Is Jesus The Son of Julius Caesar?

Is this a valid idea? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

The internet is a mixed bag. You see, I happen to hope someone like myself has good ideas and that they’re worth sharing and the internet does give a platform whereby those ideas can be shared. On the other hand, I think there are a lot of crazies out there with their own ideas. Unfortunately, from all persuasions a lot of these ideas are crazy. Yes. A lot of my Christian brothers and sisters unfortunately also get caught up in conspiracy theories. Yet this time, I am not dealing with a Christian theory. I am instead dealing with a theory by a Moe who runs a site under the name of Gnostic Warrior. The theory can be found here.

And this theory is that Jesus is the son of Julius Caesar.

Yes. You heard right.

Naturally, it’s not too long in the piece before that word “conspiracy” comes out. I’m becoming more and more convinced that you can come up with any crazy idea whatsoever and refer to it as a “conspiracy” and people will go along with it. It doesn’t help that the first several links in the body of the work all refer to Wikipedia. Yes. Wikipedia. That great abomination that causes misinformation. Will you find works of scholarship being cited? Forget it! All this means is someone sits down with Google and thinks that they’re an authority. (How amusing to be told that you’re not educated enough on the various topics later on when all that is being cited is Wiki.) Ultimately, the idea hinges on that Julius Caesar and Cleopatra had a son and that son later became Augustus and thus Jesus.

There you have it. The greatest conspiracy ever told was between Rome and Egypt. Julius Caesar, the Imperial Roman Emperor and Cleopatra, an Egyptian Pharaoh who had a mixed race son, Giaus Octavian Caesar. Octavian would later change his name to Augustus to become the official son of the Roman God, Julius Caesar. As the anointed messiah, the allegorical Jesus Christ , Augustus had formed the Universal Brotherhood and a new Empire. Later in Biblical text, Jesus is the name given him in order to conceal his identity because the Roman Imperial facts are that there was no way in Hades that the Catholic Church would be able to get the whole world to worship Caesar. Hence, the reason he would forever be known in the New Testament as Jesus Christ.

Yes. There you have it. It’s a wonder that all the Roman historians, classical historians, and NT historians missed this. Well they must all be in on the conspiracy and cover-up. There can be no doubt that Bart Ehrman then is secretly a pawn of the Catholic Church. Perhaps the Jesus Seminar is being secretly controlled by the Vatican. Who knows where it all goes? What’s the great evidence for this?

For these changes Gaius would be deemed by the priesthood as the successor to “Divus Iulius” (Latin for “Julius is God”) to become Divi Filius(Latin for the “Son of a God”) to forever be immortalized as the cornerstone to the greatest empires that the world has ever seen. Augustus is the Prince of Peace who had brought in the Age of Pax Romona with Jesus as Grand Master.

Yes. Jesus as the grand master. Of course, D.M. Murdock might have something to say about that since she thinks the Pope is the Grand Master, as she says in The Christ Conspiracy.

It is clear that scholars have known about the mythological nature of the Bible, yet they have gone to immense lengths to hide it, including using sophisticated language, like the priestly counterparts who have utilized the dead language Latin to go over the heads of the uneducated masses. It is possible that any number of these scholars are also Masons or members of some such secret brotherhood who are under the blood oath. Or they may merely be products of their occupation, in that many universities and colleges are under the dominion of the fraternities and the grand master, the Pope, i.e., the Catholic Church.

Of course, this all assumes that Son of God would mean the same thing in a polytheistic system like Roman religion as it would in a monotheistic system like Judaism. (For those playing along at home, it wouldn’t.) There is no doubt that a Caesar took upon Himself divine titles. There is also no doubt the Christians applied divine titles to Jesus. Why wouldn’t they? It would be these challenges that would in fact make them a challenge to the Roman Empire and not best friends with it. It’s simply bizarre that someone would think a conspiracy would be put afoot to turn the empire into monotheists hailing a Jesus Christ and no one would have bothered to check the claims.

