Book Plunge: The Death Of Expertise

What do I think of Tom Nichols’s book published by Oxford University Press? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

This is not a book on apologetics. The only apologist you will find referenced is the general wisdom of C.S. Lewis. Still, this is a book that is going to be very helpful for apologists. This is a book that addresses many of the issues that we experience in the field.

Nichols is sounding an alarm that expertise is no longer being heeded. There are many factors that contribute to this. Some of us will be quick to say “The internet” and be partially right. The internet is not the sole contributor to this, though it definitely plays a part in all that we’re seeing.

The first chapter is on the relationship of citizens and experts. Citizens no longer seem to care about what experts say. They will say one thing that experts were wrong on and then take some medicine for a headache that is the result of expert analysis. Our society has become one that rightly decries elitism, but then sees any idea that someone knows more than someone else on a subject as elitism. We are a society where all truth claims are to be treated as equal. Even worse, to disagree with a truth claim is to attack the person.

When the people do not heed the words of experts, every man becomes an island unto himself. Each person is in it for their own good. This also works with the narcissism of our age. We have become so individualistic, that it is tempting to think that we’re the center of the story.

This gets us into how it is hard to converse today. The #1 response to a question today has become something along the lines of “Let me Google that for you.” If we used this properly, it wouldn’t be a bad thing. There’s nothing wrong with using Google to look up a basic fact that isn’t controversial, such as when did the Battle of Bunker Hill take place? Just recently I was at an event where a speaker said that Moses Maimonides was forced to do a debate by King James of Aragon I. Okay. Why not look that up? I quickly saw that Maimonides was dead before King James was even born. This is a proper use of Google if we do it right.

The improper use is thinking that the first website you come across is the one that you should listen to. There will be more on this later, but in this case, it becomes harder and harder to talk to people. Everyone thinks they’re an expert because they can look something up on Google. Having my chief area of expertise be in the New Testament, I can say at this two words come to mind immediately. Jesus Mythicism. I still remember someone on a news page discussing a story telling me that scholars aren’t even sure that Jesus existed. This was news to me seeing as I actually do read the scholars in the field and know that this is a minority position. When I was on the¬†Atheist Analysis¬†show, there was a lot of shock in the crowd when I said how few of scholars are mythicists. I was offered the number of 8% and said to go lower. 3 wasn’t enough either. I think I said somewhere around .0001%.

Of course, the solution to this is to get an education. Well, maybe not. Sadly, our educational institutions are often just participating in groupthink. Many students today just walk away thinking what their professors think. In my study of the Bible and New Testament, both major schools I have personally attended, I have fundamentally disagreed with on some issues of NT interpretation. When some people would tell me I’m just arguing what my professors taught me, I would reply that in many cases, I disagreed with some central claims. That’s okay.

Sadly, many colleges have become day care facilities with students being shown what is the most entertaining aspect of their stay. Too many students are going to go to college and just party and sleep around and think they’re getting the college life. At my own Bible College where I graduated from, I have often gone back and talked with the professors who always thoroughly enjoy the reunion. One told me about seeing a student on campus during the summer and asked, “What are you reading now?” Reply? “Nothing.” I find this stunning as the kids are seeing learning as the punishment and fun as the goal.

This is not to bash entertainment of course. We all must have some leisure times. You can often find my wife and I watching one of our recorded programs and when we do, it’s not uncommon for me to have a Nintendo 2DS out at the same time. Gaming has always been a part of my life, but it’s not the reason why I live either.

One example of what’s going wrong on our campuses is the concept of safe places. We have seen lately colleges wanting to ban someone of a more conservative leaning and having to have places where their views are not challenged. What are they thinking? College is about challenging your views. You come there to learn, not just stay entrenched in your own opinion.

The result is someone could leave college without being educated but instead being indoctrinated. They will get their degree and never do any more reading or serious work. For my part, I find this bizarre. Even with the degree I have, I have never stopped looking into the field I study so much so that when I have scholars on my own show, it’s quite easy to converse with them.

Well, what about the internet? Here we come to a real kicker. The problem with the internet is while it was meant to share our knowledge, more often, we are sharing our ignorance. Anyone can set up a website and be seen as an authority. We also now with self-publishing have it that anyone can get a book out there. Of course, there’s good material out there (I happen to think my own website and Ebooks are good material), but one has to learn to discern. The problem is anyone with a website can look like an expert.

This is especially prevalent with conspiracy theories. I have already mentioned Jesus Mythicism as a conspiracy theory for atheists. You can find rumors about the Illuminati and about Reptilians and everything else online. The problem is that many people don’t possess the basic tools to know how to analyze this information and see if it stands up or not.

