Book Plunge: Seeing Through Christianity Part 3

Does the idea of the devil make sense? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

The next chapter in Zuersher’s book is on the devil. The first question Zuersher asks is why would an omnipotent God need helpers? Again, this falls into the category of “God does something I don’t understand. Therefore, He doesn’t exist.” It also assumes that everything that is done is done out of need. Why should I think that?

The interesting thing about an atheist giving theological objections like this is you want to ask how it is they did their theology. What criteria did they use? Did they go out and study the best works they could find, or did they just sit down one day and think about things and see what they thought was a hole and ran with it?

He also says angels don’t fit into monotheism. How? Your guess is as good as mine. This is a mistake even Rodney Stark makes in his latest book Why God? It’s thought that Jews, Christians, and Muslims aren’t true monotheists because we believe in beings like angels, but monotheism means belief in one God. It doesn’t exclude other spiritual beings.

Zuersher also says God could have created angels with a nature more like His own. Who is to say He didn’t? He couldn’t create them with a nature exactly like His because a created being will always have limitations, such as dependence on another for their existence. Creating a being doesn’t mean that God necessitates how that being will behave. That’s part of free-will.

He also says that the snake being the devil creates problems, such as why punish snakes? The answer is simply that the language spoken of the devil in this passage is that of shaming. It’s not making a categorical statement about snakes for all time.

Ironically, he does get something right. He does point out that the word for devil does mean adversary. This means many times what the Old Testament translates as satan could best be read as the adversary. It’s sad that the paragraph after this, he ignores the very suggestion he made in order to get at a contradiction he sees.

This is the account of the census in 2 Samuel and 1 Chronicles. In 1 Chronicles, satan is said to be responsible while in 2 Samuel, God is. Who is responsible? My solution is to say that satan refers to an adversary that God allowed to be raised up. David decides this is a good time to count his fighting men in response. Had Zuersher followed the rule in the very prior paragraph, he could have found a solution to what he considers an embarrassing contradiction and passages that are generally avoided.

The same would apply to Balaam’s donkey. The term used to describe the angel is a term that is translated as lesatan. Again, this can refer to an adversary. If you read it like this, the problem vanishes. Balaam is on his way and he encounters someone who opposes him.

So how did the devil enter into the system to begin with? Zuersher says that during the exile, Jews came into contact with Zoroastrianism and got the devil from them. We would really like to see the hard evidence of this. For someone who doesn’t accept oral tradition easily, why accept the claims of what Zoroaster taught when those really come to us from the time AFTER Christianity?

Finally, some people might want to say who are Chrisitans that the devil is behind works like Zuersher. I would say if so, the devil could find much better argumentation to use. Too many Christians have a tendency to blame the devil for everything and make him quite often on par with YHWH. Unfortunately, such fixation on the devil gives people like Zuersher more ammunition.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Resurrecting The Trinity

What do I think of M. James Sawyer’s book published by Weaver Book Company? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

The Trinity is something that many people do not really pay attention to in Christianity. Sawyer is certainly right that for many Christians today that if the Trinity was proven false, their church services and worship style would be little changed if any. We are often mere monotheists, confessing Trinitarians but practicing Arians.

Of course, we do lip service to the Trinity, but that’s where it usually ends. The only other time we open up the Trinity box is when Jehovah’s Witnesses come by so we can beat them up with it and win in a battle that we don’t often see the importance of and then the Trinity goes back on the shelf. Sawyer wants us to see the Trinity as a life-changing doctrine.

In our modern secular world, we can often view God through a scientific lens where He often plays no active role in our universe except for an occasional miracle. This is why deism is such a possibility for so many people. The universe can run on its own power with laws of nature being active. God is not really necessary. The universe is just a big machine.

Go back to the past and in fact to many other traditions today like the Orthodox church and the Trinity is a living reality to them. We can make many statements about God that would be easily agreed to by a Muslim or a Jew. To some extent, this is understandable. There is no philosophical argument that can prove the Trinity. If we have just reason alone, we can get so far, but the problem is we often act like reason alone has got us as far as we can go.

Instead, the Trinity is to show us what God is like mainly through Christ. Christ doesn’t appease an angry side of God. Christ shows us what the Father Himself is like. If we think the Father is eager to judge us, then we have to ask why Jesus doesn’t seem the same way. There is no dark side of God. What you see is what you get. When you look at Jesus, you see what God is like.

Sawyer also shows that we can have those false views of God such as the kind of name-it, claim-it God or the God who is eager to smite us all. To some extent, we all have these ideas of God at some time in our lives I suppose. It has been rightly said that whatever your idea of God is, it is inadequate. Still, we should strive for as truthful a view as possible.

