Book Plunge: Imagine Heaven

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

John Burke’s book could be the most exciting book on near-death experiences (NDEs) that I have ever read. While the majority are not evidential in the sense that they tell about people seeing things that they could not have seen that can be verified, that doesn’t mean that there isn’t much information here that should bring joy to the heart of a Christian. Namely, are some of the ideas about what is possible in the city that is being prepared for us.

This doesn’t mean that we shut our brains off and just believe entirely everything said. One has to be on guard because there have been fake accounts of people having NDEs. Burke is right though that many of these come from people who could face public embarrassment for claiming the things that they do claim. What do they gain by making them up always?

Burke is also very reliant on Scripture to make sure that the claims do not go beyond what is written. When one reads the accounts, it’s hard to not get excited. Light is a common refrain that shows up and life is right behind it. It’s as if the place that is coming is full of light that seems to move through everything and life is all around us.

Beauty also plays a major role and with this one, I was surprised that Burke didn’t address an issue that many men wonder about and that is the issue of marriage and sex in Heaven. I think marriage could have been addressed, but not the sexuality aspect. I remain uncertain about whether it will be in heaven, though making babies certainly will not take place. Still, what it is here should be seen as a foretaste of what is coming with God flirting with us about the joys of this world.

Some ideas that were really convicting also included hellish NDEs and the life review. For the NDEs of a more hellish nature, I found myself looking at my life and wondering if I was living that nature more sometimes. I do think I found some areas in which I can improve.

The life review was something common to come across as well. In this, people would review their lives like they were movies and see thoughts and emotions and how their tiniest actions affected people around them. The main question that was being asked is “What did you do with the life that I gave you?” In the accounts, Jesus cares deeply about how we treat other people around us.

I also found it interesting to hear about actual homes in the next world. This was intriguing to think of places where people live in a city. I was very pleased to hear about books being there and the constant pursuit and learning of knowledge.

Burke at one point does describe a welcoming committee and one reason they come is protection. More was said to be coming about this later, but I don’t remember it coming and it was something I was looking for. It could have been hellish NDEs, but that was not specified.

Again, I do not think that we should accept blindly every account given of an NDE, but there are too many to just dismiss them. More and more of them are also coming with evidence that can be verified.  Those with an interest in this field need to read this one.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

The Tendency To Be A Marcionite

Do we all have a tendency to go that way? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

It was within the past couple of weeks that I came to this conclusion. I was going to sleep at night praying myself to sleep as I usually do and I started thinking about my prayers to God. I started thinking about how the Father seems so unapproachable and things of that sort, and many of us I think do think that way.

Then the realization came to me. If Jesus is the one who showed the Father to us, then if we can approach Jesus, we can approach the Father. The thought hit me then that I had been being a Marcionite and I hadn’t even realized it. Was I not implicitly saying God was a God who was ready to judge?

I thought then of the many passages I have read on prayer. We are told to boldly approach the throne of grace in Hebrews 4. That is quite a serious claim. You don’t just come to the throne. You come with courage and confidence. You have all right to be there. God has granted you that privilege because He has adopted you as a son or a daughter.

And what does that tell us? God is supposed to be one that we approach as Father. The New Testament seems to go to great pains to get us to realize that. Jesus tells us in Luke 12:32 that it is the Father’s good pleasure to give us the kingdom. He before this even tells us to fear not. Could it be we are told to fear not because we fear the opposite from God?

What about Elijah? James tells us that Elijah prayed and it didn’t rain for years. He prayed again and the rain came. Before this, he says Elijah was a human being just like us. The prayer of a righteous man availeth much.

And if this is the case, the other danger of seeing God wrongly is that we don’t see Him truly. We miss who He really is. If we see God in this way, how can we present Him as truly a God of love?

This isn’t to say that He’s not a judge either. There is some of that judgment in Jesus as well. Just see what Jesus did in the temple or read the book of Revelation. Jesus can be quite tough on those who oppose Him. The Father we are told disciplines us because we are sons and He loves us.