These Latin names for the Father Caesar and Son were ordained first after Julius Caesar by his senatorial consecration as Divus Iulius in 42 BC, the dictator perpetuo bore the posthumous name Imperator Gaius Iulius Caesar Divus (IMP•C•IVLIVS•CAESAR•DIVVS, best translated as “Commander [and] God Gaius Julius Caesar”), which is mostly given as his official historical name. Suetonius also speaks of the additional cognomen Pater Patriae. As I have detailed in my article titled, Meaning of Peter (Petra), Ju’Piter (Ju-Peter), Pator (Pater) or simply Peter means “Father, Parent or Rock.” The Greek pronunciation is Petra which also means Father, but also refers to an allegorical religious meaning “any large stone.

Unfortunately, all of this relies on English pronounciations being the way things would have been back then, which ranks up there with the people who say Jesus is a way of saying “Hey Zeus.” Jupiter we know refers to Zeus. It does not refer to “Jew Peter.” Note also there are a number of languages at play here such as Aramaic, Latin, Hebrew, Greek, and English. Assuming a similarity across the board is stretching.

This brings us to this reference of his.

1 Corinthians 3:11 For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ.

Obviously this is referring to Peter then. Right? Well the context as a whole is talking more about Paul and Apollos (Obviously for these people a reference to the god) but it gets even worse. The word Petra isn’t even used in the passage. The Greek word is Themelios and refers to a foundation. Every usage I see of this word gives it one meaning.

Foundation.

As we go on:

Saint Bede, the Father of English History is his Biographical Writings and Letters written in the 7th and 8th century said this about Augustus: “In the forty-second year of Augustus Caesar, in the twenty-seventh from the death of Antony and Cleopatra. when Egypt became a Roman Province, in the third year of the 193rd Olympiad, and in the 752nd from the building of the city, in the year when all the commotions of nations were stilled throughout the whole world, and by the appointment of God, Caesar had established real and durable tranquility, Jesus Christ consecrated by his advent of the 6th age of the world.”

You can read the work of Bede here. Good luck finding that quote. I couldn’t and I didn’t with a web link. I would be glad to rescind this point if it can be found, but it hasn’t been. (It’s also interesting that we would likely be told by skeptics the Gospels are too late sources, but someone from the 7th and 8th century will be just fine.)

Queen Dynamis of Phanagoria on the Bosporus dedicated an inscription to “the absolute ruler Caesar, son of god, Augustus, the ruler of all land and all sea and savior of them.”

Let’s assume this is true.

So what?

Of course this is how a Caesar saw himself. Is there supposed to be some argument here?

Unfortunately, there’s not much after that just saying that this is an allegory including references to the book of “RevelationS.” (Real scholarly work here.) Do we have any reference to credentialed scholars? Nope. Do we have any interaction with writers like Tacitus and Josephus and Lucian and others who speak about Jesus crucified? Nope. Do we have anything dealing with whether the Gospels are historical or not? Nope. Do we have anything dealing with the facts of the historical Jesus in the writings of Paul? Nope. All we have is some twisted bits here and there and a whole lot of imagination.

And yet people will believe this kind of stuff.

So why do I write this? Because I had someone contact me about a theory of Jesus as the son of Julius Caesar. I don’t look into such things because I think they’re serious threats, but because misinformation can easily mislead others who have not studied the subject well especially if they think someone writes well and has a colorful blog or web site or a good podcast or something of that sort.

Check the claims every time. Always check the claims. Look and see if all sides are being examined or just one.

This one falls drastically short.

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.

Slavery and the Church….Again

Is the church responsible for slavery? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

So here we’ve had a terrible tragedy that has took place in Charleston and once again, supposedly racism is an epidemic sweeping the country right now. Now I’m of the opinion that no matter what you do, there will always be racism because people are sinful like that and because we view with suspicion that which is different from us. Of course, we must remember to never let a good crisis go to waste and so Huffington Post has a piece up by Carol Kuruvilla on how white Christians used the Bible and the confederate flag to oppress people. (Of course, one can be sure the implications of this are supposed to reach far past slavery and to Christians being great oppressors today.)

