Book Plunge: The Day The Revolution Began

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

N.T. Wright is one of my favorite authors to read. He is a deep thinker and he seems to have a vast knowledge of the Old and the New Testaments. There is also no isolation as he shows the interplay between the two very well. These are not facts just hanging in the air. These are part of a large and grand story. He makes me come to the Bible with fresh eyes seeing it incredibly different and leaves me with a greater love of the text.

This book is no exception. In it, he looks at the cross as the day the world changed. Of course, this wasn’t really known until the third day when Jesus rose, but the cross was something that changed the world. He also has a full-frontal attack on the idea that this is all just because Jesus died for our sins so we could be good people and go to Heaven. He does believe Jesus died for our sins. He does believe we should be good people. With Heaven, he holds, and I think rightfully, that God’s Kingdom is indeed to come on Earth and God is not going to destroy this world but rather to redeem it. The parts about dying for our sins and being good people is true, but it is missing a lot.

For Wright, the world was created and our vocation in it was to rule on behalf of God. When man failed, the task went to Israel to be a kingdom of priests for God to get all humanity back to where it needed to be. We know how that turned out. Israel needed to be rescued and redeemed often more than the people they were meant to rescue and redeem. God knew what to do. The Son, who has the very nature of God, came and died in order to redeem the world. Through death, He disarmed the power of sin and broke its hold over us. Through this, we were sent out then to be the people that we ought to be.

Wright then argues that our being good people in this world is not because we have a contract with God that He does something good for us and we do good back, but because our task now is to be those priests for a dying world. When we sin, it’s not just that we broke a rule that is out there. It is that we are violating our very being. We were meant to be holy and when we do something wrong, we give some power back to those powers that enslaved us and that Jesus came to break us free from.

We have too often read Paul and the Gospels with the idea that the Gospel is all about Jesus dying for our sins so we could go to Heaven. It can be as if this world doesn’t matter. It’s just an accident in the story. That’s also why so many of us having a hard time finding our place in this world. Yes. We’re meant to be good people, but to what end? We too often think “If we are good people, then others will ask us what makes us so different and then we tell them about Jesus so they can be good people too.” Unfortunately, this rarely happens, and second, it makes it so that we are the end result of all God does.

We are not the end of what God does. God is the end of what God does. His glory is supreme. When we live transformed lives and work to bring about the Kingdom of God on Earth as it is in Heaven, then we are giving the glory to God. Of course, this doesn’t mean that we establish a theocracy. That is not ours to do. It does mean that we live like Kingdom people knowing that while in many things, we submit to our governments, that when our governments contradict with God, we hold to the higher authority.

Wright’s book is engaging and scholarly and it leaves one with a greater appreciation of the New Testament text as well as a greater appreciation of holiness. It’s wonderful to go through a book like this and say “Hey. This makes sense.” All the ideas start clicking and falling into place. Our New Testament faith is not just ideas hanging in the air unrelated to Israel. They are entirely connected to Israel. We cannot give a full Gospel presentation without mentioning Israel and yet so many of us skip that part.

I really recommend you go through Wright’s latest book. It will leave you with a new way of looking at the cross and at your own life. I eagerly look forward to the next book by N.T. Wright.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: How I Changed My Mind About Evolution

What do I think of Kathryn Applegate and J.B. Stump’s book published by IVP? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

When you see a title like this, your first inclination would probably be to think that this is a book by several ex-atheists who came to Christ and then as a result changed their minds on evolution. That’s a natural idea to think. Unfortunately, it’s dead wrong. In fact, this is about Christians who came to either believe in evolution or be open to it and saw no conflict with their Christian faith.

I find this interesting because I find myself in the category of people who are open. If you ask why I don’t come out and affirm, it’s because I don’t possess the scientific acumen to really examine the evidence. I also don’t possess the desire to spend years reading about it when my focus is elsewhere. How did I reach this conclusion?

It actually happened when I was studying at Southern Evangelical Seminary. I was writing a research paper on science and religion and thinking about the interplay between the two and how so many people so often claim that war is going on between the two. I also combined this with the Thomism that I had been learning about. I thought about the five ways and how those were valid ways of showing God exists long before the scientific arguments of our day came along such as the first two ways of William Lane Craig or of the Intelligent Design movement.

I started asking how much could I grant and still have Christianity? I realized it was quite a lot. My research got me to realize that if evolution is true, we have to accept it. We have no other choice. If something is true and if we believe the Bible is inerrant, it will not contradict the Bible. We might have to change our interpretation of the Scriptures.

I also thought about this because I had seen too many Christians, and sadly it was sometimes myself, critiquing evolution without understanding science. But wait, wasn’t it my concern that the new atheists were critiquing ideas without bothering to understand them? Ought I not be consistent? Now that being said, I am not opposed to Christians critiquing evolution. I just say that if you want to do it, make sure you build a case that is scientific. If evolution falls, let it fall because it is bad science. Let it never be the case that we make it the Bible vs. science. That damages the faith community and the scientific community both. (And atheists make the same mistake of such a dichotomy which I think leads to great ignorance on both the Bible and science.)

So enough about me, let’s get to the book. This book contains twenty-five accounts of people who accept evolution or are open and are committed Christians. I was very pleased to see N.T. Wright in here who wrote an essay on how this is a major issue in America, but not so much of one in the U.K.