With our narcissism, someone who can Google thinks they can disprove easily someone who reads the scholarly material. They end up thinking they’re brilliant arguers when anyone who reads the material is just shaking their head in disbelief. Those who are ignorant are able to find others who are just as ignorant and join together and build up one another. Getting a lot of likes on their posts doesn’t really help matters out.

Search engines will also tend to go where you have gone before as well. In other words, you get in an echo chamber. They use your past history of looking in order to determine sites that will be relevant to you. Rarely do people look and see if these are really authoritative sites. Think for instance of the people who often diagnose themselves entirely based on the internet and then argue with their doctor about it. Sure, the layman can be right sometimes, but all things being equal, go with the doctor.

Also, Nichols has a long section on Wikipedia. He points out that most Wikipedia editors are also male which limits our perspective. Wikipedia will have plenty of information on the Kardashians, but not information on political strife in some African countries for instance. It is a fine example of our compound ignorance coming together.

At least we have the press to set matters straight, or do we? The press is nowadays often just as gullible and part of the problem is we have so much information coming out at once that everyone is in a rush to be the first to get the news out. This means a lack of fact-checking. From my own perspective, I am a conservative in politics, but I have seen many conservative news sites royally butcher claims and many of them I consider just outright unreliable.

I have reached the point of letting my own family know when they send me something false, and in the past that often involved having to send out a group email. Many of our media outlets are doing the same kind of thing with sharing something just because it agrees with them. Fact-checking is not going on as much as it could be.

But alas, sometimes experts are wrong. What do we do then? A layman can indeed demonstrate an expert is wrong, but an expert being wrong once doesn’t mean all expert opinion is to be denied. Experts are humans like everyone else and they will make mistakes. Fortunately, other experts will often be there to help point out those mistakes.

It’s also necessary to point out that expertise in one area doesn’t equal expertise in all. Richard Dawkins is a fine source I’m sure to quote on evolution. He is not fine on New Testament or philosophy. Gary Habermas is just fine on history, but he is not fine on discussing evolution.

In the end, Nichols’s book is a call to return to learning. Hopefully it will be heeded as our society has more access to knowledge than ever before, but we are quite likely dumber than ever before. All the learning in the world doesn’t matter if it is not approached properly. An attitude of humility would go a long way towards helping people learn.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

What’s The Point?

Why are we living the Christian life? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Yesterday, I saw one of my Facebook friends had a status where she was told by someone else that her time in Bible College being educated in the Bible was a waste. After all, will that help you to go to Heaven? I hate to say it, but I have encountered this attitude many times before. It’s a dangerous problem for the church.

I could focus a lot on the point that the Bible doesn’t really talk so much about going to Heaven as it does about the resurrection and the Kingdom of God, but that’s another point. The problem is that our Christianity today has made the goal of life be to get to Heaven. Unfortunately, in our descriptions, getting to Heaven seems to be the goal and God is often kind of secondary there.

What is the relationship between God and Heaven? Few people seem to think about this. That’s because few of us seem to really think about God anymore. Well, that is aside from thinking about all the stuff He ought to be doing for us. Isn’t it strange we don’t think as much about all that we should be doing for Him? God is often seen as someone there just to meet our needs.

This also causes us to ignore this world. I still think back to what one lady said in a Bible Study I was at with a church we used to attend. “I’m saved and my children are saved so we’re just waiting for Jesus to come.” Apparently, their Bible said, “You’re saved, but if you want to you can go into all nations and spread the Gospel, or you can just wait until I return one day.” Yes. Jesus needs to return to relieve our suffering, but what are we going to do for the suffering of others meanwhile?

Sadly, an education is often seen as a threat. Couldn’t your learning get in the way of knowing God? I did write about this in an earlier post. To say that it is is like saying “I want to be married to my wife, I just don’t want to waste time on all that stupid stuff like getting to know her as a person. Oh yes. I want to make sure that she also has plenty of sex with me.” Of course, most any husband will want plenty of sex, but what would we think of the man who wanted it absent of really knowing who his wife is as a person? Such a person is essentially just using his wife to meet his own desires. Are we guilty of doing that with God?

It’s easy for us to sit back and talk about all that God owes us. Let’s make it simple. What does He owe you? He only owes you that which He’s already promised He will give you. If He has not promised it, He does not owe it. He doesn’t owe you perfection this side of eternity. He doesn’t owe you feeling good about yourself every day. He doesn’t owe you money or fame or anything else? Now let’s reverse the question. What do you owe God? You owe Him everything you have and it’s the selfish tendency of you and me to want to hold on to things that we have no rights to as if our true happiness is found apart from God. Of course, God gives us many things that can help bring us some happiness, but none of these will bring us ultimate happiness. When we start treating them like they will, they become idols and they quickly become our masters. (This is called addiction in extreme cases.)

