The Cost Of Miracles

Who has more at stake on the question of miracles? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Years ago, Chesterton said that a theist believes or disbelieves in a miracle, rightly or wrongly, because of the evidence. The skeptic disbelieves in a miracle, rightly or wrongly, because he has a dogma against them. This would come as a shock to many unbelievers. A dogma? That’s the area of religion.

To which, Chesterton would also say there are two kinds of people in the world. Those who are knowingly dogmatic, and those who are unknowingly dogmatic, and the latter kind are always more dogmatic. We see this quite often today. It is the ones who are most shouting about tolerance who prove to be the ones least tolerant and don’t accept any arguments against their dogma.

The interesting question about miracles comes when you watch a miracle account being shared on any public forum on social media or such a place. The atheists are always the ones quick to show up to say why the miracle story is false. As a Christian, I tend to maintain some skepticism about miracles, but if there is good enough evidence, I don’t rule it out.

Who has the most to lose at this? It is not myself as a Christian. If a miracle story outside of the resurrection of Jesus is shown to be false, oh well. The resurrection is still true. If it is a true miracle story, then that is just further evidence for theism, but theism is still true even if the miracle claim is false.

We could go a step further. Let’s suppose all miracle stories are false thus far. Let’s suppose that no miracles have ever been done. Does this rule out theism? Not at all. God could have gone a deistic route and created the world and chose to do nothing with it, or God could somehow be co-eternal with the world and just doesn’t care about it. I don’t think either of those are true for a moment, but they are hypotheticals to accept.

But what if just one of these stories is true? Consider something like Craig Keener’s massive two-volume work Miracles. Is every miracle claim in that book a bona fide miracle? Doubtful. Some are better attested than others. In fact, aside from the resurrection of Jesus, it could be that every miracle story is false in there and Christianity and/or theism are still true.

Now, what of the other end? If even one of them does not have a materialistic or naturalistic explanation for what happened, then atheism is in trouble unless one is found. It simply has to be false. The same could hypothetically be said of evolution for some. As a Christian theist, if macroevolution is true, I lose nothing, but for the atheist, as Plantinga has said, evolution is the only game in town.

Watch next time a miracle claim is presented and see how both sides react. While it couldn’t hurt us to be cautious and not believe every claim that comes along, one side has to have it that their position on the claim is absolutely right. One side depends on only one option being the true one.

It’s not ours.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: The Christian Delusion Chapter 11

What do I think of Richard Carrier’s case against the resurrection? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Richard Carrier’s chapter is here. Remember readers that when you read Richard Carrier, it’s appropriate to have fitting music playing. I recommend this little tune.

Carrier starts by appealing to Herodotus and some miracles contained in his accounts. The problem is he never states where in Herodotus these miracles occur. I had to do some of my own looking and such to see where he was talking about.

Anyway, he talks about the Temple of Delphi defending itself with animated armaments. If you read this, you would probably think of these glowing weapons rising up as if held by ghosts and swinging at the opponents who were approaching. Not really. Let’s see what book eight has to say.

The other division took guides, and proceeded towards the temple of Delphi, keeping Mount Parnassus on their right hand. They too laid waste such parts of Phocis as they passed through, burning the city of the Panopeans, together with those of the Daulians and of the Aeolidae. This body had been detached from the rest of the army, and made to march in this direction, for the purpose of plundering the Delphian temple and conveying to King Xerxes the riches which were there laid up. For Xerxes, as I am informed, was better acquainted with what there was worthy of note at Delphi, than even with what he had left in his own house; so many of those about him were continually describing the treasures- more especially the offerings made by Croesus the son of Alyattes.

Now when the Delphians heard what danger they were in, great fear fell on them. In their terror they consulted the oracle concerning the holy treasures, and inquired if they should bury them in the ground, or carry them away to some other country. The god, in reply, bade them leave the treasures untouched- “He was able,” he said, “without help to protect his own.” So the Delphians, when they received this answer, began to think about saving themselves. And first of all they sent their women and children across the gulf into Achaea; after which the greater number of them climbed up into the tops of Parnassus, and placed their goods for safety in the Corycian cave; while some effected their escape to Amphissa in Locris. In this way all the Delphians quitted the city, except sixty men, and the Prophet.

When the barbarian assailants drew near and were in sight of the place, the Prophet, who was named Aceratus, beheld, in front of the temple, a portion of the sacred armour, which it was not lawful for any mortal hand to touch, lying upon the ground, removed from the inner shrine where it was wont to hang. Then went he and told the prodigy to the Delphians who had remained behind. Meanwhile the enemy pressed forward briskly, and had reached the shrine of Minerva Pronaia, when they were overtaken by other prodigies still more wonderful than the first. Truly it was marvel enough, when warlike harness was seen lying outside the temple, removed there by no power but its own; what followed, however, exceeded in strangeness all prodigies that had ever before been seen. The barbarians had just reached in their advance the chapel of Minerva Pronaia, when a storm of thunder burst suddenly over their heads- at the same time two crags split off from Mount Parnassus, and rolled down upon them with a loud noise, crushing vast numbers beneath their weight- while from the temple of Minerva there went up the war-cry and the shout of victory.

All these things together struck terror into the barbarians, who forthwith turned and fled. The Delphians, seeing this, came down from their hiding-places, and smote them with a great slaughter, from which such as escaped fled straight into Boeotia. These men, on their return, declared (as I am told) that besides the marvels mentioned above, they witnessed also other supernatural sights. Two armed warriors, they said, of a stature more than human, pursued after their flying ranks, pressing them close and slaying them.

Feel free to read it for yourself here.

It’s not inconceivable also to think of lightning bolts and powerful waves coming at this time as well. This could be interpreted as the temple defending itself. It doesn’t mean that’s what was happening. One could agree with the phenomena without agreeing with the explanation.

What about an olive tree that grew a new shoot?

I will now explain why I have made mention of this circumstance: there is a temple of Erechtheus the Earth-born, as he is called, in this citadel, containing within it an olive-tree and a sea. The tale goes among the Athenians, that they were placed there as witnesses by Neptune and Minerva, when they had their contention about the country. Now this olive-tree had been burnt with the rest of the temple when the barbarians took the place. But when the Athenians, whom the king had commanded to offer sacrifice, went up into the temple for the purpose, they found a fresh shoot, as much as a cubit in length, thrown out from the old trunk. Such at least was the account which these persons gave.

And that’s it. How exactly is one to fact check this kind of thing? Beats me.

I could not find the story of the mare giving birth to a hare in Herodotus, but it is there. Others have referred to it. Apparently, it took place in the Persian camp and was received as a bad omen.

Finally, a whole town saw a resurrection of cooked fish, it took awhile, but I found it.