Sometimes I thought the title was not as accurate. Some were Christians who never really had a problem with evolution. Some were, but not all. Can we really speak of them changing their mind on evolution?

Also, I understand that we should read more elsewhere to learn about evolution itself, but I would have liked to have seen more argumentation for evolution. Still, if you grant that at the most each author had about ten pages, I suppose I can see why it was lacking. Much of it was more autobiographical.

What I saw over and over was the need to really look at science and how science really can be a gateway to the glory of God. True, there are pastors and Biblical scholars in this book, but let us not think they are the only ones who are bringing the truth of God. The scientists can do it too. Sure, science won’t bring us the message of salvation by itself, but it does still help our lives here tremendously and explain the wonders of the God that the scholars and pastors reveal.

I realize there are some Christians who still struggle with this and I understand it. In fact, the editors of this book do and I’m sure most of the writers in the book do. Still, I always want to point to the foundation. If you found out evolution was true, would that refute for you the fact that Jesus rose from the dead? If it does, then you might not have a good apologetic for the resurrection to begin with. If Jesus rose from the dead, then how can evolution disprove that?

Could it also be that you believe in a God not with a certain nature but who works a certain way? We can still be made by God and formed over time. In fact, all of us are. From the time our parents have sex and conceive us, we spend nine months being formed and yet none of us thinks that that undermines our being made in the image of God.

I recommend that if you don’t know science, try to grant what can be established scientifically. If you do know and you think you can argue, make a case. If evolution is false like I said, it deserves to fall. Stick instead to your strengths ultimately. You don’t have to answer everything. The resurrection is the sure foundation. If you have that, you have Christianity. Christianity does not rest on old creation. It rests on new creation.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Got Questions On The New Perspective on Paul

Do we have a valid criticism of the New Perspective on Paul? (NPP) Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

A reader of the blog wanted to get my thoughts on an article he found online from Got Questions (GQ). He had been searching for information on the New Perspective on Paul and wanted to see what he could find. This one showed up on the first page and when I did my look, I got the same results. So let’s look at what the author of the piece has to say. Those wanting to read it can find it here. The question being asked is if the NPP is Biblical.

Any time a “new perspective” on some biblical doctrine arises, red flags should go off warning Christians of possible danger. In many cases such “new” ideas, teachings, or perspectives are not new at all. Rather, they are the same old lie from the Garden of Eden when Satan first cast doubt on God’s Word: “Did God really say…” (Genesis 3:1). In that sense, the “New Perspective on Paul” is ancient in that it tries to deny what the Scriptures clearly teach and what has been accepted by Christians for centuries. The “New Perspective on Paul” is not biblical and appears to be an attempt to redefine and even deny key biblical doctrines that are the foundation of the Christian faith.

Way to start off with both guns blazing! GQ didn’t even hesitate to start tying in the NPP with the lies of the devil. Why? Well first off, because it’s new. One can only imagine what they would have thought at the time of the Reformation. Would they have sided with Luther? Even if my readers aren’t Protestant here, it should be realized that GQ is not a Catholic ministry so they must answer this question. Would heliocentrism be considered a new perspective causing doubt on the Word of God? They do believe in the rapture. Are they not aware that historically that is a “new teaching”?

Anyway, to get back to the main point, we have already been told that the NPP is not Biblical and is an attempt to redefine core doctrines of the Christian faith. This is an interesting statement, but there’s one glaring problem. We haven’t even been told what the NPP is. We’re just told that whatever it is, it is like the ancient lie of the devil.

Sadly, however, the teachings propagated by the few who champion the “New Perspective on Paul” are gaining ground, even among evangelical churches, despite the fact that some of its leading proponents are liberal New Testament scholars from secular universities. Most well-known among the “New Perspective on Paul” proponents is N.T. Wright, a noted Bible scholar and Bishop in the Anglican Church, whose books seem to be influencing the spread of this troublesome teaching in evangelical churches.

Some of its proponents are liberal NT scholars who teach at secular universities like…..well…..we’re not told. N.T. Wright is the one mentioned here and he is hardly liberal. Wright wrote one of the leading books arguing that Jesus rose from the dead.

The heart of this teaching is that for hundreds, if not thousands, of years Christians have seriously “misunderstood” the apostle Paul and his teachings—thus the need for a new perspective on Paul. The idea that these latter-day scholars are so wise that they can figure out the correct perspective on Paul, when biblical scholars from the time of Christ on could not, is founded upon audacity and even borderline arrogance. The “New Perspective on Paul” is not unlike the Jesus Seminar group, who several years ago decided they could determine what Jesus actually said and did not say by voting on which words of Christ in the Bible should be attributed to Him and which should not. The implied arrogance of these types of “wiser than everyone else” attitudes should be clear when they claim that Christians for almost 2,000 years have been wrong about Paul.

Um. No. It’s not arrogance at all. It’s simply based on having new information that they did not have, including information found in the Dead Sea Scrolls. There’s also this head in the sand approach that new ideas cannot possibly be true. We are learning more about the world of the Bible regularly. Archaeology and other disciplines are showing us things that had been lost for centuries. This is not arrogance. Arrogance is thinking that we will not uncover anything that could change our minds.

It’s also hideous to say that this is like the Jesus Seminar. The Jesus Seminar was a group of leftist NT scholars who approached the text with an assumption that miracles didn’t happen and didn’t consist of anyone from a European school. The NPP is not like that at all. GQ is just engaging in some guilt by association.