Of course, there’s no doubt there were too many people who used the Bible to justify slavery just like there were people who used science to justify the eugenics movement. This no more means we should discard the Bible than it does that we should discard science. It would be best to follow the adage attributed to Augustine that you never judge a philosophy by its misuse. What happened was horrid in the south no doubt, but absent from Kuruvilla’s report is any of the response to this. Sure, she says the Northern Baptists were opposed to slavery. What is not said is that most Christians around the world were already opposed to slavery. She wants to focus on one people group, though a sizable one to be sure, and say that these are the main representatives we should look at.

What made it so hard over here? Mark Noll says first off the arguments against slavery from a Biblical position depended on understanding the context of the Bible and looking deeper than many others did who just wanted what was “clear” to them. As he says in The Civil War As A Theological Crisis:

“On the other front, nuanced biblical attacks on American slavery faced rough going precisely because they were nuanced. This position could not simply be read out of any one biblical text; it could not be lifted directly from the page. Rather, it needed patient reflection on the entirety of the Scriptures; it required expert knowledge of the historical circumstances of ancient Near Eastern and Roman slave systems as well as of the actually existing conditions in the slave states; and it demanded that sophisticated interpretative practice replace a commonsensically literal approach to the sacred text. In short, this was an argument of elites requiring that the populace defer to its intellectual betters. As such, it contradicted democratic and republican intellectual instincts. In the culture of the United States, as that culture had been constructed by three generations of evangelical Bible believers, the nuanced biblical argument was doomed.”

So what made the Civil War a theological crisis? What separated us from the rest of the world? It was that we had a view about ourselves as a special people that God was guiding. It was a sort of manifest destiny. We believed in democracy greatly and so we treated the Bible the same way. The Bible should be just as clear to the man on the street and one does not need to do deep study to find out what is being said. This is still the approach of many fundamentalists today, which includes a large segment of internet atheists who read the Bible the exact same way their Christian counterparts do. They just believe exactly opposite.

It wasn’t the Bible then that was the problem so much as how we thought about ourselves. This is also prevalent in many Christian circles today where people are looking for signs for everything that they do, as if God is supposed to personally guide them. It shows up when people think the Bible was written in a style that is obviously apparent to 21st century Westerners instead of bothering to study its context. To many atheists, this can sound like an excuse. In reality, it’s simply saying to treat the Bible with the same respect you’d treat any other document from another time, culture, place, setting, and in another language.

Also noteworthy is that Kuruvilla ignores any ancient history on this. When Christianity first showed up, slavery was practically if not entirely universal in the Roman Empire. The thought of removing slavery and having a functioning empire would be like thinking we could do without something like automobiles or IPhones today. Make the suggestion and you will be met with uncomprehending stares. To us, it makes no sense because we have a moral background that has been so heavily influenced by Christianity. That was the Roman Empire. What system really brought about the end of it ultimately? I’ll give you a hint. It starts with Christ and ends with “ianity.”

The church had a history of treating slaves first with respect and then eventually setting them free. Philemon could be called the Emancipation Proclamation of the New Testament. Christians would often raise up money to buy slaves just for the purpose of setting them free. It was Bathilda, wife of Clovis II, who really brought slavery to a halt, but its death had long been started beforehand because Christians said everyone was in the image of God so no man should be the property of another man. Did it get started later? Yes. Unfortunately it did, but it was Christians again, like Wilberforce, who rose up to stop it.

Make no mistake. Many Christians have done stupid stupid things in the past. Many of them have done wicked things that we should all be ashamed of, but let’s be fair and not overlook the many good things that have been done. If all that is presented is one side of the story, then of course that one side looks compelling. Let us remember the main cause of slavery was really more of our egos about us being a special people than anything else. Of course, some people thinking they are special today is certainly not being used to oppress anyone else out there now is it?

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: An Atheist Defends Religion

What do I think of Bruce Sheiman’s book? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

It’s hard to know what to think when you see a title of An Atheist Defends Religion. You might think a similar title could be A Jew defends Adolf Hitler or A Christian defends Muslim terrorists. The two seem so antithetical. Why on Earth would an atheist want to defend religion? Isn’t religion the bane of the atheist’s existence? Unfortunately, if we start thinking out that way, we start thinking out wrong. In fact, we are thinking in a fundamentalist way that Sheiman in his book condemns that has created an us vs. them climate. Ironically, as Sheiman argues, this only makes the situation worse for atheism and in turn for science (Which is not to be equated with atheism either) since generally, for most of the public, if they’re asked to choose between religion and science, they’ll go with religion.