If we see God as a father, what kind of father is He? Jesus tells us that if we ask our fathers for fish and eggs, will we get snakes and stones instead? What kind of father would do that? Yet sometimes we treat God as someone we have to beg and beg just to get one good thing from and we live in constant fear begging for mercy over and over.

And maybe you’re reading this and realizing you’ve had the same tendency. I think it shows up in people who come to me and struggle with doubt. They think that if they didn’t say or do the exact right thing, God will abandon them and say they’re not really Christians. He wants to keep them out of eternity on a technicality. Is that not the same sort of problem? The cross should show us God is willing to do what it takes because He does desire to forgive. Heaven is not for God but for us. God doesn’t need Heaven. He needs no place to dwell. We need a place if we are to be with Him.

So now, I am in the mental process of working on rethinking issues relating to prayer and who God is and thinking more and more about the awesome privileges that come to us who are Christians. I hope some reading this who have the same struggle are starting to rethink. If we are to tell the world about the goodness of God, we need to believe it ourselves.

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: Evidence Considered

Was Jesus’s tomb found empty? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

In chapter 34 of Evidence Considered, Jelbert decides to take on Gary Habermas on if there was an empty tomb or not. At the start, Jelbert says that all of Habermas’s material comes from Christian sources. He also says these are diluted by internal disagreements and contradictions.

However, Habermas is just doing what all scholars do. Even Bart Ehrman will grant this point.

If historians want to know what Jesus said and did they are more or less constrained to use the New Testament Gospels as their principal sources. Let me emphasize that this is not for religious or theological reasons–for instance, that these and these alone can be trusted. It is for historical reasons pure and simple. (Ehrman, The New Testament, page 215)

Now if Jelbert thinks he has some sources that are more relevant to the life of Jesus and closer to the time, he’s free to come forward and show them to us. I am sure the scholarly world would love to hear these sources. If not, then there’s no reason to complain because Habermas uses the main sources that we have. Everyone does that.

Jelbert says that Jesus had in the accounts left the tomb. Why on Earth would it be that angels would have left it open? This sounds like a good question unless you actually think about it for a few seconds. The tomb was open so that everyone could see that it was empty. It wasn’t open so that Jesus could get out, but so that others could get in.

He also says Habermas makes two assumptions. The first is that the Gospels are reliable which is what needs to be shown and that anyone would care to disprove the story anyway. Naturally, both of these are weak claims.

For the former, he’s not trying to prove the Gospels are reliable. He’s trying to prove a part of the tradition in the Gospels, the empty tomb, is reliable, That’s a big difference. The way he’s doing it is by examining the sources we have with normal scholarly protocol. Again, everyone in the field does this.

For the second, apparently Paul might have been in such a position. We know that within a year or two he was already out there persecuting Christians and that’s just one person we’re told about. Christians were regularly facing some sort of persecution from Jewish interlocutors.

Jelbert goes on to say that Christian teachings explicitly encouraged belief without sight. Not at all, but we have the usual litany. Let’s go through each of them.

We have Jesus with Thomas saying “Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.” This is a strange passage to use because it would imply that we who are later on are in a better position than the apostles who saw Jesus themselves. Thomas’s problem was that he had every reason to trust Jesus and he failed to believe.

1 Cor. 1:19 says God will destroy the wisdom of the wise and the intelligence of the intelligent he will frustrate. This verse has absolutely nothing to do with seeing something. What it is talking about is a masterful rhetorical work where the teaching of Jesus would challenge the sophists of the day by going against their preconceived notions of what a king should be and by revealing them to be frauds. Sophists, after all, could stand up one day and make a powerful argument that the nation ought to go to war against the enemy and receive applause for it, and the next day get up and argue the exact opposite.

No list of verses like this would be complete without Hebrews 11:1. I have written on that one before here. Nothing further needs to be said.

Jelbert says 1 Thess. 5:21 is often brought out, but that it applies to prophecy. I do agree on that one. Still, I think it’s a principle that can easily be applied across the board.