There are four basic tenets of “New Perspective on Paul.” First is the belief that Christians misunderstand Judaism of the first century. They say that Paul was not battling against Jews who were promoting a religion of self-righteousness and works-based salvation and that the Pharisees were not legalists. Yet the Bible describes the Pharisees as those who “neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness,” “straining at a gnat while swallowing a camel,” and ones who “cleaned up the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence” (Matthew 23:23–25). The view that first-century Pharisees were not legalists and their religion was not one of self-righteousness and works-based salvation directly contradicts Jesus’ own words in this and numerous other passages.

No it doesn’t. The idea is that the Pharisees did not keep the Law in order to attain righteousness. They kept it to demonstrate their righteousness. That can still work with self-righteous. The Pharisees thought they were righteous because they kept the Law, but Christ pointed out that it was all show. It would have been good for GQ to go and get Paul’s own perspective with the Law.

Philippians 3:4b-6.

If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless.

Paul would have said he kept the law flawlessly. He wasn’t living in a legalistic system where he was hoping everyday he could keep the Law. That’s the idea that has often come to us, but it’s simply a false one. In fact, the Reformers themselves would have been the first to say “Let’s look at this idea!” Their cry was “To the sources!” If this idea could be demonstrated from the sources, then let us go with it.

The second tenet of this false teaching is that Paul really did not have a problem with the doctrine of salvation taught by the Jewish leaders of his day. His disagreement with them was simply over how they treated the Gentiles and not a fundamental difference over how one is saved or justified before a holy God. However, in his letters to the Galatians and the Romans, Paul clearly and solidly condemned the works-based system of righteousness promoted by the Judaizers who were trying to lure the Galatians away from the true gospel message. In fact, he said that anyone who preached a gospel other than the one he preached should be “eternally condemned” (Galatians 1:8–9). Once again, Scripture shows that the “New Perspective on Paul” is not based on the testimony of Scripture but instead is contrary to it, making it an unbiblical teaching with serious consequences for those who follow it and are led astray by it.

No. Once again, GQ is assuming their stance and pushing it onto the Bible. The question of Galatians is “How do you show you are a part of the family of God?” The answer of the Judaizers was “Keeping the Law.” The answer of Paul was “Faith in Christ.” Paul would have indeed said you could not be righteous by keeping the Law. You can only be righteous by having faith in Christ. The NPP would not disagree with that.

The third unbiblical tenet of the “New Perspective on Paul” teaching is that the gospel is about the Lordship of Christ and not a message of personal salvation and individual redemption from the condemnation of sin. Certainly, the Lordship of Christ is an important part of the gospel truth, but, if that is all it is, how is that good news? No one can make Christ Lord of his life without first being cleansed of sin and indwelt by the Holy Spirit. Only the Spirit of God can empower us to yield to the lordship of Christ. Clearly the hope of Christians is that Christ is first and foremost a Savior whose atoning sacrifice has personally and completely made atonement for their sins. It is for this reason that the gospel is the good news, because “it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek” (Romans 1:16).

The NPP is right on this and what GQ misses is that salvation is the result of this. Since Christ is Lord, He is able to pronounce forgiveness and judgment. It’s a shame that GQ asks “How is this good news?” How is it not? One does not say “Jesus is Lord and that’s all.” It’s “Jesus is Lord and that changes everything.” The NPP is certainly right that we have individualized the Gospel and started it with ourselves instead of Christ as Lord. Again, nothing else said here about the Holy Spirit would be problematic to the NPP.

This leaves us with the fourth and the most serious unbiblical tenet of the “New Perspective on Paul” teaching—the denial of the doctrine of justification by faith, a central and non-negotiable Christian doctrine. According to proponents of this unbiblical teaching, when Paul wrote about justification, he was not speaking of personal and individual justification whereby a guilty sinner is declared righteous on the basis of his faith in Christ and Christ’s righteousness being imputed to the sinner. Instead, they claim, when Paul wrote about justification, he was speaking of how one could tell if a person was “a member of the covenant family.”

And the problem? One is welcomed into the covenant family on the basis of faith and not the works of the Law. How is that a denial of being justified by faith? Salvation still works out the same way. At this point, I can’t help but think of how someone once asked me to watch a video with Al Mohler hosting a group of Christians, whether scholars or not I couldn’t tell, on N.T. Wright’s view and if he was going against the Reformation. One person actually said “N.T. Wright may think he’s found something new in the Scriptures, but he’s going against the tradition.” I nearly fell out of my chair hearing that.

Wasn’t that kind of what the Reformation was all about? Going against tradition because of something found in the Scriptures? Why would the Reformers be opposed to this then?

According to N.T. Wright, “Justification in the first century was not about how someone might establish a relationship with God. It was about God’s eschatological definition, both future and present, of who was in fact, a member of his people.” The problem with this tenet of the “New Perspective on Paul” is that it distorts the biblical teaching on justification by faith and instead teaches that Paul’s doctrine of justification was only concerned with the Gentiles’ standing in the covenant community and not at all about a guilty sinner being declared just before a holy and righteous God. Simply put, we cannot disregard or redefine justification and still be considered Christian or biblical. In his writings, N.T. Wright often argues against the imputed righteousness of Christ, which is the heart and soul of the true gospel (2 Corinthians 5:21).