Sawyer also says that this has often led to a certain moralizing in our walk. Holiness can become a burden when it needn’t be because we are trying to appease the angry God. There is no problem with being moral, but the issue is did Jesus really come to establish a new morality, or did He come to give us God? By all means, He showed us a better way, but did He not show God as well?

When we look at our theology, it is too easy to not have it really be informed by Jesus. The God of the philosophers is tempting to stick with, but the God revealed in Christ is a huge step forward. Too many of us are too tempted to stick with all the omni traits, which we should not deny, and just leave it at that instead of interacting with the whole theological picture.

There isn’t as much in defense of the Trinity here against objections, but that’s fine. There is some grounding of the idea and how it contrasts with Rabbinic thought and about what happened in the Arian controversy, but I think the whole of the work doesn’t seek to defend the Trinity as much as it seeks to show why the Trinity matters. This is indeed something that we need restored to the church today.

The only major area I think I’d disagree with is that Sawyer does seem to hold a higher view of The Shack than I would like. It’s quite interesting that one of the main reasons I didn’t like that book was because of the way it treated the Trinity. If you are like me, you can still get a lot out of this as it doesn’t play a major role in the book.

I hope a book like Sawyer’s is appreciated. The church needs to reclaim the revelation that has been given in Christ. Our doctrine has become largely about morality and such instead of really about a revelation of who God is so that He can often seem just as distant to us as He would have been before the revelation of Jesus. There is a better way.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Deeper Waters Podcast 8/8/2015: Win Corduan

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

We all know the story of civilization. That ages ago savages lived in fear of animistic gods. Slowly these gods became more and more dignified and powerful in the eyes of the people with the traditions evolving as it were. Then we get to a polytheistic system like the Greeks and Romans had. After that, society reaches the peak in deities and goes to monotheism. Of course, some think that this goes a step further when the people realize that there is no need for even the monotheistic deity and move straight to atheism. This is the story of the history of mankind that we all know.

Or do we?

According to Winfried Corduan, we have it wrong. Who is he?

Win Corduan

Dr. Corduan was born in 1949 in Hamburg, Germany. In 1963 he moved to the U.S. and in 1970 got a B.S. in Zoology at the University of Maryland. He went on to earn a Master’s in philosophy of religion at Trinity Evangelical Divinity school and got a Ph.D. in Religious Studies at Rice University. From 1977-2008 he was the professor of Philosophy and Religion at Taylor University, and retired on disability in 2008 as Emeritus professor of Philosophy and Religion. He is the writer of books like Neighboring Faiths, No Doubt About it, and In The Beginning God.

The last book is the book that we will be discussing on the show. Corduan contends that when we get back to the earliest traditions of primitive man, that we find that they did believe in one monotheistic deity. Now of course, they could have other beings out there that were non-human entities, like Christians, Jews, and Muslims believing in angels, but only one has the right to be called “God formally and that is the supreme being of these religious systems.

The book is a thorough and entertaining look at the subject and as you can imagine, I have reviewed it here. The reader will not get lost in highly technical details too much and will find that this is a quite interesting area and in many ways, one that we do not really discuss too much in apologetics circles but one that is certainly worth discussing.

I will be asking Dr. Corduan about the history of this kind of research. If we are Christians today, why does it matter how we start out as long as we know that today there is one God? Were the leading pioneers in this area arguing for an original monotheism simply Christians just letting their bias dictate their research? How is it that we can even do so research to get back to what people believed thousands of years ago? Wouldn’t it have changed over the years?

These are all questions on a topic that as I said, we don’t really talk about much, but maybe we should. That will be for you to judge after you hear the next episode of the Deeper Waters Podcast when I interview Dr. Winfried Corduan. I hope you’ll be watching your ITunes feed.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: In The Beginning God

What do I think of Dr. Winfried Corduan’s book published by B&H Academic? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

“In The Beginning God”. Most of us upon hearing that think “Created the Heavens and the Earth. Yeah. We know. Can we move on?” Dr. Corduan’s book doesn’t want to move on. It wants to stay right there in the beginning, but what beginning? This time not the beginning of the universe, but the beginning of religion. Today, much of the world is monotheistic, but how did we get to that point? Did religion just evolve from a primitive state of animism all the way up to the point where eventually one God came out to be supreme and now many of us today are monotheistic? Or, did religion start out as monotheistic and men moved away from that until later on, we returned to it?

Of course, when we say that religious systems have evolved, it must be clear that this is not saying anything about the scientific theory. For the sake of argument, it could be that scientific evolution of non-life to life in a sort of theistic evolutionary sense could be true and Dr. Corduan’s argument in this book is entirely correct as well. The truth of Corduan’s argument does not rely on that. However, he does want us to realize that evolution being true in one field does not mean that it will necessarily apply in every other field. (In fact, it would seem a whole plethora of gods would be much more complex than one major deity.)