Then, it is said by the men of the Chersonese, as one of those who guarded them was frying dried fish, a portent occurred as follows,–the dried fish when laid upon the fire began to leap and struggle just as if they were fish newly caught: and the others gathered round and were marvelling at the portent, but Artayctes seeing it called to the man who was frying the fish and said: “Stranger of Athens, be not at all afraid of this portent, seeing that it has not appeared for thee but for me. Protesilaos who dwells at Elaius signifies thereby that though he is dead and his body is dried like those fish, yet he has power given him by the gods to exact vengeance from the man who does him wrong. Now therefore I desire to impose this penalty for him,–that in place of the things which I took from the temple I should pay down a hundred talents to the god, and moreover as ransom for myself and my son I will pay two hundred talents to the Athenians, if my life be spared.” Thus he engaged to do, but he did not prevail upon the commander Xanthippos; for the people of Elaius desiring to take vengeance for Protesilaos asked that he might be put to death, and the inclination of the commander himself tended to the same conclusion. They brought him therefore to that headland to which Xerxes made the passage across, or as some say to the hill which is over the town of Madytos, and there they nailed him to boards and hung him up; and they stoned his son to death before the eyes of Artayctes himself.

So we have some fish placed on a fire and they leap a bit. Nothing indicates that they came back to life. Nothing indicates they were not cooked like normal. This is hardly a resurrection. It’s interesting that Carrier didn’t say where all of these can be found or state what they originally said himself.

Carrier says that if someone was asked about them, they would say these things don’t happen because they don’t happen today. No. I wouldn’t. You don’t need to be a scientist or have modern science to know that horses give birth to horses for instance. It’s amusing to hear him say tree limbs don’t grow back entirely after a single day.

Let us all rejoice people that we have centuries of scientific research. That’s all it took to realize that. Those stupid people back in the time of Herodotus obviously believed that they could.

Or they didn’t and they recorded it because they knew this isn’t what normally happens and would count as a miracle of some sort. It’s really sad that Carrier thinks you need modern science to know this kind of thing. It’s as if you would expect a scientist to run out of a lab in the 1800’s and say, “I have made a brilliant discovery! It takes sex to make babies! The virgin birth (Which I do affirm) must be false!”

Note if I am presented with stories like this, I am skeptical, but I am also open. I do not rule stories out before examining the claims because they disagree with my worldview. I leave that to atheists. Some stories would be harder to check than others. Suppose the story of a hare giving birth to a mare. How do I verify that? Do you show me the mare and the hare? How am I to know that one came from the other? This is hardly on par with the resurrection.

Carrier goes on to tell us that the Gospel of Peter was widely accepted in the second century. Hardly. It was popular largely among one community and that was it. It didn’t last long. Again, no source is given on this.

Carrier looks at Matthew 27:51-54 and asks why no one reported the earthquake or the walking dead. With the earthquake, why should everyone have reported it? We don’t know how big the earthquake was and how far it would have been felt. With the walking dead, we don’t know what really happened. The text is really vague at this point. Were these just spirits? Were these bodies? What happened to them? This would be a small group in Jerusalem most likely and if they disappeared, skeptics would not be able to come and check and would not take the original story any more seriously than Carrier does.

Carrier later talks about hearing all of these claims and wanting to put an end to the pompous rhetoric. (Yes. The irony is dreadfully funny.) Now with all of this research he says and a PhD in ancient history, no one can say he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Well, don’t be too sure of that. For my purposes, I have learned to pretty much fact check Carrier on everything he says.

Carrier tells us that Paul reveals early Christians were hallucinating on a regular basis and outsiders thought they were lunatics. The reference is 1 Cor. 14, but the whole context is about speaking in tongues and saying that if people hear a language they don’t know, they will say they are mad. He leaves out that if they hear the secrets of their own heart poured out in their own language, they will say that God is really among the Christians. Details. Who needs them? He also says the book of Revelation is an acid trip. Real professional scholarship here.

He goes to the 1 Cor. 15 passage about learning the Gospel and says Paul received it from no man but it came through a vision. Strangely, the world of scholarship has not been convinced and more are inclined to think this is the language of oral tradition. When we hear about the vision Paul had, I don’t think it’s the content that was revealed, but that the truth of it was confirmed. It’s up to Carrier to show this is a hallucination if that’s his claim.

When we get to the Gospels, we hear about added parts like the woman caught in adultery and the long ending of Mark. Carrier tells us these were snuck in by dishonest Christians. How is this known? That they are later additions is not really questioned. That the people who did it were dishonest and snuck it in is beyond what we can really establish. It’s possible, but Carrier needs to show it. Perhaps this is just a comment made by dishonest atheists.

Carrier also says we know masses of people hallucinating can believe they’re seeing the same thing. No examples are given. Perhaps he means Marian apparitions. I am suspicious, but Carrier needs to show these are hallucinations. It’s awfully easy to say that if multiple people have a religious experience of some sort then it must be a hallucination. It’s a great way to make sure your position is never challenged.

Carrier also talks about their expectation that the world was about to end soon. Perhaps some did, but as an orthodox Preterist, and there’s plenty on this blog about that, I don’t think this is what’s going on. Again, Carrier gives no references.

Carrier also says that for people being willing to die, if you stood by your story even in death you would gain honor. Perhaps, but why would one want the honor of this group anyway? This is not explained.

Carrier then says he has known enough ‘Liars for Christ’ to make this possible. This is quite amusing. Read any criticism of Richard Carrier by any professional scholar and you will see how Carrier responds. “Liar, didn’t read, didn’t understand.” These are par for the course for Carrier and is why many of us just don’t take him seriously any more. (That whole going polyamorous and embracing mythicism deal didn’t help either.)

About Paul, Carrier appeals to Paul having guilt and said that Paul had grown to despite the Jewish elite he was serving as a nobody under played a part. Evidence of this? None given. It’s just a story made out of thin air, but as we can expect, his atheist audience will believe it entirely.

Carrier then says if Jesus really was a God and wanted to save everyone, He would have appeared to the whole world? Why? He wanted to answer a trivia question? Are we to think Carrier would believe such a story 2,000 years later anyway? Carrier gives a remarkable defense though of how he knows this is true.

“If I were God, I would appear to everyone and prevent any meddling with my book, and since I can’t be cleverer or more concerned for the salvation of the world than God, this must be what he would do, too.” Yes. Remember what Carrier said earlier about people being pompous? Obviously, Carrier is the peak of being clever and knows this is the very best idea and God couldn’t have a better one. If you looked up narcissist in the dictionary, Carrier’s picture should be next to it. It’s hard to imagine someone with more of an ego. Even more than the editor of this volume, John what’s-his-name.

You can stop listening to Yakety Sax now.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Christian Delusion Chapter 3

What do I think of Jason Long’s chapter? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Jason Long’s chapter is a very odd chapter to read. Long writes as if every word drips with acidity and animosity towards a faith I took it he once held to. At the same time, it’s loaded with what I call presuppositional atheism.

The chapter is meant to be about how malleable the human mind is. No doubt, it is, but this is something that cuts both ways. The chapter is short on evidence against Christianity and long on diatribe.