It would have been nice to have seen something from N.T. Wright on this. We have a quote, but who knows where it comes from? Instead, GQ puts up a straw man saying Paul was only concerned about Gentiles. No. Paul was a preacher of one Gospel. After all, Paul counted his keeping of the law rubbish when compared to Christ. It’s a shame also that GQ says Wright argues against the imputed righteousness of Christ, which is the heart and soul of the true gospel.

I could have sworn the heart and soul was Jesus Christ died, buried, and resurrected again. Could it be GQ here is actually demonstrating the point about individualizing the Gospel? They’ve said the start of the Gospel is the news about themselves. It’s not. It’s the news about Jesus.

Just as Satan called into question the Word of God to Eve, the “New Perspective on Paul” calls into question the basic doctrines of the Christian faith as revealed by the Bible and, because of this, the “New Perspective on Paul” should be rejected.

It would have been good to have seen this demonstrated, but instead, we have a head-in-the-sand approach that says “New idea! Must not be investigated!” And apparently, they didn’t. You do not find all these other scholars quoted and only one attempt at a quotation from Wright that does not even have a source. It’s because of this, that I think GQ should be rejected on this. Now it could be the NPP is not true and should be rejected, but it is better to debate a matter without settling it than to settle a matter without debating it.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

Book Plunge: The Challenge of Jesus

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

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

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

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

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

No one answered.

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

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

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

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

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

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: The Lost World of Adam and Eve

What do I think of John Walton’s book published by IVP? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

AdamandEve

First off, I wish to thank IVP and John Walton both for this. IVP sent me an advanced copy and John Walton and I have interacted on the book. I consider him a friend and I thank him for his care in discussing these matters with me.

The Lost World of Genesis One was a book that I considered to be revolutionary. It’s the kind of study of Genesis One that I hope will keep going onward. In fact, nowadays, whenever someone asks me about the age of the Earth, I just tell them to read John Walton. For a long time I had been wondering if I had been reading the first chapter of Genesis wrong and trying to think of how it is that an ancient Israelite would have read it. John Walton’s book provided the answer. I was simply thrilled to hear that he had a sequel to the book coming out in the Lost World of Adam and Eve. (Although he tells me that at this point, there are no plans for a Lost World of Noah, but who knows how that could change in the future.)

So in this book, we have a focus largely on Genesis 2-3 and it is meant to address a lot of the questions that come up later, such as where did Cain get his wife? In this book, Walton continues the line he was going down in his previous book and emphasizes the account is not about material creation but it is still about what he prefers to call sacred space. In the past, he had used an analogy of a temple, but sacred space is the path he’s going now, although we could certainly say that all temples are deemed to be sacred spaces, not all sacred spaces are temples.

In Walton’s view, Adam is not so much the first man as he is the archetype. This means that Adam was meant to be the one who would represent humanity. This makes sense since if we want to say it’s a chronological thing and Adam is the first Adam, then what are we to make of Jesus being the last Adam? Chronologically, Jesus is definitely not the last man to have ever lived. Everyone reading this post was born after the time of Jesus. From the position of an archetype, Jesus is the last one. Just as Adam was our representative in the garden, when we get to the New Testament, Jesus is seen as our representative.

Thus, the text would not be seen as having a problem with other people. It’s just that those people are not the subject of the account. If that is the case, then the question of where Cain got his wife is answered. Cain married one of those other humans. It was just that Adam was the chosen representative and he brought the knowledge of sin to the world by his wrong actions. Walton is open to the possibility of there being sin beforehand, but people did not have a law that they were accountable to. When Adam fell, then people had something that they were accountable to and sin had to be dealt with.

Eve in the account meanwhile is made to be an ontological equal. She is not really made from the rib of Adam but from the side. Walton says the language is used of a deep sleep for a trance like purpose. We should not read modern anesthesia into the account. The Israelites were not scientists and God could have just as easily made Adam impervious to any pain. Instead, what it is is that Adam is having a vision of himself being cut in half by God and from that half Eve being made. Thus, quite literally, when Eve shows up, Adam can happily proclaim that he’s found his better half. (To which, I have consulted a number of Hebrew scholars who tell me that the bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh that Adam said when he saw Eve is more appropriately translated as “YOWZA!”)

But what was Adam to be doing in the garden? Adam was to act as a priest. In essence, he was to do what Jesus came to do also according to Hebrews. Unfortunately, as our priest, he failed. Adam was meant to bring order to a world that had non-order in it and even some agents of disorder wandering around, chaos creatures as Walton calls them. This would include the serpent, and while whatever the nature of the serpent was is unclear still, it represents a creature that is opposed to the plan of God and thus a threat. It’s also interesting that Walton points out we are not told where the encounter took place. We just think it was in the garden.

As for the tree, Walton says there was nothing magical in the fruit of the tree and that it could have just as easily been a command to not walk on the beach at night. The question was simply is man going to be faithful to God or not. Man gets to choose. One can easily think of C.S. Lewis’s Perelandra at this point. Walton also argues that Adam and Eve were not created immortal, to which I was certainly thrilled to see that as that was a point that I concluded years ago. After all, if they were immortal, why would they need the fruit in the garden, especially the tree of life, to sustain them at all?