For the research of this book, it will involve looking at the traditions of tribal peoples around the world and seeing what they believed. We will also look at those who have been impacted by Christian missionaries to see if missionaries might have changed any of the beliefs of these people on these major areas. We will also see if the evidence is being allowed to change the ideas, or if the ideas are changing how the evidence is viewed. Corduan will contend that too often the latter is happening. For this, Corduan will rely especially on the work of two in the field, one a Christian and one not. The Christian is Wilhelm Schmidt and the non-Christian is Andrew Lang, though Lang was open to something that would be called “supernatural.” (Regular readers of my writings know that I do not like to use that term.)

Corduan contends in fact that when Lang and Schmidt did the work to show an original monotheism, that their work was for the most part ignored. Of course, it could be for Schmidt that since he wrote around 11,000 pages that few people took the time to read. Corduan also shows that it would be wrong to think that missionaries showed up and changed a central core belief of the people and that the people then left everything else intact. What happens more often is that sometimes other gods can get added later on or other spirits in an animistic sense (Monotheistic religions do believe in other spiritual beings after all like angels and demons), that when you start talking about the one supreme God, that they know who you’re talking about.

Corduan’s book is highly accessible and entertaining. I do wish to thank him also for sending a personal review copy. I had read a recently re-released work of Schmidt’s, but I must say it’s easy to get lost in the jargon of Schmidt and Schmidt wrote as if everyone was familiar with the people in the field. That’s understandable, but it makes it difficult for those of us who do not know the names in the field. Corduan’s work gives you a history of the field and introduces you to the major names. It also ends with the importance that this can have for Christian apologetics with some cautions as well on what we can and cannot say.

I found the work to be highly interesting. If anything, I would have liked to have seen more on what other cultures believed that we don’t hear about regularly, but I know that wasn’t the purpose of the book and probably would have expanded it greatly to an unnecessary degree. For those curious about this kind of area, this is a work that you can enjoy. It’s got good information in it, but you won’t likely get lost in technicalities save for perhaps a few areas.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: The Origin and Growth of Religion

What do I think of Schmidt’s book? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

Chances are you’ve never heard of Wilhelm Schmidt. Neither had I. Why? Because he died around the middle of the twentieth century and wrote about a topic that not many of us learn about frankly. Schmidt was a student of the origins of religion in that he sought to find the most primitive cultures and study them and see what their original ideas relating to the questions of deity were.

Many of our concepts of religion are based on an evolutionary theory of religion. This is not saying anything about evolution in science. Evolution in science could be entirely true and evolution of the kind spoken of in religion could be entirely false. The common theory of religion that we have is that at the start, mankind believed in many gods, such as in an animistic sense, and then gradually religion evolved up to henotheism and then finally moved on to monotheism.

But what if this is false?

Schmidt’s work was to study various people groups of the world and see what they believed about the origins of religion, and this would be apart from what any of us would call special revelation. Through a study of cultures, the goal was to find which ones were the oldest and which beliefs in those cultures were the oldest. Fortunately in some cases, the beliefs had quite likely not changed much over time.

Some might be interested in the Biblical questions, but while there are bits and pieces of that here and there, the book as a whole does not really say much about the matter. However, the overall thesis would prove troubling to those who held to a JEPD theory on the evolutionary origins of the Pentateuch that said that monotheism was a late development.

Schmidt in his studies also determined that many many tribes believed originally in a supreme being who would sound surprisingly consistent (to those who hold to an evolutionary theory of religion) with the God described in the great monotheistic systems. In fact, while there could be images of other gods and perhaps totems and such, this God is often seen as invisible and cannot be imaged.

It goes further. In a polytheistic system, many gods are said to have wives and/or consorts and often times children, but in many tribes, this deity does not have a wife and in fact the idea that He would have a wife is seen as ridiculous. This deity is also seen as all-powerful and all-knowing and all-good. He is the source of morality and the giver of life and the bringer of death.

Included in all of this would be questions related to sin and prayer and sacrifice. These generally do exist in these primitive cultures. There is seen as a place of reward and rest for those who live good lives and a place of punishment for those who lead wicked lives. There is even often said to be an evil being who stands opposed to the supreme being, but this evil being is in no way anything like an actual competitor. His power cannot begin to compare to that of the supreme being.

Students interested in the origin of religion will find this fascinating. It is certainly a bit dated for our times, but it was one of the major works in its day and has now been redone so students can learn from it once more. If this is an area of interest to you, this is a book you need to get your hands on.

In Christ,
Nick Peters