Jesus In America

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Did You Choose The Right Messiah?

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

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

So what is it this time?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

Deeper Waters Podcast 5/6/2017: Greg Koukl

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

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

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

So who is he?

According to his bio:

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

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

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

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

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

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

Deeper Waters Podcast 3/4/2017: Beth Sheppard

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

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

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

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

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

Dr. Beth Sheppard, Dr. Beth M. Sheppard

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

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

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

In Christ,
Nick Peters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Christ,
Nick Peters

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.