Sheiman does not hold back in saying he is an atheist in the book, but he also considers himself an aspiring theist. He does not like the worldview presented by atheism. I do appreciate greatly his honesty at this point. Sheiman wants to follow the evidence where it leads and while he would like to believe in God, he says he just cannot bring himself to do it now. I do not know what is holding him back and that could be another conversation some day to have, but I do know that belief is not a lightswitch that you can just turn off and on. We need to have people believe because they think something is more likely than not to be true.

Sheiman also does not see atheism as a form of intellectual triumphalism. I find this to be an excellent point to make as well. There are intelligent people on both sides, but I find way too often that the atheists I meet have the attitude that if you don’t believe in God, you’re automatically rational. My wife saw yesterday as we were leaving church a billboard for rationalists.org saying that if you don’t believe in God, you’re not alone. Now I have no problem with unbelievers getting together and discussing atheism and agnosticism. I have a problem with that being labeled as rational, as if if you are a theist, you are automatically irrational. This mindset I have come to call presuppositional atheism.

That having been said, if you’re interested in the God debate, you won’t find much in the book. Sheiman is not going to take you through the arguments pro or con and weigh them out. Instead, he’s going to defend religion as a cultural phenomenon. God might not be around in Sheiman’s world to do us good, but the belief in God is doing good. This will come out in ethics, in giving to charity, in the health of people who are religious, and even in the advancement of civilization and science. Atheism does not have this. It is bankrupt as an ideology. It does not inspire like religion does and it has a gloomy picture of the world, despite what many atheists say.

At this point, atheists might want to trot out the evils done in religion, but on location 186, Sheiman has an answer:

“Religion’s misdeeds may make for provocative history, but the everyday good works of billions of people is the real history of religion, one that parallels the growth and prosperity of humankind. There are countless examples of individuals lifting themselves out of personal misery through faith. In the lives of these individuals, God is not a delusion, God is not a spell that must be broken—God is indeed great.”

It’s easy to speak about all the evils brought about by theism if you just ignore all the good things and look at only what you think is evil (And much of that is misunderstood!). The same atheists who often do this tend to ignore the millions killed by atheist leaders such as Stalin, Mao, and Pol-Pot, all of which must boil down to a coincidence. When atheists want to see the real legacy of theism, they too often want to exclude any possibility that the Dark Ages idea is a myth, Christianity did nothing to bring about civilization, and want to happily ignore that as they drive down the street they can pass so many hospitals with religious terminology in their names. Have theists many times done evil? Absolutely. That is not because theism is evil, though it could be, but because of another belief we all have strong empirical evidence for. Humans are very prone to doing evil.

As we go through, the start is that religion gives some people meaning to life. Sheiman admits this saying he thinks religion is false and therefore he cannot embrace that meaning. He believes science is true, but it lacks that meaning. Science can tell us many fascinating and wonderful things, and then what? We can also learn that all that we have is going to die in the cold death of a universe that neither knows nor cares. As Bertrand Russell said

Such, in outline, but even more purposeless, more void of meaning, is the world which Science presents for our belief. Amid such a world, if anywhere, our ideals henceforward must find a home. That Man is the product of causes which had no prevision of the end they were achieving; that his origin, his growth, his hopes and fears, his loves and his beliefs, are but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms; that no fire, no heroism, no intensity of thought and feeling, can preserve an individual life beyond the grave; that all the labours of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system, and that the whole temple of Man’s achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the debris of a universe in ruins–all these things, if not quite beyond dispute, are yet so nearly certain, that no philosophy which rejects them can hope to stand. Only within the scaffolding of these truths, only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair, can the soul’s habitation henceforth be safely built.