At the start, he says that it’s “nothing short of an incomprehensible tragedy that anyone in this age of reason would have to write a book debunking a collection of ridiculous fantasies from an era of rampant superstition.” (p. 65) I really love the whole age of reason. These reasonable atheists must be the ones I see advancing the Jesus myth hypothesis and telling us that boys are really girls and stuff like that. For me, many people today claiming reason are like young teenagers who drive around thinking they’re all that in the family car forgetting their parents own it and provide the gas for it.

He goes on to say that while some ideas from other religions might seem ridiculous to other Christians, most still believe in an omnipotent deity who will torture His underlings if they don’t worship Him. Yes. This is naturally the reigning evangelical view. People like Long seem to have got an education of Christianity when they were eight years old in Sunday School and never grew out of it.

He then tells us that the reasons given for belief are driven not by rational thought and reasoned argumentation, but by psychological factors derived through indoctrination. This is a wonderful way to dismiss everyone, but should we dismiss atheism when it comes from someone in the former Soviet Union due to years of indoctrination in that view? What of Muslims and atheists who become Christians? Are some indoctrinated into Christianity and never think about it? Yep. Same with any worldview.

On 68, Long says we are not comfortable with the notion that we might be wrong. We enjoy being right. We are taught to avoid questioning. I find this interesting since when I encounter atheists, I usually ask them when the last time it was they read an academic work on religion was that disagreed with them. Nine times out of ten I will get no answer indicating they have. Ask me the same question and you’ll get an immediate answer.

Long says that rational skepticism is not as interesting and comforting to people. There’s no doubt some truth to this. However, he then goes on to say that tell people that the book promising them eternal happiness with loved ones when they die is wrong on the talking donkey takes a lot of work. Long seems to have a fixation on a talking donkey throughout this chapter. It is presuppositional atheism.

So what do I mean by this? Let’s assume the whole passage is literal and it means a donkey spoke. If you are an atheist, that would be nonsense because there is no external agent that can do that. However, if someone’s worldview is not like that and they believe in miracles, a talking donkey is not really a problem. It’s a miracle allowed. What you need to show is such miracles are impossible and it has to be beyond “Because atheism is true.” That’s presuppositional atheism if you act that anything that contradicts atheism must be false.

Long also says Christians are not interested in evaluating their beliefs but in comfort. Heck. If I was interested in comfort I would abandon Christianity many times over because sometimes it is extremely uncomfortable. Long tells us if we were genuinely interested in truth, we would analyze our arguments and examine points of skepticism. Done and done. How about internet atheists I meet that don’t do such?

Long also tells us that in Chapter 12, Loftus, whoever he is, will deal with the ideas of Jesus’s false predictions of His return. I anticipate that this chapter will not deal adequately at all with my viewpoint of orthodox Preterism. I also anticipate that Long would have no clue how to respond to such a thing, but that’s only because he’s not really interested in truth.

Long tells us that when we examine Islam, should we ask the Islamic scholar? Why not ask an outsider. In this, he claims that skeptical scholars have no bias whatsoever. This is nonsense. After all, skeptics can have just as much a bias. Look at what Lewontin says in this article.

“Our willingness to accept scientific claims that are against common sense is the key to an understanding of the real struggle between science and the supernatural. We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism. It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door. The eminent Kant scholar Lewis Beck used to say that anyone who could believe in God could believe in anything. To appeal to an omnipotent deity is to allow that at any moment the regularities of nature may be ruptured, that miracles may happen.”

Or Thomas Nagel

“I want atheism to be true and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well-informed people I know are religious believers. It isn’t just that I don’t believe in God and, naturally, hope that I’m right in my belief. It’s that I hope there is no God! I don’t want there to be a God; I don’t want the universe to be like that.”(”The Last Word” by Thomas Nagel, Oxford University Press: 1997)”

No one comes to Jesus neutral because Jesus makes radical claims. So what do we do? We don’t go and assume the skeptics are automatically unbiased. We don’t go and assume that about the Christians either. We read both sides. We see what the best arguments are. We then make a judgment. Why does Long seem to want us to only go to secularists?

Long also asks what good is a Biblical scholar who refuses to consider his point of view may be wrong? I find this interesting because when I read Christian scholarship, they are constantly quoting their opponents and interacting with them. When I read skeptics, they don’t seem to do that. Take Bart Ehrman’s book on Jesus as the Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium. Throughout the book he never interacts with orthodox Preterism.

Long also quotes William Lane Craig saying that if the testimony of the Holy Spirit conflicts with the evidence, we should go with the testimony. On it’s own, I would disagree with this because I think the idea of the testimony of the Holy Spirit is vague. He also quotes Answers in Genesis saying no evidence can be valid if it conflicts with Scripture. I have a problem with that as well. I am convinced Scripture is not wrong, but if we have a claim, we need to examine it. However, Long says this is the problem with ALL religious apologists regardless of belief. Part-to-whole fallacy is just screaming here.

He also says that apologists will find a resolution to every objection. Indeed. Can the objection be shown to be false? Long says “God wrote it so it must be true—even if it violates common sense and science.” Common sense is a term I always find odd to use. If you need to say it, it’s common sense. If it’s common sense, you don’t need to say it. Common sense more often seems to be “What agrees with my opinion.” As for science, well Long is free to show what he thinks does contradict science.

Long also says the higher your intelligence, the more likely you are to be skeptical. This is quite subjective and the intelligence is usually based on what’s taught in skeptical circles so what a shock that people taught skepticism turn out to be skeptical. Again, none of this gets to the evidence.

Long also says that it is never easy to be honest with yourself about Scripture with a mind-reading God present. Simply thinking God might be wrong is discomforting. If God is monitoring us, this leads to anxiety. Long is apparently pushing his own experience on everyone else. I have no problem with such questions and I think God expects me to examine them. I also don’t hesitate with my emotions with God. If I am upset with Him about something, then I let Him know. He’s a big God. He can take it.

In the end, Long’s chapter is just full of venom towards Christianity that destroys any idea of objectivity. One reads this chapter and just sees a rant. There is a lot of emotion, but very little rational substance.

Kind of like most new atheist books I read.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Born Divine

What do I think of Robert Miller’s book published by Polebridge Press? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Miller’s book is a book looking at the birth narratives with an emphasis on the virgin birth (Which I do affirm). It reminds me of what I read in Richard Shenk’s book on the topic that the virgin birth is really a shibboleth. If you want to know someone’s ultimate worldview and how they see Jesus, this is one question to ask. Was Jesus born of a virgin? Larry King was once on David Letterman’s show and asked if he could interview one person past or present who would it be. He immediately answered Jesus Christ. When asked what he would ask he said, “I would ask if He was born of a virgin. For me, the answer would explain all of history.”

So it is in Miller’s book. I certainly agree that most people don’t approach the doctrine of the virgin birth apart from all the others. It is more based on other doctrines. I hold to the resurrection, for instance, and with that, the virgin birth naturally follows. The resurrection shows that Jesus’s claims to be the Son of God and fully God and fully man are true and if so, then the account of the virgin birth fits.