Another bonus in the book is that Walton has an excursus by N.T. Wright on Paul’s view of Adam. It’s hard to think of something more thrilling in academia than to see John Walton and N.T. Wright working together on a project. Walton’s view in fact falls in incredibly well with Wright’s, which is one reason I think it’s simply such an amazing interpretation. It fits in with the whole role of vocation and how we are all now in the place of Adam in the sense that our vocation has not changed from the garden. We are still to rule over the Earth and to take control. That having been said, Walton is clear we are not to misuse what we have been given. None of this belongs to us by nature. It is all God’s. We are just the caretakers of what He has given us.

Along with all of this comes the point that science is no threat to Christianity. Studies in modern genetics are not a threat. Evolutionary theory is not a threat. There’s no doubt that at times science can inform our interpretation. For instance, it would be wrong to interpret Psalm 104:5 in a geocentric way and to have read it that way in the past was a misreading as if the Psalmist was interested in telling us about the relation of the planet to the sun. We definitely need to avoid anything such as science vs. the Bible. If a theory like evolutionary theory is to fall, let it fall for one reason. It proves to be bad science. All truth is God’s truth after all and that includes scientific truths. If we want to know the purpose of our existence, we look to the book of Scripture. If we want to know the how of our existence, we look to the book of nature. It is true in a sense that we can say of everything that is that God did it, but Scripture is not meant to answer the question how. It is the glory of God to conceal a matter and the glory of man to search it out. Let’s benefit from both the book of nature and the book of Scripture.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: The Case For The Psalms

Do Christians today really need the Psalms? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

As readers of this blog know, N.T. Wright’s work is just gold to me. N.T. Wright brings so much life to the biblical text by sharing the historical context making it a deeper and deeper work to be appreciated. In fact, Wright was a major influence in getting me to switch my major to NT.

Yet in his book “The Case for the Psalms: Why They Are Essential”, Wright turns to this important OT book, a book I honestly rarely see scholars engaging with, except for how it relates to the NT. Wright does some of that, but he also brings out the importance of it on its own.

The Psalms we must remember were the hymns of the early church and the first Christians. They were before Christ, the embodiment of the hope of Israel. They longed for what it is we all longed for and what was ultimately fulfilled in Christ.

Of course, this is not to say that new songs should not be written. Indeed, they should be. Yet so many of our songs lack the rich depth that can be found in the Psalms. How many of the songs we sing in church today really usher us into the amazement of knowing God in Christ? I can say that one that certainly does it for me today is “Holy, Holy, Holy.” Whenever I hear that song, I simply have to sit down. I can’t stand and sing that song. I am humbled every time I hear it with the recognition that God is holy and without Him, I am not. With my interest in theology also, I am deeply appreciative that a song says “God in three persons, blessed Trinity.”

Perhaps our songs could learn something from the Psalms with the Psalms being the archetype that we all draw from when it comes to writing new songs today. These songs should embody our hopes that the Psalms themselves embodied. Wright goes into three areas.

First, the Psalms all hoped that God would redeem time. Many a Psalm points back to events when the God of Israel acted in the past in order to bring about a people. The reason of course was so that God could bring about a great future and that future had not yet come. Thus, the Israelites were living with a hope for the future and that hope was in the present unrealized.

Many of us today can still pray “How long O Lord? How long?” Yet the Psalmists were in many ways saying the exact same prayer and their stark honesty is refreshing. At times, the Psalmist chooses to point the finger not at fallen humanity or the devil or forces of evil, but at God Himself. Why is God doing or not doing something? The Psalms would be a way of saying to God the promises He had made and looking with the hopeful future trust if not present trust that He would bring them about.

Second, the Psalms hoped that God would redeem space. The land of Israel was the sacred land to the people. Yet at times they had been removed from the land and when they returned, they were still in exile as a foreign power was in charge.

Not only that, where did God exactly dwell? That was a question. God had made His presence known in the Temple? Where was He when the temple was not there? How they longed for it! This is of course fulfilled in the NT when we have the living temple of Jesus come and then we read in 1 Corinthians that we are the temple of the Holy Spirit.

Finally, they longed for God to redeem matter. It is a gnostic view that this world is evil. Christianity says the world is good, but something has gone wrong with this good world. We can often get at the environmentalist movement for worshiping the creation seemingly, and some do, but we should not lose sight that this creation is the creation of God and it is good and He has a purpose for it.

All these three are still often our hopes and a work like this has taught me I need to go back and reread the Psalms and see the hope of Israel in them. It is not only myself but all of us who do. We need to look at the Psalms and ask why each Psalm was written and what was the purpose and notice the nuances of the beautiful poetry therein.

So once again, I am in debt to N.T. Wright for helping me to look at a portion of Scripture afresh. I am never disappointed by a work of Wright. May he write many more works and may God bless us with more scholars of the heart and caliber of N.T. Wright.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: The Resurrection of Jesus

What do I think about Crossan and Wright in dialogue? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

In “The Resurrection of Jesus”, a dialogue takes place between N.T. Wright and John Dominic Crossan on the resurrection with several essays following by noted scholars on the subject. I wish to focus my main part of the review on the dialogue between Crossan and Wright.

As readers of the blog know, I have a strong bias with N.T. Wright. I am a fan of his series and try to read anything he wrote and listen to any podcast that he is on. If I am ever given a chance to review an N.T. Wright book, I take it immediately. Thus, I not only get to review a great book, but add one to my collection.