(A Free Man’s Worship)

The caveat I have at this point, which will be expanded on later, is to say “Could not both stories be true?” As a Christian, I have no problem saying that science gives us loads of factual information about the world. On the other hand, I have no problem saying God has revealed Himself in Scripture, in Christ, in creation, and in morality. I just wish readers to keep this in their mind as we will discuss it later.

Sheiman also argues that religion leads to greater care of humanity. This is not because religious people want a “Get out of Hell free card” or want to earn bonus points with God. We know God would see right through such things after all. We do this because they see the ultimate example in God. This is especially so for Christians like myself who believe in the incarnation and see the way God lived among us. Who after all would be foolish enough to deny the impetus to good living that the life of Jesus has left on this world? (Unfortunately, I know many who would I think be foolish enough to do just that.)

Sheiman considers it a shame that while religion could motivate some people to do evil, that that is emphasized while all the simple small deeds done in the name of religion are ignored. Most of these will in fact go unnoticed because a lot of religious people who do them do not like to claim recognition for their good deeds. I myself have made it a point often to do a kind act for someone when they can’t see it and then to get away as soon as I can before they find out that I did it for them. It’s nice to be praised for something, but you should not do something because you will be praised for it.

Sheiman also argues that religious people give far more and he has the data to back it up. He gives an example of a Methodist bishop asking for $10 donations to help African children facing malaria. They wanted to buy nets to protect them from mosquitoes. Within minutes, $14,000 had been raised. Atheists can argue that they can give just as much, and no doubt they can, but the same incentive and motivation is not there. Sheiman humorously says on page 40 that militant atheists want the benefits of religion without religion, just like wanting the taste of chocolate without wanting to have the calories.

If someone wants to point to science here, Sheiman has no reason to listen to them. Science paints a dismal picture of selfish genes and the survival of the fittest and that we come from a blind evolutionary process that did not see us coming. The thinking of Harris and Dawkins that morality can be derived from science escapes Sheiman. He is not the only one it escapes. In fact, his chief example of this kind of thinking is Peter Singer. Sheiman says in response to Singer that while he likes the idea of treating animals more like humans, he just can’t have the enthusiasm for the idea of treating humans more like animals.

The next chapter is about religion being union with the divine. I do not have much to say here as I do not really have experience with mystical experiences.

Next we move to mental happiness and health. Those who are religious according to Sheiman tend to be healthier. They also tend to have better marriages. Both of these can be seen to fit because religious belief can often be optimistic. (Despite still many of my fellow Christians who I think are pessimists when it comes to prophecy.) Many of us believe the most awesome being of all loves us unconditionally. With our marriages, if we’re Christians, we believe that we have an example in Jesus Christ. Husbands love their wives as Christ loved the church and wives love their husbands as the church loves Christ.

Of course, there will be people who struggle in their marriages and who struggle with issues like depression who are theists, but the odds of being one are less if you are a theist. In fact, if you do struggle in these areas, your struggle could be made easier because of your theistic beliefs. You can always have someone to fall back on, namely God. Recently I started reading Tim Keller’s The Meaning of Marriage. He points out that if you enter marriage expecting your spouse to provide what only God can provide, you’re going to have a marriage that suffers. Those who look to God to be their savior instead of their spouse will have happier marriages. Overall, theism will mean a better life with marriage and health.

We next move to religion being a force for progress. In our day and age on the internet, it’s common to see the graph that is meant to indicate the hole left by the “Dark Ages.”

stupidchart

An atheist like Tim O’Neill has thankfully helped to shatter this into a million pieces. Despite what atheists think, science was on the rise in that period. I really do not think the Enlightenment contributed much new to the situation. Do we have any reason to think Christian scientists would have stopped studying creation? In fact, if religion has been a driving force in the world, then that we are here now and got to the point where science was possible should show that religion has not been the impediment it is said to be.

Sheiman also attributes to this the rise in the belief in equality of humanity and the abolition of slavery. The reason these came to be accepted was because of a religious belief in the equality of humanity, including passages like Galatians 3:28. If all mankind is in the image of God, should we not treat each person that we meet as if they were indeed someone who bore the image of God?