Miller does speak often about how a miracle needs to be public, but I think that misses the point of the virgin birth. The virgin birth was not done as a public sign I think just so much as it was done so that Jesus could not be at all an adopted Son of God. He really is a unique human being with both natures fully in Him. I do not agree either with early church theologians who said it was done this way because sex is something fallen and Jesus didn’t need to come about through that.

Sometimes, Miller gives criticisms of the birth narratives that strike me as weak. Consider that there is often a repeated claim that the angel tells Joseph to return the boy to Israel from Egypt because those who were seeking His life are dead. Miller will tell us there were no those. There was only Herod. I don’t find this convincing at all since when Herod says he wants the child dead, I have no reason to think Herod himself went all around Bethlehem looking for boys and murdering them. Those would refer to soldiers of Herod that were sent to do the job.

Miller also speaks some about how Matthew interpreted prophecy. He gives about a paragraph to how Qumran did the same, but this strikes me as highly insufficient. Why is there no interaction with Jewish exegesis at the time? Why not reference the work of Longenecker that has been done on this topic?

By the way, that brings me to another concern I had. Miller’s bibliography is written on just two pages. I see this as the sound of one hand clapping. Why not look and see what someone like Keener or Witherington has to say in response to some claims? Sure, those two could be wrong, but isn’t it best to interact with them?

Consider as an example his look at the slaughter of the infants. Why should we not consider it? Miller tells us the story can’t stand apart from Matthew’s writing. Since the magi and the star are fictions, so is the slaughter. Also, Jesus would have to be born in Bethlehem, which he was most certainly not. Finally, the story fits perfectly with Jesus being the new Moses.

I find this as somewhat circular. If you don’t see the accounts as historical, they are not historical. Miller does look at the accounts of the magi, but I think there is a lot lacking. Who are they? Where did they come from? These are questions that needed more. I find it odd that when the narratives disagree, there is a problem, but when they agree, such as Jesus being born in Bethlehem, there is still a problem. As for Jesus being the new Moses, if you are a believer in God who is working behind the scenes, this really isn’t a problem.

There is something on history and miracles. He quotes N.T. Wright who talks about people who come with a high view of a closed continuum and everything being in the system so there can be no outside interference. Wright rightly says that this is something we cannot know ahead of time and gives the impression of a mouse sitting up on its hind legs and looking down on the elephant.

Miller says that this sounds open-minded, but it is intending to belittle people with the opposite view and make them look foolish. I find this amusing since this is exactly what is often said about those of us who believe in miracles. I also think Wright is correct. This attitude is right there in many scholars who assume that miracles can’t happen.

Miller replies to this saying that if we want to go the route of openmindedness and say Jesus had no human father, you must be open also to Plato, Pythagoras, Augustus, and others. Why yes indeed! As historians, we must be open! Let’s compare the evidence for them to the evidence for Jesus and see who comes out better!

Miller says we don’t believe in those stories because we don’t believe in those gods anymore, but too many Christians will say their God is real so the story is real. The question I have to ask here is why do we not believe in those gods? We don’t believe in them because they were more glorified superhumans. One God is overall a far better explanation and many of us have arguments that lead us to believe that there is one God, such as the Thomistic arguments that I prefer, though we could happily say that demons could take on the guise of any Greek or Roman god.

Miller also says that belief your God is real is religious and not historical. Sure, but my belief is not outside of history as it is my belief that this God acted in history and that cannot be ruled out at the outset. There is an attempt to compare this to the Muslim denial that Jesus died on the cross based on the Qur’an. I would ask in reply to see what non-Muslim scholars will grant is true in the Qur’an and compare that to non-Christian scholars on the New Testament.

One good benefit of Miller’s book that will be fascinating is that he lists several birth narratives in other works about Jesus outside the New Testament, such as infancy Gospels. These were very interesting to read, but at the same time it is quite astounding to realize how many people treated them as historical in church history.

Overall, I am unpersuaded by the counterarguments. I still hold that Jesus was truly born divine based on the evidence of the New Testament. Rest assured all that I still affirm the virgin birth.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: The Case For Miracles

What do I think of Lee Strobel’s book published by Zondervan? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Lee Strobel holds a special place in my heart. It was his books that really lit my fire in the area of apologetics. Not only does Strobel present great information, he also does it while introducing you to the best scholars in the field so you know where to go to next for more information. It was through him that I came across scholars like Craig Blomberg, Ravi Zacharias, Peter Kreeft, J.P. Moreland, Gary Habermas, William Lane Craig, Ben Witherington III, etc.

This book is no exception, though in some ways it is quite different. One obvious way is that it does start off with interviewing a skeptic. The interview is with Michael Shermer. While Shermer is a lot nicer and more real than many other skeptics, many of his arguments are really just as weak. As I read through the chapter, I kept thinking that if this is one of the leading faces of skepticism, then we’re in good hands.

Still, I think it’s a good change to have taken place. I would like to see in his books Strobel interviewing both sides. It’s also quite impressive to realize Strobel resisted the urge to be a debater with Shermer and just let him speak.

From there, Strobel goes on to interview other scholars. Big shock that on this topic, the first person on the list is Craig Keener. Keener wrote an epic two-volume work on miracles called Miracles. Anyone skeptical of the reality of miracles should read it. The good news is if you have read it, you will find still new stories in this one. Craig Keener has more miracles and I understand from my interactions with him that he collects them regularly now.

The next interview is with Candy Gunther Brown on prayer studies. Now I will say that these kinds of studies have never really convinced me. There are too many variables that can’t be tested and you’re dealing with a free-will agent. What is much more convincing with prayer are testimonials like the ones Brown talks about where she goes to third world countries and sees people being healed after they are prayed for in the name of Jesus.

Other interviews on topics related are J. Warner Wallace on the resurrection and Michael Strauss on the origins of the universe. Both of these are interesting and to be expected. Both are also highly enjoyable chapters.

Roger Olson was a chapter that was really convicting. The chapter was on being ashamed of the supernatural and while I don’t care for the term supernatural, the point is still there. We often pray for wisdom for doctors in operations instead of for healing. It’s as if we expect God to not do miracles. This really caused me to look at how I approach prayer.

Then there’s the chapter that could be the hardest one to read in the book. This is the chapter about what about when miracles don’t occur. Douglas Groothuis is the person interviewed for that one. His wife Becky had a disease that was killing her memory and brain function bit by bit. Sadly, Becky has since the time of publishing passed away. Groothuis is there to remind us that miracles don’t always occur and how to handle it.

If there was one chapter I would have liked, it would have been one on the philosophy of Hume. Keener touched on that some, but he’s not a philosopher. Perhaps it would have been good to have had someone like John Earman as an interview to talk about it.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Evidence Considered Chapter 28

Can we believe miracles took place? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

In chapter 28, Jelbert decides to take on Craig Blomberg on miracles in the Gospel tradition. At the start of his response, Jelbert says that we need to avoid circular reasoning.  We can’t say that a god or a demon accounts for some miraculous events and then when we see those events, that’s evidence.