Naturally then, I thought Wright was stellar, but my problem with the debate is that it had little to say about history from what I saw. Crossan takes a quite postmodern approach and wants to discuss interpretations rather than what really happened. Trying to have the dialogue take place then is akin to trying to nail jell-o to the wall.

Yet Crossan’s whole position is problematic. It is as if it doesn’t matter at all if Jesus literally arose or metaphorically arose. We’re all still Christians and we have to get about the work of the Kingdom! I’m not ready to jump on board. If Jesus died the death of a wicked blasphemer and I have no reason to believe He was vindicated, then why should I waste my life following Him?

On the other hand, if Jesus was resurrected, this means just more than that a dead guy came to life again. As Wright says, if the thief next to Jesus had been resurrected, it would have been considered a strange world. No one would go out and immediately proclaim Jesus as the Messiah.

The resurrection of Jesus would then mean that our real material world and all that is in fact immaterial is on the path to restoration. God is building His Kingdom right now and we are the ones that are at work. Eventually, death itself will be obliterated. The story cannot work both ways. Either death has the final say on Jesus, or Jesus has the final say on death.

Crossan’s approach should be a reminder to Christians that we need more than history. We need to have a whole interpretive grid into which to fit the resurrection and to show what a difference it makes. We are becoming a more and more postmodern society in America with everyone’s view being seen as just as good as anyone else’s. (Except those darn evangelical Christians.)

We also need to firmly set up what is and isn’t a Christian. Crossan wants to include himself. If we do not think he is one, why not? If we say the physical resurrection of Jesus, then we have to ask why is that a clincher? Why does it matter?

As I have said many times before, Christians need more than just knowing how to establish the resurrection. They need to be able to show what a difference it makes and how it fits into their worldview beyond “Christianity is true.”

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Who Was Jesus?

Is Wright right and Spong wrong? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

I am an avid fan of N.T. Wright and try to read absolutely anything that he writes. My latest read of his came from reading “Fabricating Jesus” where Evans dispenses with people like Barbara Thiering yet says N.T. Wright has written a response to her in “Who Was Jesus?”

That’s enough to get me looking for that on my next library visit!

Thiering is not Wright’s only target. Wright has other chapters on A.N. Wilson and John Shelby Spong.

It’s hard to read this book without thinking that seeing N.T. Wright go after these guys is like watching a tank be used to squish an ant.

Wright’s book starts off with a brief summary of Jesus studies to this point, largely by looking at what Schweitzer did. He goes on from there to say where the studies have led us and then brings out Thiering, Wilson, and Spong as examples of how not to do these kinds of studies, all the while still commending some good points that can be found in them.

Reading Thiering, it’s a wonder how such a work as hers got published. Thiering’s idea is that practically everything in the gospels is code and the way to understand the code is by looking at the Dead Sea Scrolls. As Wright points out, Thiering is quick to dispense with her idea of a code whenever it is convenient for her to do so. Based on her reading, Thiering has dates on when Jesus escaped death, married Mary Magdalene, later left her and married Lydia of Philippi, (Seriously. I’m not kidding), and eventually died.

Yes. Wright takes the time to dispense with such a bizarre theory as this. One cannot help but imagine the reaction these three authors might have had knowing who was critiquing their work.

A.N. Wilson comes from another angle. For Wilson, Jesus was a Galilean holy man, but Paul came along and messed everything up! Wilson does have more right than Thiering (Granted, not much of an accomplishment), but there is still too much that is wrong. Wilson does not interact with the latest of scholarship on the issue and gives the impression of being stuck in works from the 1960’s. Amazingly, some parts of his writing are quite accurate and had I not known they were from him, I would have thought they were from a conservative Christian.

One of Wilson’s great weaknesses is his idea about seeking unbiased sources. As Wright points out, they don’t exist. Everyone wrote with a motive. No one is neutral on the Jesus question and it is a mistake to think anyone is. Yet as Wright has said elsewhere, even if the sportscaster has a bias for which team he thinks is the best and wants to win, that doesn’t mean you must doubt the score he reports.

Furthermore, if we wanted an unbiased work, it would not be Wilson who makes it clear he has a hammer to use against anything that is religious. As usual, it is the ones who are claiming the most to have no bias who in fact do have the most bias.

Finally, we come to Spong, who has a hang-up over the virgin birth. Wright is just perplexed, as am I, over the idea that Spong has that we today know better. As Wright points out, they might not have known as many details about sex as we do, but they certainly knew what it took to make a baby. That’s why Joseph sought to divorce Mary at first. He knew what it took to make a baby, and he knew he hadn’t done it.

Spong also has a vendetta against literalism, which I can understand, but yet praises the Reformation and goes against the ECF. Yet it was the ECF who were more pron to going with an allegorical interpretation of the Scriptures and the Reformers who wanted to return more to a literal interpretation.

Spong also includes a comment about what Midrash is, an account that Wright thinks is nonsense, and that scholars of Midrash would disagree with. Like the other writers, Spong can sound impressive on paper and the notes and bibliography of the books Wright comments on can make them seem scholarly, but it is only a veneer. The real heart of the works is anything but.