The sixth chapter is on fundamentalism and violence, and this is quite an amusing one as I contend there are fundamentalist atheists just as much as there are fundamentalist Christians. When it comes to the violence, Sheiman argues that much of the violence is political in nature rather than religious. It could use religion to push it further, but it could just as easily use, say, belief in evolution to push it further. This would not argue that evolution is false, so why should religion being used to promote violence be seen as an indicator that religious beliefs are false? Those stand or fall on other grounds. As Sheiman says on page 117:

“The militant atheists lament that religion is the foremost source of the world’s violence is contradicted by three realities: Most religious organizations do not foster violence; many nonreligious groups do engage in violence; and many religious moral precepts encourage nonvio lence. Indeed, we can confidently assert that if religion was the sole or primary force behind wars, then secular ideologies should be relatively benign by comparison, which history teaches us has not been the case. Revealingly, in his Encyclopedia of Wars, Charles Phillips chronicled a total of 1,763 conflicts throughout history, of which just 123 were categorized as religious. And it is important to note further that over the last century the most brutality has been perpetrated by nonreligious cult figures (Hitler, Stalin, Kim Jong-Il, Mao Zedong, Saddam Hussein, Pol Pot, Idi Amin, Fidel Castro, Slobodan Milosevic, Robert Mugabe—you get the picture). Thus to attribute the impetus behind violence mainly to religious sentiments is a highly simplistic interpretation of history.”

Sheiman also argues that those who are violent and we would think psychotic tend to be some of the most normal people. The difference is they’re just constantly surrounded by like-minded people. Keep in mind the 9/11 terrorists blended in quite successfully with the American culture they were hiding in. Unfortunately, when these people get together, they tend to reinforce each other’s own radical ideas. This is not just the area of religion. Atheists can do the exact same thing. Atheists can even have their own Messiahs, such as a Utopian idea brought about through fascism, or the idea that science is the guiding light that is going to save us all. Consider these statements as well, On page 124 we read:

“Recent research cited by Cass Sunstein, for example, has shown that people with a particular political orientation who join a like-minded group emerge from that group with stronger political leanings than they started with. “In almost every group,” Sunstein writes, “people ended up with more extreme positions …. The result is group polarization, which occurs when like-minded people interact and end up in a more extreme position in line with their original inclinations.” And with the Internet added to the fundamentalist equation, it is now easier than ever for extremists of all types to find their ideological soul mates and reinforce their radical thinking.”

Consider this with one of my favorite groups to show as an example, Jesus mythicists. It’s on the internet that you get this crazy idea being popularized that Jesus never existed and it relies on some of the worst conspiracy theory thinking. I put these people in the same group as 9-11 truthers or anti-vaccination people. Still, internet atheists can get together and applaud themselves as being rational people who see past the smoke and mirrors. Interestingly, these people who are often opposed to Intelligent Design (And I am not advocating that) because it is “on the fringe” do not realize that their belief systems are even more on the fringe. At least with ID, you have a number of PH.D.s in the field who hold to this, though definitely a great minority. In the field of mythicism, you could count them on one hand.

In fact, Sheiman in speaking of these fundamentalists say they’re often just as closed-minded as their counterparts. One difference is that I have met many conservative Christians, like myself, who actually read the other side and seek to understand it. I do not meet many atheists who have done likewise. (Sheiman is obviously an exception.) In fact, one question I usually ask is “When was the last time you read a work of scholarship in this field that disagreed with you?” Usually, I get just crickets and in fact if any such work is recommended, it is discounted immediately because the author has “bias.”

For now, let’s move on to science. I am interested in the philosophy of science and the history of science, but I do not speak about science as science. I could not, for instance, give you an argument that would show you should believe in evolution, nor would I give much of one that would show you shouldn’t. I choose to debate on questions that I know. If I woke up tomorrow and saw a headline that said “SBC all agrees macroevolution is a fact,” I would say “Cool” and move on. If I saw instead “National Academy of Sciences says evolution is proven false,” I would say “Cool” and move on. It doesn’t matter to me. My interpretation of Genesis does not hang on evolution.