First off, this isn’t entirely accurate. Scientists do this kind of thing regularly. If such and such object existed, then we would see X take place. We see X take place. Therefore, the object exists. It’s just fine to say “If an immaterial reality exists, we can expect to see miracles take place. We see miracles take place. Therefore, an immaterial reality exists.

Second, and this is more important, circular reasoning works both ways. If there are no immaterial beings, then miracles would not take place. Then when we see something that looks like a miracle, well, it can’t be a miracle. Why? Because no immaterial beings exist. That is truly arguing in a circle.

Jelbert says that in general, it is difficult to imagine any account being sufficient to convince us of a supernatural event. First off, I question the use of the term supernatural. Second, this could be said of anything one is skeptical of. The creationist could say, “It is difficult to imagine any account being sufficient to convince us that life came from non-life.” Yet on both counts, why should we think that? Can you give an answer on both counts that is not question-begging?

On the contrary, I think it’s quite simple. Imagine attending the funeral of a dead friend. Then lo and behold, three days later you see him alive again. Perhaps you are skeptical and you go to a doctor. It’s him. The DNA is the same and everything. Would this not be sufficient?

Suppose you have a friend who is blind. You go and pray for them and then in the end pray that in the name of Jesus they be healed. All of a sudden, they open their eyes and have perfect 20/20 vision? Perhaps it wasn’t a miracle, but could you not be justified in thinking that it was?

Jelbert also says that in our modern age, there is a great lack of evidence for miracles. Search a miracle claim and at rock bottom the evidence evaporates. Naturally, there is no interacting with someone like Craig Keener whose book Miracles here I reviewed and I interviewed him here. Good luck for Jelbert disproving all of those.

That’s something else to point out. For Jelbert to be right, he has to be right on every single miracle claim there is. Are a number of them fraudulent? Sure. Are all of them in Keener’s work true? Probably not. Yet by necessity, they have to be for Jelbert. Hypothetically, they could all be false and that still would not prove that miracles cannot and have not taken place.

Jelbert also says we are told to have faith. He does not say if Blomberg says this or not, but he presents a paragraph on faith which relies on a false definition. Faith is not a way to know things but a response to known things. Those interested can see more here.

Jelbert also says Blomberg is wrong about miracless being in every layer of the tradition. After all, Paul never mentions them. For one thing, in 2 Corinthians 12, Paul tells us in verse 12 that the signs of an apostle were done including wonders and signs in the midst of the Corinthians. When you write a church questioning your reputation, you don’t make a claim like this unless you know that your opponents will agree to it.

For another thing, Blomberg, of course, knows about Paul and Jelbert should have considered that. What Blomberg is talking about is the Gospel tradition. When we study even down to the layer of Q, we find miracles. The same grounds that allow many facts to be known about the historical Jesus are the same grounds that would allow for miracles. Even skeptical scholars today admit Jesus was known as a miracle-worker and an exorcist.

He also says that Jesus telling people to not say that He healed them would explain why people did not know about the miracle accounts, but this again begs the question that they did not know. Much more likely is that Jesus is doing this so that He can avoid grabbing at honor for Himself and avoid trouble with the authorities at times.

Jelbert then says it comes down to credibility and that the birth narratives destroy the credibility. Yes. Well, I suppose if you look at accounts, don’t bother to look at counter-scholarship on them and throw your hands up in the air and say I can’t reconcile them, then yes, credibility is shot. Fortunately, most scholars don’t do things this way. If we decided an ancient author could not be believed when he got one thing wrong, we would know far less about the ancient world than we do.

This could also work against Jelbert. Let’s take our creationist who is skeptical of evolution again. He comes to Jelbert who wants to argue about fossils that support evolution. “That’s nice, but you see, Piltdown Man and Nebraska Man were thought to be real by Ph.D.s and yet now we know they were hoaxes and besides that, science changes its mind most every week so science like yours has lost all credibility with me.”

Not only this, if we did throw out Matthew and Luke, we still have Mark and John and Blomberg would say even Q has miracles. How is Jelbert going to avoid them? Does he want to keep using this all-or-nothing thinking? Down that road lies mythicism.

Jelbert also relies on Wells who relies on Strauss. Wells is kind of scraping the bottom of the barrel though at least he has changed his mind on mythicism. Why do we have these miracles that are like the Old Testament? Because the authors are trying to depict Jesus as superior to Old Testament prophets.

Yet even if we went with a time of 70 A.D. for Mark, there would still be people around who knew these did not happen if they were false. What we have to assume for Jelbert is that everyone suddenly had total amnesia about what Jesus did and an entirely new story was created and totally replaced what really happened within a generation. Good luck with that.

Going along the path of Wells quoting Strauss, we get the old chestnut of not knowing who the Gospel authors were. Well, I suppose if you have books and all our earliest sources closest to the time say the same thing about authorship and these writers saying these claims of authorship being in different places, it’s really difficult to figure out.

Why would the early church choose Matthew, a name not well-known in the Gospels and a tax collector? Why Mark, who was a sissy boy who ran back home to his mama in the first missionary journey and caused a rift between the first two great evangelists? Heck. You could have named it after Peter who Mark was supposed to be the interpreter of? Why Luke, a Gentile not even mentioned in the Gospels. Interestingly, the only figure you could understand is John, and that is the one disputed the most. Was it John the apostle or John the elder? Many other works from the ancient world are anonymous. What methodology does Jelbert have to identify them?

He also says Luke used Mark and at times edited him so Luke doesn’t see him as completely reliable. First off, no one is arguing for complete reliability. Second, that a source edits some of what is said doesn’t mean the original is seen as unreliable. There could be any number of reasons. Luke might just want to stress something differently than Mark does.

Finally, Jelbert says we do not know how well the Jesus in the Bible reflects the historical Jesus, but we do know that no miracle anywhere has sufficient evidence to accept it. We should all marvel at the wonder of Jelbert with this one. What a remarkable man. Somehow, he knows that all miracles all over the world do not have enough evidence. Somehow, he has investigated all of them. Perhaps there were new miracles said to take place today. Worry not dear readers. Jelbert knows the evidence is insufficient!

That, my friends, is circular reasoning.

Jelbert in all of this nowhere gives any argument against miracles at all. He can say there is no argument for theism (Though he never counters the way of Aquinas), but even so, miracles are an argument for theism. It would have been good for Jelbert to follow his own advice and avoid circular reasoning, but alas, that is not done.

We shall continue next time.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Deeper Waters Podcast 6/30/2018: John Stewart

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

Are the Gospels reliable? Can they stand up to scrutiny? We often hear about challenges to them. One that you can hear is about if they would stand up in a court of law. If a jury had to decide on the Gospels, what would they conclude? Could a lawyer make a case for the Gospels?

Many have, and they’ve done a good job of it. We’re going to be talking about that again this Saturday with another guest. We are going to put the Gospels under the microscope and see how they stand up to scrutiny. To do that, we’re going to have on John Stewart with Ratio Christi.