When he talks about the women discovering the tomb, he says that if the Gospel writers wrote that, they probably believed it. Yet this is what strikes me as odd. Jelbert talks about the accounts evolving over time. If they did, why did this part not evolve? Wouldn’t women witnesses be one of the first ones to change? Why not make the disciples into the heroes?

Jelbert says Mark and Luke have the women wanting to anoint the body with spices, but Matthew has them just wanting to look in the tomb. This is because Matthew has a story about guards that is found nowhere else. There’s one reason that I really think the story has credibility and this is something Jelbert never mentions. The text says the story has been told “to this day.”

If this story wasn’t being told in Matthew’s day, any reader would say, “Well not it hasn’t. We’ve never heard that story.” This is a direct acknowledgment of what was being said at the time. Again, Jelbert never mentions this.

Jelbert also says since Matthew changes Mark, that shows he doesn’t think Mark is reliable. That doesn’t follow. It could mean he does some editing to highlight certain points. It could be he wants to refine a detail. It could be he thinks a detail is unneeded. Jelbert just assumes the worst and goes with it.

Jelbert says that Paul never mentions the tomb at all, but what he needs to show is that he needs to. Paul writes about Jesus buried and risen and the word there indicates coming up from a lying down position. As a Pharisee, Paul would believe that what is placed in the tomb naturally comes back up again. Also, one will search in vain for any interaction with a work like Gundry’s Soma In Biblical Greek to see what is meant by a body.

Jelbert also says that when Paul says “Last of all he appeared to me, it implies an exhaustive list.” Why? Your guess is as good as mine. I see nothing here to make me think the list had to be exhaustive.

Getting back to the guard story, Jelbert says the chief priests and Pharisees go on the Sabbath to request a guard from Pilate who gives them one. That’s a problem at the start because there’s debate on if Pilate gives them a guard of if he acknowledges they had their own guards. He says the angels knock the soldiers out with an earthquake, which again I do not see in the text. They come to and run to the leaders who tell them what to say and assure them they will keep them safe. Jelbert says none of this is plausible. I suppose it isn’t when you straw man all of it.

Jelbert also says that if a body was raised from a mass grave, that would not leave an empty tomb. Sure, but no one claims it is a mass grave. If Jelbert thinks he has such a source, let him show it. All four of our early sources here all agree that Jesus was buried in a tomb alone.

Jelbert now goes to 1 Cor. 15 and the passage about the spiritual body. If this means immaterial, we have a problem. Paul speaks of spiritual men in chapters 2 and 3. He speaks of a spiritual rock in chapter 10. In that same chapter he writes about spiritual food and drink. Spiritual does not necessitate immaterial and again, the reader is invited to check the work of Gundry.

Right now I am convinced the tomb was empty, but not only that, so is Jelbert’s critique of it.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

Book Plunge: Evidence Considered Chapter 30

What do we make of Jesus being said to be the Son of God? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

We continue our look at Glenton Jelbert’s work with him taking on the first part of Ben Witherington’s work on Jesus. In this chapter, it is about Jesus being the Son of God. Son of God did not equate to divinity in Judaism. For the pagans, it would have done that, but it certainly would not be in a monotheistic sense.

Witherington does say that Mark quotes “You are my Son” and leaves out “Today I have become your Father” to show that this is not adoptionism. It is recognition of who Jesus is by the Father. Witherington also argues that Jesus did have a unique relationship to God in praying to Him as abba, a term of endearment. Jesus also saw Himself as central to a relationship with YHWH for those estranged from Him.

Witherington also looks at the Johannine thunderbolt. This is Matthew 11:27. In this, Jesus sees Himself as the unique conduit of knowledge between God and man. The only way to know God is through Jesus.

Witherington also offers the parables. In the parable of the tenants, Jesus makes a strong implication to being the Son of God. Jesus understood that in some way, He had a unique connection to God.