In fact, I like the description I heard best of science and religion this way. Science and religion are opposed, much like a thumb and a finger are opposed, so that they can grasp everything between them. Unfortunately, if they are made opponents, atheists will only lower themselves. After all, if you say you cannot be a scientist if you are a religious person, then people will see science as the enemy. Sadly, there are a lot of great minds who are religious and these people will be excluded from the discussion of science and who knows what they could contribute to the field?

I am one of those who thinks science cannot offer the final proof on theism. It cannot prove or disprove theism. Hence, my wondering with what Sheiman says earlier. Could you not believe in both stories? There are many Christian scientists who do. Could not you not say both stories give truth about reality instead of having this idea perhaps unknowingly that the two stories are opposed? Science on its own would tell you that we will die in a cold death, but that’s assuming there is no outside interference. A religious person can believe that if God does not interfere, this will happen. (Note I am not using the term supernatural. I do not use it as I find it inaccurate.)

One response to this could be the one one often finds on the internet of science being either the only way to truth or the best way to truth. Sheiman says that this is scientism and not science, and rightfully so, and that this is just atheism masquerading as science. I agree wholeheartedly and such people do a disservice to science and religion both. It is as indicated earlier a belief in the salvation of science. Such people often treat scientific conclusions the way their Christian counterparts treat the Bible. I often refer to such people as not daring to question the words of prophets Dawkins, Harris, Hitchens, and Dennett, and anyone else who comes along. The new atheists have spoken. The case is closed.

Many atheists look at the world of science and speak of wonder, but for those of us who are religious, science alone does not bring that wonder. It is wonderful what we see, but we consider it all the more wonderful to think about the mind behind this creation. I can drive down the road and think “Wow. God made all of this.” I am amazed at that point. In reality, we are often looking at the same data. It is the belief that we bring to the data that is changing matters.

As we go on looking at this topic, I do see Sheiman talk about the literal interpretation of Scripture. This is a term I do wish many times would just die. The word “literal” has come to be in some ways meaningless. Literal often refers to a hard wooden interpretation of a text instead of a look at the text as the author intended. I happen to agree with John Walton and think that the text should not be read in light of modern scientific understanding when it comes to Genesis 1-3, but should rather be read in light of the way ancient Israelites saw the world around them.

I also disagree with Sheiman that if theism and atheism was a matter of evidence, people would be converted all the time. I think there are many other factors that influence why people believe what they believe. People in cults, for instance, are given a mindset by the cult that affects how they view and interpret evidence, including counter-evidence to their position. We could look at many Christians who get such emotional solace from their beliefs that they really cannot handle anything that goes against them. We could look at atheists who would face a social stigma if they went against their atheism or even some who would not want to abandon atheism because a belief like Christianity has something to say about their sexual lifestyles. We all know people who believe what they believe for less than intellectual reasons. Pascal years ago said that if you take the most astute philosopher and put him on a plank of sufficient size and suspend that plank over a large chasm, watch and see how quickly his emotions overtake his reason.

I did find myself disappointed by Sheiman’s argument of “Who created God?” as a question he often asks. I hold to a Thomistic view which in essence sees this as asking “What created existence?” To ask who created God becomes a question that doesn’t make sense on that since God’s nature is to be.

I also did not find the last chapter convincing with Sheiman’s way on getting the universe we have that seems to have some design without God. I kept wondering in it why this should be the case, but to be fair, I will not claim to understand all the science involved.

If there’s one thing that would definitely improve this book, it would be seeing where the quotes can be found that Sheiman gives. Many times he can give a quote and give just an author who said it without being able to know where the quote can be found. If a book is given, many times a page number is not given. I saw a number of quotes I would like to have been able to look up, but I would not be as easily able to.

Still, this is a fascinating read and one that I wish more atheists would read. We could probably have better debates if we did.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: The Challenge of Jesus

What do I think of N.T. Wright’s book published by IVP? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Most readers know that I thoroughly adore the works of N.T. Wright. Give me a Wright book and it normally moves right to the top of my reading list. How can you not enjoy the works of N.T. Wright? Wright has a great gift in that he takes the serious study of the academy and then he brings it to the church in a way that a layman can understand. In all of this, he does not sacrifice an inch on orthodoxy, while maintaining a devotion that will encourage readers to look at Jesus in a whole new light and consider seriously what he says, which is of course, the Challenge of Jesus.