So who is he?

Education: A.A., Santa Ana College B.A. in Biblical Studies, Biola University M.A. in Theological Studies, Talbot School of Theology J.D., Western State University College of Law

Professional Experience: Professor of Law and Apologetics, Simon Greenleaf University, Anaheim, CA, 1980-1987 Assistant Dean of the Law Program, Simon Greenleaf University, Anaheim, CA, 1986-7 Co-Host, The Bible Answerman Nationally-Syndicated Radio Show, 1986-88 Host, John Stewart Live, KKLA-Los Angeles, 1988-92 Attorney-at-Law, Partner, Stewart & Stewart, Orange, California 1990 to present Host, John Stewart Live, USA Radio Network and CBN Radio Network, 1992-93 Lecturer, New Life for All, Jos, Nigeria, 2014 to present Visiting Professor, Vineyard Academy, Jakarta, Indonesia, 2014 to present Visiting Professor, Maranatha Christian University, Bandung, Indonesia, 2014-2017 Visiting Professor, Kuala Lumpur Methodist College, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, 2017 Executive Director, Ratio Christi International, 2011-2017 Scholar-in-Residence, Ratio Christi, 2018 Visiting Scholar, Multnomah Biblical Seminary, Portland, Oregon, 2014 to present

How does a lawyer mount a case? Can we really trust the Gospels? Do we know who wrote them? Do we have reason to believe they’re transmitted accurately? Are they really eyewitness documents?

Naturally, we will discuss the charge of hearsay which often comes up. All that you have in the Gospels is late information that would not be accepted in a court of law? Would it? Would the Gospels pass muster or would they be regarded as serious accounts of the life of Jesus that should be taken seriously?

What about charges of bias? The Gospels are supposedly by people who are Christians already. Don’t those people have a vested interest in the story that they are writing? Since they do, can we really trust them to pass on accurate history? Shouldn’t we look for sources about the life of Jesus that aren’t so biased to learn about Him?

And of course, miracles. We can’t trust the Gospels because they contain accounts of miracles. Would we trust any other account that has miracles? We can regularly be asked if we would believe a miracle outside of Christianity. How should we then approach the question of miracles?

I hope you’ll be looking for this next episode, especially if you’re interested in legal apologetics and if you’re interested in the defense of the Gospels. Please also go on iTunes and leave a positive review of the Deeper Waters Podcast. Thanks for listening!

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Why Christianity Is Not True Chapter 2.

How do skeptics respond to miraculous healings? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

I count Nabeel Qureshi as a friend. My wife and I prayed for him every day when we found out he had stomach cancer of the most advanced kind. There were several people praying for Nabeel all over the world.

Despite this, Nabeel died.

So yes, I am familiar with people talking about faith healing. I do believe that it can happen, but it’s not a necessity. God does things for His own reasons. It is my duty to trust when I don’t know those reasons.

In this chapter, David Pye looks at miraculous healings. I find this an odd place to go to so early on. I do believe there is good evidence that miracles have happened and do happen, but generally, it’s not the best starting point. If you’re a hardened skeptic, you will find a way to explain everything in that lens. If you are a Christian, you are far more prone to see the miraculous.

So let’s go through David Pye’s chapter.

At the start, he does list several conditions people are said to be healed from, but then we get to a problematic statement.

“But what about conditions like Alzheimer’s disease? Huntington’s chorea? Cerebral palsy? Why are people diagnosed with these conditions never healed?”

How does Pye know this?

To begin with, if you don’t believe miraculous healing is possible, then of course, miraculous healings of these have never taken place, but alas, we are arguing in a circle at that point. For Pye to know this, he would have to have exhaustive knowledge of all the Earth past and present. Even if the claim was true, that would not rule out that it could happen. There could hypothetically never have been a miracle in Earth’s history, and yet miraculous healing could still be possible.

In all this chapter, there is never any interaction with the best sources on this. Of course, such a work could have been written before their release, but it would be nice to see more miracle claims looked at. Only one is really examined. There is no interaction with a work like Craig Keener’s Miracles. Keener in this work traveled all over the world collecting accounts of miraculous healing, some with medical documentation.

Pye prefers to speak of surprising or astonishing healings. He does say that these happen in other religions and happen in hypnosis. I believe we are getting into the whole “Why do miracles happen in other religions?” I do not know why that would be a problem for me.

You see, if a miraculous healing takes place, then miracles are possible and the position of atheism is in serious trouble. As a Christian, I can think of any number of reasons. Perhaps it is a demonic interaction taking place. Perhaps God is extending some grace outside of Christianity to bring someone to Christianity. We don’t know. For the former, there is even a Biblical precedent. One could look to the beast being healed in Revelation 13 for an example. Of course, I read Revelation differently than most Christians, but the idea of a healing from a dark source is still there.

He goes on to say that

“If Christianity were true we might expect miraculous healings to occur only through Christian healers. Or we might expect Christian healings to be far more impressive than  healings in other contexts – for example, there being conditions which only Christian healers, but no-one else, are able to heal. I am not aware of any definitive investigation of comparative success at healing in different religions but my strong impression is that all have about the same success rate. Christianity doesn’t stand out as noticeably superior (nor does any other religion).”

I find this again quite odd. He is not aware of any definitive investigation, but he wishes to make a universal statement on a “strong impression.” How is this done? If I say I have a strong impression that many skeptics don’t come to Christianity because they want to continue living in sin, would anyone really accept this?

He also quotes from John Dominic Crossan on Wikipedia about healing shrines. Absent is any data directly from the shrines themselves. Someone like Keener actually did the hard work on that level.

He then tells a story about a man healed from a chronic skin disease. Then, he describes a similar story with someone healed under hypnosis. I do not see how this is meant to be a rebuttal. God could do through miraculous means what could be done through natural means. In understanding miracles, there are first-class and second-class miracle. First class are things that cannot happen by any means we know of. Jesus rising from the dead would be one. For a second, consider Israel crossing the Jordan to enter the Promised Land. The waters stop so they can pass. That in itself is not a miracle. The waters had stopped before and probably have since then. What is a miracle is that it happened when it happened. Keener lists several times in his book where something was healed because of a prayer in the name of Jesus specifically.

The next section is about exorcism. Pye does think something happens, but it is certainly not the expulsion of a demon. I invite Pye to really look at such accounts of demonic possession, such as the ones with super strength and such. Note also exorcism was common in the ancient world and it wasn’t just Christians doing it, but Jesus was the one deemed the most successful and it is widely agreed among New Testament scholars today that Jesus had a reputation as both a healer and an exorcist.

It’s worth pointing out that Pye regularly speaks of the natural and the supernatural. I will not speak of the supernatural save when he does. I do not really like the term supernatural as it is way too vague. My thoughts on that can be found here.