Jelbert responds that looking at the argument, it’s clear these were not strong divinity claims. I disagree. Jelbert doesn’t say anything beyond his claim so one could say I don’t have to say anything more.

I will say more. I will say that Jesus approached God in a unique way not seen by any other teacher of His day. Jesus’s statements would be blasphemous on the lips of anyone else. These were the kinds of statements that led to His being crucified and also to nearly being stoned several times.

Jelbert says that in the last essay we were to look at the unquoted context about the Son of Man and assume it applies to Jesus. Here, we are to ignore it and assume it does. I am puzzled as to what is meant by unquoted context. Context of a passage normally isn’t quoted period. It’s just assumed.

Jelbert says that a plain reading shows terms weren’t linked to divinity. Witherington has quoted 1 Timothy 2:5 about one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus. Jelbert tells us the verse specifically cited says Jesus is a man.

I am sure Witherington would be extremely grateful for this. No doubt, in all of his reading of the text, he had never noticed that. We can expect a strong retraction of his usage of this verse any moment now.

Except Jesus being a man has always been a part of Christian theology. What would we say? The God Christ Jesus? That would lead to something like polytheism.

Jelbert also says we can’t be sure that Jesus said these things because it was written down later while the theology was evolving. Naturally, there is no interaction with scholars like Hurtado, Bauckham, Bird, Tilling, etc. who make up the early high Christology club. Jelbert also lives in a strange world where apparently before a scholar quotes any text he has to make a strong case for it going back to Jesus.

On a side note, Jelbert also talks about Jesus referring to the Canaanite woman as a dog in Matthew 15. In this case, I think Jesus is playing along and showing the disciples where their own hostility towards outsiders led them. Sadly, the text cannot convey tone of voice or anything like that. There was something in Jesus’s statement to the woman that indicated that she should press harder, and she did. Jesus does end up healing her daughter.

Jelbert goes on to talk about the evolution of the person of Jesus. Paul and the early Gospels do not see Jesus as God. It would be good to see some backing of this claim. Philippians 2 and Romans 9:5 and other such passages come to mind in Paul. There’s also the Christianization of the Shema in 1 Cor. 8:4-6.

For Mark, I think it’s all throughout. Jesus, in the beginning, is given a divine title compared to Caesar and then John the Baptist shows up preparing the way of the Lord and lo and behold, there’s Jesus. In the next chapter, Jesus claims to be able to forgive in the name of God and to be the Lord of the Sabbath and such. Perhaps Jelbert lives in a world where you have to come out and explicitly say “I am God” to be seen as making such a claim.

Jelbert says that this also shows a move from monotheism to the Trinity. Absent is any notion that even in Jewish monotheism, there was a question about the possibility of plurality in the person of God. One could see the work of How God Became Jesus for examples. It also ignores that the Trinity is monotheistic.

Jelbert then says that in the words of the immortal Alan Bennett, “Three in one, one in three, perfectly straightforward. Any doubts about that see your maths master.” It took awhile to find who it was, but apparently Bennett is a playwright who wrote a play called Forty Years On. Well, that’s a great place to go to get your scholarship!

Jelbert says that Witherington’s essay shows that Jesus did not teach the Trinity. Of course, it would have been relevant if Witherington had argued any such thing. We might as well say Jesus didn’t teach the Pythagorean Theorem. I don’t think Jesus would have had much success teaching the Trinity to the local people in Israel and it would have only led to confusion. He planted the seeds instead in His own person.

John 10:30, I and the Father are one, merely defines a special relationship. Well, unless you ignore that Jesus said that no one can snatch believers out of the Father’s hand and out of His own hand just before this and you ignore that the people picked up stones saying Jesus claimed to be God. No doubt, Jelbert understands things better than the immediate listeners did.

Jelbert says that it’s unlikely Jesus said the Great Commission since Jesus’s followers didn’t go to Gentiles immediately. Yet why think this? Could they not have thought to go into all nations telling all the Jews in the diaspora about Jesus? Jelbert also draws a distinction between baptizing in Jesus’s name and the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, but Jesus is not giving a baptismal formula here that must be followed. Peter says Jesus’s name in Acts 2 due to Jesus needing to be the new one to recognize as Lord.