This is a book that was written earlier and then redone for us today. It is indeed one that needs to be redone as the world has changed since the last writing of the book and we need to be reminded anew of the challenge of Jesus. Wright begins with explaining why studying the historical Jesus matters and there are two groups that would say it is pointless. The first would include hyper-skeptics who view history negatively and think that we cannot really know anything about the historical Jesus. On the extreme in this case would be people who say we don’t even know that He existed. Surprisingly on the other end are Christians. These would be the attitude of “God said it. I believe it. That settles it.” Why do we need to study Jesus this way? We have the Word of God here. It tells us everything we need to know.” I would agree with Wright that this is not a wise position. We have learned more about Judaism, and especially Second Temple Judaism, in the past few years and we should seek to put that to use.

I definitely agree with Wright that studying the historical Jesus should be a part of Christian discipleship. We should be wrestling with the question of what the historical Jesus thought and what He was trying to say to His contemporaries. Might we have to sacrifice some beliefs that we think are just obviously what Jesus was saying along the way? Of course. We might. But if we are interested in living as Jesus would have us to live, would that not entail that we should have as many accurate beliefs about Jesus as we possibly could? We should not be afraid of having any belief challenged in our study of the historical Jesus if our goal is truth.

Next is the challenge of the Kingdom and this is also one that is neglected. Jesus spoke so much about the Kingdom of God and today, we say hardly anything about it. People treat the Earth as if it’s a sort of temporary holding spot until God just does away with everything and makes things new. The Gospel is about God becoming King of this world through the work of Jesus. As I write this, I think about a cousin of mine who is a minister who put on his Facebook about the importance of following Jesus. I was pleased to see this and commented that we need to ask why do we follow Jesus? Could anyone give a reason?

No one answered.

How is it that we are go to the unbeliever and tell them that Jesus is the King of this world and that we should follow Him, if we cannot even say why we follow Him ourselves? Do we follow Him because He rose from the dead? Then should we have become followers of Lazarus as well? Do we follow Him because He claimed to be God? Then should we not follow numerous cultists who claim the same? How about following Him because He claimed to be who He said He was and then God raised Him from the dead to vindicate those claims. Of course, to do that, we might actually need to do something shocking, like study Jesus.

Once we learn about Him more, we can see that He is indeed the King of this world and then we can answer the question of why we follow Him. We do not follow Him because we like His teachings, though we might, or because He rose from the dead, though He did, but we follow Him because He claimed to be God’s agent to bring about His kingdom on this Earth and He demonstrated that by being raised from the dead by God. We follow Him because He has shown that He is Lord and Caesar is not and the same applies to all who would like to take on the title of Caesar today. Jesus is the true King of this world.

But what about crucifixion? Yes. Why did that happen? Wright argues that Jesus was taking on the punishment of Israel on behalf of Israel. He was taking on the enemy not with the sword but with surrender. He was the one who did not resist the chastisement of God, but He took on Himself that which He did not deserve. The crucifixion would have normally spelled the death knell of the movement, but it did not. This indeed gets us to the resurrection. Wright does think this can be defended historically, which I agree, and that anyone arguing against it needs a better explanation of why the movement went the way that it did. Because of both of these together, we see that God has acted in Jesus to bring about His kingdom.

Finally, the rest is about how we can be salt and light in our own world. What does what happened 2,000 years ago have to do with today? The answer is the Challenge of Jesus is still just as relevant as we are to be Jesus to our new postmodern world.

Reading Wright is always a blessing. He not only gives me more knowledge, but he encourages me to live a better life and in fact, brings me to the Scriptures anew with looking and thinking about the historical Jesus and what He did and said in His own time. May the works of Wright continue to have their great audience and when the church takes him and those like him as seriously as they take people like John Hagee and Joel Osteen, it will be a much better day for the church.

In Christ,
Nick Peters