Pye does list many realities of life about suffering. The problem is while these may seem foreign to a Western audience, to the audience Jesus spoke to and Christianity rose up in, while the science would not be there, the reality would be well known. Suffering is real. Many of these people encountered death on a regular basis. Pye thinks Buddhism is more real in admitting these realities up front. Chrisitanity does too though. It has no reason to deny them. This was the world Jesus lived in. The problem for us is our modern Western world treats suffering like an exception. People in many countries today risk their lives if they walk to church. We consider it suffering if we don’t get a parking spot near the church on Sunday morning.

There is something on church politics and how that some people don’t talk about healing lest they be seen as immature and such. My wife and I are both part of Celebrate Recovery at our church. That leads me to think that this is not really valid. In a group like this, people are encouraged to come and let their guard down. In turn, through this, I have come to know this group of people much better than others. I think the church could learn a lot here.

Finally, Pye has something on the disabled. Readers of this blog know that my wife and I both have Aspergers. That awareness is near and dear to my heart. I rejoice at seeing Autism coming into the mainstream through such shows as The Good Doctor.

Pye says here

“So, here we have two viewpoints, two approaches, with regard to disabled people – and the results of both approaches can be evaluated.
On the one hand many Christians have said that disabled people can and should be healed of their disabilities. But, in practice, such healing doesn’t happen.

And on the other hand you have a primarily secular initiative which sees disabled people as full people who have full human rights and who deserve respect, acceptance and opportunities just as much as non-disabled people. And this sort of outlook has changed society for the better (and continues to do so) giving disabled people a better chance of fulfilling lives.

Which position is better? One that promises much but delivers little (and may even cause harm)? Or one that is more modest but has, nonetheless, delivered significant changes for the better?”

I find this to be a radical dichotomy. There is nothing wrong with praying for someone to be healed who has a seriously debilitating disability. (At the same time, I have no wish to be healed of Aspergers. Others would, but not I.) That does not mean that they are any less human. If someone thinks so, this thinking does not come from Jesus.

Yet I have to ask, where does the secularist position come from? Disabled are full people who deserve full human rights? I agree, but upon what are these rights grounded? What makes a human so valuable? Are we not all the result of a cosmic accident? Why should any of us “deserve” anything? It looks to me like a morality floating in air.

This does not mean that I am not thankful that Pye takes the position that he does with the disabled, but I wonder how he could ground it. I think too often skeptics have taken the morality that comes from Christianity, assumed that it is just something everyone really knows, takes it for granted, and then acts like it fits in right at home with their worldview.

When we return to this book, we’ll look at chapter 3 on evangelism and eternity.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

 

 

Book Plunge: The Bible Doesn’t Say That!

What do I think of Joel Hoffman’s book published by Thomas Dunne? Let’s Plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out!

Someone sent me an email about this book wanting me to look through it and shred it. I ordered it at the library and went through and really, there is some stuff in here that is pretty good. The author is right that the Bible does not condone slavery for instance, which is a breath of fresh air to hear since so many people get that one wrong. Some passages are quite interesting and there is much to learn from this.

One obvious downside from the book unfortunately is the lack of notes. There are none whatsoever. Other scholars are not referenced. There is no way of knowing where exactly Dr. Hoffman gets his information from. Sure, he holds a Ph.D., but that doesn’t stand alone. One is not infallible for having one.

So if there were any sections I would want to comment on, most notably would be the one on the Bible and homosexuality. Does the Bible say homosexual practice is a sin? According to Hoffman, no. One wishes we could have moved past the arguments by now such as mixed fabrics and such. Hoffman realizes the passages in Leviticus are sandwiched between bestiality and incest, but that doesn’t seem to matter.

Hoffman also looks at Romans 1 and says Paul doesn’t say the behavior that the people were doing was wrong. It was just the result of what happened. God punished people with unnatural sex, but we don’t know what the term unnatural actually means.

In reality, we do. Paul uses language from Genesis 1 quite regularly such as speaking of the creator and using terms male and female. This is all a way of saying Paul has Genesis 1 in mind without explicitly saying such. Paul says that from what is seen, everyone knows that there is a God. It is a denial of the vertical reality to instead worship idols and the creation. The best example of a denial of reality on the horizontal level Paul can come up with is homosexual behavior. Male and female go together and belong together.

Nowhere in this does Hoffman interact with Matthew 19 and Jesus talking about marriage Himself. Note that Jesus does not just go to Genesis 2:24, but He also goes to Genesis 1:26-27 where it talks about mankind being created male and female. That is the foundation.

Hoffman does say elsewhere in the book that the Bible never condemns polygamy. Explicitly, this is so, but it warns of the danger of it and when polygamy takes place, it leads to problems. Polygamy was a borderline practice that was allowed for the time being, but did not represent the ideal. Genesis 1 and 2 have the ideal. One man and one woman for life.

Hoffman then says we should consider that there are people who could only find companionship with the same sex and they didn’t know about homosexuality like we do today. I highly question both. The latter is quite simple. They knew about homosexual behavior. Just read the Symposium and see that some people are paired up with the same sex. This isn’t new.

For the former, we have this strange idea that the only way you can find love is through sex. Yet even between men and women, this is not so. I love my mother, my sister, my aunt, and my mother-in-law. There is no thought of sex there at all. I share a special love with my wife and that is the relationship that my sexual thought is supposed to go to.

The idea is that to have true companionship, one must have sex, and this is false. Who is the homosexual supposed to love? The same person as everyone else. His neighbor. That does not have to be sexualized. There are plenty of people who live fine and happy lives without having sex. Those of us who are married should realize the Bible’s prescription that we do have regular sex, but those who are not if they are submitting to Christ will accept a lifestyle of celibacy until they get married.

I also want to look at abortion. The passage used is Exodus 21. Nowhere does he go to Psalm 139. Nowhere does he go to Jeremiah 1:5. Nowhere does he go to Luke 1 with John the Baptist leaping in the womb.

Even still at Exodus 21, the passage doesn’t work. The man is not trying to kill the child. He is doing something on accident and the death penalty is not there for accidental death. Even in the cases of it happening, the man could always go to a city of refuge and stay there.

Hoffman also concludes the whole book saying there are no miracles in the Bible. Miracles are extra-scientific after all. It is true that they have wonders, but Hoffman describes wonders as freedom from slavery or a sense of the divine or beauty or family or anything like that. These are wondrous things, but not acts of God directly every time.

It also doesn’t mean we have to give up miracles as they are understood. We can have both. Can I not appreciate the former things while still holding that God acts in the world? I see no reason I cannot.

Hoffman’s book again is a hit and a miss. Some things are good, but some things are not. A reader could gain some wheat and let the chaff go its own way.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

 

Book Plunge: Zealot

What do I think of Reza Aslan’s book published by Random House? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

My wife is an anime fan and when we go to the mall, she always wants to stop at the anime store there and see what they have. During a recent visit there, we somehow got started talking with the guy working there and the topic of religion came up. He asked me if I had read Reza Aslan’s Zealot and if so, what were my thoughts on it. I told him that what I had heard wasn’t good, but I would be willing to read it myself.