The sad part is a greater education could help with this. One of the greatest boosts of mine to Christian living is to know the things that I believe and why and what a difference they make. Christianity has something to say about every aspect of life. It speaks about money, leisure, sex, friends, family, etc. Nothing I do is untouched by Christianity, or at least it shouldn’t be.

When we fail in our evangelistic duties and start thinking about how Christianity can help us, we become increasingly self-centered. For all of us, our tendency is to look out for #1. Aren’t we all thankful Jesus didn’t do that? Had Jesus done that, the crucifixion would not have happened. Jesus chose willing suffering to bring about redemption and the glory of God. Many of us think we can reach the glory by bypassing the suffering. It just won’t happen. The Bible regularly connects suffering with righteousness. We often connect it with the idea that we’re not living Christianity right.

I applaud my friend for wanting to have a greater education in the Bible. I wish we all did. We have too many sermons and Bible studies where we skip straight to the question of “What does the text mean to my life and how do I apply it right now?” instead of asking what the text meant to them and about the situation when it was written. We will not properly understand the latter without having some understanding of the former. We also increase the likelihood of a self-centered Christianity.

It’s my sincere hope that we return to a faith that is lived out well but understood well in the mind as well. We won’t all be intellectuals, but whatever intellect we all have we should focus some of it to understanding Christianity and what a difference it makes. We can look forward to Heaven, but let us not ignore the world around us as if Heaven is plan B because God’s just given up on this world. Greater knowledge of what we believe will not hurt us. It is the ignorance of the knowledge and the defiance of it that will.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

The Awareness of God

Is God really there? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

I’ve written some lately on the silence of God. Now when we talk about this, we must keep God in the argument as He is. As soon as we change the nature of God, well we could be talking about something problematic, but it’s no longer a problem for Christianity because Christianity does hold to a deity with the omni-attributes. Yet if we believe in a deity with the omni-attributes, I think it behooves us to stop and really think about what we believe. You see, I think we can often have awareness of an idea, but it really hasn’t sunk in that that idea is true. If it could sink in, it would change us. I have long said that if we could just get a momentary glimpse for a second of how much God really loves us, our lives would never be the same.

When we think about the silence of God, we often focus on how we feel. If we feel like God is silent, well that means He’s silent. If we feel like God has abandoned us, well that means that God has abandoned us. It’s a sad state of affairs because we know that feelings can often prove to be very deceptive. Many of us were sure we had found “the one” at one point in our lives before reality set in. I was sure I had found “the one” many times before my Allie came along. To be fair, logic can be misused by us at times, but the difference is the facts that logic deals with are accessible to everyone. Feelings are not. Feelings tell more about you than they do about the situation you’re dealing with.

In reality, our feelings do play on our thoughts and change them. This is patently obvious. Just go with the sensation of falling in love and it’s really incredible how much your thinking process changes. When some people tell me about how they can relate to something I’m going through with Allie because they have girlfriends, I often tell them it’s close, but marriage really changes things. If people tell me then they think they know what it’s like, I tell them that they really don’t. You just can’t picture it. I thought I could and I was frankly quite wrong. This is one of those areas you learn best by experience.

The reverse is also true. Our thoughts can change our feelings. Imagine if you found out today that you had won ten million dollars in the lottery. Think your feelings would change? Better believe it. What would happen if you were a husband and was having a horrible day at work and opened up your lunchbox to find a note from your wife that said something like “Hey honey. I just want you to know that I am going to be thinking about you all day long. I’ve made it a point so much that I even sent the kids over to stay with your parents for the night. Oh. Did I mention I got a new outfit recently? I want you to see me in it soon, and see me out of it as well.”

I guarantee you, such a man’s mood would immediately be lifted.

What changed? In both cases, it wasn’t the situation per se. Many things could still be absolutely horrible. What changed was that you got new information about something better and grander. What could really be more grand than God? (Yeah guys. Bear with me. God is indeed grander than my second example on the list.) That’s part of the problem. We have a passe attitude towards God. We often have an intellectual awareness of Him, but we haven’t allowed that reality to sink in. This is one reason we struggle with sin so much. We honestly look and say that it is no big deal. Somewhere we have to think that when we realize that ultimately sin is a great wrong against God. We still do it anyway. In fact, we all know that we all do stupid things every day. There is some truth to the saying that you always hurt the one you love.