As with any Wright work, I do recommend this one. Wright gives an excellent example of how to deal with so much misinformation in the popular culture. It is a shame more people will read Thiering, Wilson, and Spong, but never get around to Wright. I am thankful for Wright and thankful indeed that Wright is right and Spong is wrong.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

The Resurrection and Joy

Do we have reason to rejoice? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

We’ve been looking at the resurrection lately and what a difference it makes for the Christian. For tonight, I think of what N.T. Wright has said about comparing Judaism of the day before Christ to the time of Christianity. The Jews lived in a time of hope. It was the question of if God was going to come and bring about the promises that He said He would do. Would God conquer their enemies? Would God rescue His people? When would God fulfill His end of the covenant?

Nothing wrong with that of course. In the time before Christianity, one could have joy of being a member of the community of God, but it still was looking forward to something important. One was still in bondage. As we know from John 8, Christ did come to set us free and that was what we had really been waiting for. Christ did not come for a patch of land. He did not come for one group of people. He came first of all for God. He came to do the will of the Father. He came second for the world. He was not interested in a land but the planet. He was not interested in a group of people but every tribe and nation.

That hasn’t changed.

Now the Jews and their land was the means to that. For the Jews, everything revolved around the Temple. Consider it if you will a gateway between Heaven and Earth. This is the best analogy I can think of, but some of us who grew up in the gaming sphere know about a scene where someone enters a place like a temple and ends up finding a gateway that leads to the place where the really good being or the really evil being lives. It is the idea that there are two worlds and this one place is the connection point between both worlds.

I want to be sure that you know I am not saying God lives in another dimension as it were and that that place is physical. I do not think that as God is not physical. I am saying that there was a place that He did make His presence known especially for the Jews and that was in the temple. As long as the temple was there, YHWH was there. God did not reveal Himself to everyone but made a plan to reveal Himself to everyone starting with a particular people in a particlar place.

For we Christians, this hope has been fulfilled and it was fulfilled in Christ. Now our lives are to be dominated by joy. I plan to get into this more in future blogs but let’s consider some points. First off, we have the ultimate reversal. When Christ resurrects, what happens is that death itself starts to work backwards. Christ is the first one to experience this but we are told that not only we, but all of creation will experience that resurrection. (There is nothing conclusive about animals in the new world, but the thought of something like this would be one of my main inclinations to think that God will redeem the animal life of His creation as well.)

Second, we have been set free. The Jews wondered when they would be set free from Rome, but their goals were too small. God was not coming to set them free from Rome but to set them free from sin. The problem is we Christians often make the same mistake. It is not that our wishes for our lives are too great for God to fulfill. They are often way too small. In Luke 12:32, we are told that God has given us the Kingdom for instance. It is quite amazing how much we ask for forgetting we have the Kingdom. We think that God does not give us anything when in reality, He has given us everything, namely Himself. What more can He give?

Finally, this means that we are forgiven. This is something else I will expound on later and I thank a good Christian friend for pointing this out to me in a similar sermon he did on the resurrection. It had the interesting thought experiment in it of imagining what it would be like to live in a world without forgiveness. None of us would want to live in that world, but to an extent, we all act like we do, though we don’t do so as seriously. We think of some sin that is so heinous to us that we cannot imagine that God would ever forgive it, all the while going through our lives committing X number of sins regularly that are smaller sins but still thinking “It’s no big deal.” If there is no forgiveness, there is no sin that is “No big deal.” If there is forgiveness, every sin is also in its own way a big deal when you consider the price that it took to grant that forgiveness. In the first world, we say mercy is not great enough. In the second, we try to say our sin is not great enough.

Consider this then as an entryway into a subset on the resurrection at this point and how the resurrection leads to Christian joy. I hope you’ll continue coming along. Also, for those interested, I am looking into upgrading the blog site talking to some people who know a lot more about this than I. I already know about the issue with the date of the blog entries. Feel free to let me know about anything else you’d like addressed.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Shocks in Mark’s opening

Have you ever been stunned by Mark? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

As I’ve said, I’ve been reading and listening to N.T. Wright lately and as a result I am really rethinking much of the NT. One night, I started thinking about the book of Mark as I was going to sleep and it’s been a thought that often pops back into my mind. I’d like to share some if it with you.

The first verse begins:

“The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”

Jesus begins with a hefty pair of titles! He is the Messiah and he is the Son of God! We are about to hear his good news, the gospel. Let us suppose we are people who know nothing about Jesus and are rather picking up the gospel for the first time. What do we expect? Well let’s move on and see. Verses 2 and 3 read:

“As it is written in Isaiah the prophet:

“BEHOLD, I SEND MY MESSENGER AHEAD OF YOU,
WHO WILL PREPARE YOUR WAY;
THE VOICE OF ONE CRYING IN THE WILDERNESS,
‘MAKE READY THE WAY OF THE LORD,
MAKE HIS PATHS STRAIGHT.’” ”

Ah! Eschatology! This is big stuff then! Today we know about 2012 hype. When people think a prophecy is to be fulfilled, they expect something dramatic. The Jews had been studying and expected a mighty warrior to rise up and defeat Rome and restore Israel to a golden age. How could it be anything less?

We see that a prophet has said something! Even if we do not know who Isaiah is, we can know that this is pointing back to someone in the past. This has been an event long foretold. If it was foretold, then surely it must be something important to us all.