So I went to the library web site and ordered it. Aslan’s book has a generally good enough writing style to it. A difficulty is all the referencing is in notes in the back instead of properly footnoting or even endnoting what is found. I do want to make some statements about some matters early on in the book.

Aslan starts with his personal testimony (It’s like some people never get the fundamentalism knocked out of them!) and how he became a Christian before abandoning it. On xix he says “The bedrock of evangelical Christianity, at least as it was taught to me, is the unconditional belief that every word of the Bible is God breathed and true, literal, and inerrant.”

I wish I knew who it was who was teaching this stuff to him. The bedrock of evangelical Christianity should be the death, burial, and resurrection of the God-man, the Messiah Jesus Christ. Unfortunately, too many evangelicals do place a premium on Inerrancy and too many do so on literalism as well. This is largely an American phenomenon as well.

He also says on the next page that if you have a well-attested, researched, and authoritative argument for a position, someone on the other side has one just as well done critiquing yours. Of course, people on all sides do research well, but this would end up in an epistemological relativism if it was really believed. If this is the case, why should I believe Aslan instead of his opponent?

But I need to get into the meat of the work. For a surprise, much of it was well-researched, although there are a few blunders and such. It’s certainly not on the level of the zaniness of Jesus mythicism. I went through for awhile wondering what all the fuss is about.

Aslan is certainly off on Jesus being a zealot since that movement as he recognizes did not come till later. If all he meant was that Jesus was zealous for God, then He certainly was a zealot and may all Christians be. Unfortunately, Aslan takes one side of God, the side of the Conquest specifically, and then says this is the God Jesus worshipped, completely ignoring other passages in the Old Testament on love and grace.

Aslan’s book as I said starts off fine enough, but the further you go, the more strange it becomes. Aslan never offers an explanation for the rise of the Christian church or tries to explain the resurrection. In many cases, he acts like a naturalist in explaining the text, especially when it comes to miracles. Somehow people have this idea that reasonable people can’t believe in miracles. It is a wonder why this is. They do not contradict science or logic. They actually presuppose both as you must have a working order to recognize the exception.

The main stuff I want to hit on is really in the center of the book. Aslan writes about the Kingdom of God and how it was revolutionary. Indeed it was, but it was not a kingdom that would come by the will of men or by political might. As an orthodox Preterist, I believe the Kingdom of God has been established. Jesus did it by His death and resurrection. I am writing this right now in a location thousands of miles from where Jesus lived and in another language and 2,000 years later. I’d say his message spread well as did His kingdom.

Aslan does not see this as eschatology seems to play no major role in his work. It could be he has a hang-up on the literalism he spoke of earlier and reads passages like Matthew 24 in a literalistic sense instead of seeing them along the lines of Old Testament prophecies that were not to be seen as literal.

This problem shows up again when he gives references to Jesus saying He did not come to bring peace but a sword. Sure, but this is not a literal sword. Jesus knew what His kingdom would do. Jesus was the dividing line. You are either for Him or against Him. That would tear one’s very household apart. The sword is a metaphor.

On 121, Jesus also says the idea of love your neighbor applied only to a fellow Jew. Aslan leaves off interaction with the parable of the Good Samaritan where Jesus specifically addresses the question of who one’s neighbor is and goes with someone completely reprehensible to His fellow Jews. This was so much the case that in the end when Jesus asks who it was who was the neighbor, the lawyer says “The one who showed mercy.” He cannot bring Himself to say, “The Samaritan.”

Aslan also says on 122 that if one thinks Jesus is the begotten Son of God, His being Jewish is immaterial. WOW! Really? I think Jesus is that and His being a Jew is essential. That’s the only way He can be the promised Messiah and in the lineage of David. Jesus has to fulfill the promises of the Old Testament to truly be the revelation of God.

This also explains Aslan’s puzzle that the Kingdom never came in 135. The Kingdom Jesus preached is not what Aslan thinks it was since he is hung up on the literalism. Interestingly, Aslan gives no Scripture references in describing the Kingdom on this page.

Aslan writes about how the Gospel writers wanted to blame the Jews for the death of Jesus moving further and further away from the Romans, yet on 156 he’s quite clear the Romans killed Jesus and this was clear to Luke. Luke also doesn’t present Pilate as a saint in Luke 13.

Some ask why Pilate would seem to be so weak and light on Jesus when he had a reputation for being a cruel leader. Cruel sure, but that doesn’t mean he held execution parties whenever the Jews wanted someone executed. Pilate knew it was just the Jews being jealous and was thinking, “Yeah. Not going to be your person to do your bidding.”

Furthermore, there is debate on when Jesus was crucified, but it could have been around the time of Sejanus who had been executed for treason. He and Pilate had had a close relationship. Pilate could have been walking on thin ice and didn’t want to upset Rome by causing any more riots.

Aslan also makes much out of the trial of Jesus being totally out of sync with how Jewish trials were to be done. At this, most every conservative scholar wants to say, “Duh!” That’s the point. The Jewish courts were breaking laws left and right to get rid of Jesus. Something like this isn’t news if you’ve been reading scholarship.

At 166, I have to wonder if Aslan meant Daniel 9:26 instead of 7:26. On this page, he also says Peter uses Acts 2 to say it’s about Jesus when it’s really about David. Aslan ignores that in the very passage of Acts 2, Peter says it could NOT be talking about David since David was still in his tomb.

On 168-9, Aslan looks at Stephen’s vision of God and says he no longer sees the Messiah, but a God being coming in judgment. Aslan never seems to consider to ask if there was any reason Jesus would be standing instead of sitting which He was supposed to do. Perhaps there is a simple one. That simple one is Stephen is before the Sanhedrin to be judged by them, but when He sees Jesus standing, the standing is because Jesus is pronouncing judgment. The Sanhedrin is putting Stephen on trial, but Jesus has put them on trial and found them wanting for killing the first Christian martyr.

Aslan tries to deal some with the resurrection on 174 saying that obviously a man dying a gruesome death and rising again 3 days later defies all logic, reason, and sense. It does? In what way? The only way is if you rule out ipso facto miracles, but this has not been done. All that has happened is the question has been begged for naturalism. Aslan does admit that people were convinced they had seen the risen Jesus, but He gives no explanation for this.

It’s also clear that Aslan really has it in for Paul and wants nothing to do with him. Aslan doesn’t look at how the church fathers treated Paul and it is bizarre to think that Paul would be able to distort Christianity so badly and yet the people who wrote the Gospels seemed to give messages that according to Aslan would contradict Paul. One wonders what is going on here.

Aslan’s book can be interesting reading, but it is not a theory that has caught on well and for good reason. Aslan has Jesus as a zealot, but then the zealots weren’t really around, and has just begun with what he wanted to find. He also still has a fundamentalism in him found in his introduction that shapes his approach. Scholars long ago abandoned the idea that Jesus was a zealot. Aslan has not brought back the idea enough to have it be considered by scholars again.

A fuller review can be found by my friend David Marshall here.

In Christ,
Nick Peters