You see, if we realize that Christianity is true, we should realize there is unconditional love, grace, forgiveness, and mercy for us. We should realize that even if we don’t “feel” God, we can realize that He is there. He has promised us that He is. We cannot escape from His Holy Spirit. His Spirit fills all of creation and fills each part with the entirety of His being in fact. As I type this out in my office, the Spirit of God is all around me and as you read this, He is all around you as well. Now if you want to ask why you do not have the joy that you should, it could just be you have not really realized that.

This is why your theological knowledge is so important and can carry you through so many times when those feelings are lacking or are in fact antagonistic. This is something dreadfully lacking in our churches. We no longer teach good theology. We want our people to enjoy the presence of God, but we tell them nothing about who God is. It’s quite odd that we tell people that they need to get to know the person they marry as that is the person they’ll spend the rest of their lives with and be sleeping with regularly, but when it comes to knowing who God is, we don’t do that. In fact, we prefer rush evangelism. We have children often make a decision when they are extremely young and give them no basis for that decision.

I would in fact prefer that in our churches, we set up a discipleship course and have it be that before someone comes to Christ fully, that they go through the course and learn what it is they are saying they are ready to believe and why they believe it. Am I saying they must all be sophisticated theologians and apologists? Not at all. What I am saying is that some theology and some apologetics is unavoidable. You are going to do theology whether you like it or not. You are either just going to have a good theology or a rotten one. You are going to do apologetics somehow. You will just give a good reason or a bad reason. If we did this simple step, we could avoid a lot of heartache later on with apostasy.

If we don’t really know who God is, it could be we’re coming more to Him for the experience. In fact, we’re not really interested in experiencing Him. We’re interested in experiencing a feeling that He gives us supposedly. If your experience of God does not result in a changed life and worship, you should ask if you are really experiencing God or just experiencing an emotional high. Ladies. This should really hit home for you. If you’re married, there is no doubt your husband enjoys the feeling of sex, but how many of you are going to be really romantic if you think that he’s coming to you for just the feeling of sex you give him, but he’s not really interested in you? If you don’t really like that idea, then why on Earth would it be realistic to think that God can be treated the same way?

God is a Trinity. Okay. Got it. So what? Is this just a nice little doctrine you believe in and then you release it when you need to beat up Jehovah’s Witnesses? Oh yes. You will argue tooth and nail for the doctrine, but do you really know why? What difference does it make if God is triune or not? Really stop and think about that one for awhile. If you think for awhile and come away with the answer of “I really don’t know what difference it makes” then it’s time to really study the Trinity. We could go down the line. What does it mean to say God is love? How about holy? Omnipotent? Omnipresent? Omniscient? Merciful? Gracious?

If you don’t know, are these worth knowing about?

If God isn’t worth knowing more about, what is?

And what about the historical Jesus? Do you really think about Him? How do you know He lived? How do you know the NT is a reliable record of what He did? How do you know He’s deity? What difference does it make? The same for the claim that He rose again and the claim that He is the Messiah. One great danger with Jesus we make is that we are so adamant to defend His deity, and we absolutely must, that we lose sight of Jesus the man. It is indeed a heresy to deny that Jesus was fully deity. It is also a heresy to deny that He was fully human and let’s make sure we don’t go that way.

The more we know about God, the better our lives will be. They won’t be perfect as long as we live in a fallen world of course, but they will be far better. In a marriage, the more you and your spouse come to know each other, the better off you’ll be. In parenting, the more you come to know your child, the better of a parent you can be. How could it not be good to know your God better? How could that not improve your worship? How could it not make you a better evangelist for your faith?

And the more you learn about that, the more the silence of God really will not be a problem, because your feelings won’t be guiding your life with God. You will still have times where you don’t understand and your feelings can lead you astray, but those are the exceptions and not the norm. In fact, in our interpersonal relationships, we have to do this. There are times the people around you hurt you or do things you don’t understand. Sometimes, people are jerks and you have to accept that. If you know otherwise of the person, you have to really think about what you know. “Yes. I know this person did that, but here’s what I really know about this person.” It could be this person was a jerk this time and just slipped up, but that is not who they are consistently. (And if it is, you really should reconsider your relationship with that person.)

When I came across apologetics, I was in a dark spot in my own life, and that was changed by seeing it’s all true. I think back to what a really good friend emailed me once in a time of doubt he was going through. I remember seeing an email from him one day with the subject of “Jesus of Nazareth.” I was really nervous to open it up knowing the doubt he was wrestling with. Instead, I read the line of “He really did walk out of that grave didn’t he?”

I had to smile.

Yes.

Yes he did.

And that changes everything.

The knowledge of God can really make a difference. Learn about God and it will change everything. Can it help to learn about you and your personal psychology? Absolutely. It helps most to learn about God.

In Christ,
Nick Peters