But even before this Christ comes, we have a messenger making ready the way of the Lord. Ah! A king is coming! A king has been prophesied and a king deserves only the best! What kind of great messenger could come that will fulfill a prophecy about a king? Verse 4 reads:

“John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.”

Beg your pardon?

This is the great messenger?

This is the preparation for the king?

We have someone in a river dunking people?

Where’s the chariot? Where’s the sword? Where’s the entourage? How is this messenger described? Let’s look at verses 5-6.

“And all the country of Judea was going out to him, and all the people of Jerusalem; and they were being baptized by him in the Jordan River, confessing their sins. John was clothed with camel’s hair and wore a leather belt around his waist, and his diet was locusts and wild honey.”

This messenger appears in Judea? A nowhere country? Not in Rome? Not in Athens? Not in Egypt? He is in Judea?

The people are coming to him? Isn’t a messenger to go to the people?

In the Jordan River? That’s not much of a river. If we knew our Bibles, we would have known it’s the river Naaman did not want to disgrace himself by bathing in. The other rivers were much cleaner.

Let us suppose we thought about all of this.

A Jew would have recognized the outfit of Elijah and would have thought about how Malachi said Elijah would come before the day of the Lord. Now Elijah has come. They can tell. What of the Jordan? The Jordan was representative of entering the Promised Land. Is this messenger making way for the Promised Land again?

The crossing of the Jordan would mean just that. This would bring to mind the Exodus and God restoring His people. Such had not happened since the exile. Oh they had been in the land, but they had not enjoyed the richness of a Davidic age. Now here it was at last once again! As Wright would say “The exile is over.”

We go on to 7 and 8.

“And he was preaching, and saying, “After me One is coming who is mightier than I, and I am not fit to stoop down and untie the thong of His sandals. I baptized you with water; but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

We have read this passage so much I think we overlook what John says about himself. “One who is mightier than I?”

We are looking at him and tempted to say “You’re just out there in the water dunking people. You’re not exactly Mr. Universe or anything.”

But this is someone mighty! He can pronounce the forgiveness of sins! He doesn’t even need you to bring a sacrifice. We don’t even know if he is asking about circumcision! All we know is that he is teaching about the forgiveness of sins and with authority. If it was not, people would not come to him.

It takes someone either mighty powerful or mighty foolish to pronounce the forgiveness of God Himself. John is one of the two. You must decide. Does his authority come from Heaven or from men?

We’re going to go to verses 9-11 then and end it for tonight. I do not know if we will continue through like this, but if we don’t, it is because I hope your flame has been lit to see the gospel for the first time on your own. Let’s see what happens in these verses:

“In those days Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. Immediately coming up out of the water, He saw the heavens opening, and the Spirit like a dove descending upon Him; and a voice came out of the heavens: “You are My beloved Son, in You I am well-pleased.”

Amazing juxtapositions take place here! Jesus from Nazareth? What kind of great leader comes from a little Podunk like that? This is the Messiah and this is the Son of God? Why would such a man come from such a place? If this is a prophecy, did they not have the chance to foresee he must be a loser coming from such an area like that?

From Galilee? That’s also nowhere. Why should anyone give a rip about that? Were we to know about the Sanhedrin, we could know that they say that no prophet comes out of Galilee! Why there’s no need to even examine the case! We know where he comes from and the case is closed!

And he comes to the messenger? Seems like things are backwards. The messenger should be acting under the authority of the king, but not the other way around. Instead, Jesus (Who by the way also has a common name. Not much noble about that) comes to John asking to be baptized under John! What nonsense!

And then we hear about the testimony of God. Once again, we are in a tough situation. It really isn’t, but for us, it is. How often we today know what God says about something, but it meshes with our conceptions at the time. We know that God says to not worry. We look at our checkbooks and bank accounts. We know God says He loves us. We question that and call it into question constantly. We know that His way is best, yet we continually seek our own. We know about the joy of God and we sing about how awesome He is and marvelous and His ways beyond understanding, yet we treat Him as if He does not matter and that He is uninteresting entirely. We claim that He is Lord of all, yet we live in fear of all that He has made. We know that He has told us to trust Him, yet we hold on to silly fears. We know His Word is true, yet we do not seek to take it in constantly. We know He is always there to help us, yet we rarely pray.

Oh the way the first century responded with skepticism and disbelief in the face of the evidence of this testimony and the miracles we read was wrong, but let us make sure we are not too quick to condemn. We say the case for the resurrection is incredibly strong and thus we have even more evidence for who Jesus was and is, and we have more wisdom in the epistles and the apocalypse, but yet we too have hesitation when it comes to believing what God has said and we too hesitate then when we face the claims of Christ. We may sign our names to the creeds, but do we sign our lifestyles to Him? Do our actions show what we say we believe with our mouths?

This is the juxtaposition of Christ. I often use a saying and my wife corrects me as she should when I get it wrong. I say that Jesus did not turn the world upside-down. The world was not right-side up. It was upside-down and instead Jesus turned it right-side up. He is still doing it and you and I are a part of that world that’s being turned around and too often, our thinking is still topsy-turvy and God gives us a huge contrast. What will we believe? Him or ourselves? If Mark has shown us anything at this point, it is that God does not act the way that we often expect or think He should. It is easy for us to trust God when He acts as we would like. Can we do it when He does not?

I hope this has given you much to think about and I hope as you read the Bible, you also will try to read it for the first time with new eyes.

In Christ,
Nick Peters