Jelbert will also try to explain the rise of Christianity. He brings up Mormonism and scientology as counter-examples. Never mind that these were based in modern individualistic cultures with a more tolerant live and let live attitude. Never mind that these were cultures that more readily accepted new ideas. Never mind that these built on, especially in the case of Mormonism, previously successful ideas.

So what does Jelbert say made the religion successful? For one, it upheld church authority and gave them control, which would be absolutely worthless as a matter of appeal. All religious people had that authority in a culture that didn’t have separation of church and state. This would also only appeal to people who wanted to be in control and then, why be in control of such a small movement that would be opposed to Rome?

He also says it undermines self-worth making us question our own senses and reasoning abilities. No examples of this are given. Could it be Jelbert is revealing something more about his own psychology than Christianity itself?

It also promoted wishful thinking with ideas of eternal life and eventual justice. Unfortunately, this kind of thing is only appealing if you believe the promises can be delivered on. If you don’t, then it doesn’t appeal. It’s a nice story. Also, it’s worth noting that our emphasis on Heaven and such is absent in much of the New Testament, such as the Pauline epistles.

Finally, it exhorts its members to proselytize, which is surely a great draw! Go out and tell your neighbor who could report you to Rome about your new faith! One wonders why Jelbert thinks this way.

Jelbert then says it’s easy to imagine that a religion with these characteristics would be successful. Of course, it’s hard to imagine a religion with a crucified Messiah, a belief seen as new, radical exclusivity, and a bodily resurrection that would be seen as shameful being successful, but hey, details. Who needs them?

Thankfully, Jelbert doesn’t say that this speculation is accurate. It’s a good thing, but apparently it’s a good just-so story to justify atheism. Could it be Jelbert is engaging in his own wishful thinking?

Jelbert also says on a side note that the burden of proof is on the one making the claim. If the claim is unpersuasive, then atheism is justified. Well, that’s only if atheism is seen as the lack of belief which I do dispute, but what about the problem of who decides if something is unpersuasive? I find the arguments persuasive. Jelbert doesn’t. Why should his view be the rational one? Maybe he’s the irrational one and doesn’t know how to recognize a persuasive argument. Maybe I am. How could we know?

Next time we’ll look at a second essay by Witherington on Jesus as God.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Irresistible.

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

Andy Stanley has in the past made himself a controversial figure. It’s understandable why that is. He knows in his newest book that he’s putting himself in a risky position. The whole idea behind the book is how to make the faith irresistible and reclaiming what Jesus launched into the world.

At that start, I even wonder. Can we ever say that Christianity was truly irresistible? It seems like a lot of people did a pretty good job resisting it. So much so that Paul required a personal experience to stop murdering Christians and the Romans didn’t really hesitate to persecute them.

Stanley has been put under fire for statements he has made about the Old Testament and inerrancy. I do understand both. I have a lot more sympathy with the trouble he got into on the latter. My father-in-law, Mike Licona, got caught up in inerrancy debates just because he dared to interpret one passage differently and then a host of others were brought out. I think a lot of people got turned off on the topic of inerrancy because of that.

The Old Testament, I am a bit more cautious on. I think Stanley does make it right more towards the end. He shows that when people come to believe in Jesus in the New Testament, they do come to embrace and study the Old Testament more. Well and good. Still, I wonder if he thinks that Old Testament apologetics is all a waste.

I don’t think he does, but one can get that impression sometimes. I think there are many great and precious truths in the Old Testament. My wife came to know Jesus because of a passage in the Old Testament. Many of us know it. It’s Psalm 139 where God says that we are fearfully and wonderfully made. The Old Testament tells us we are in the image of God and begins the story of sacred space that God seeks to create. I am fully convinced that without understanding the Old Testament, your understanding of the New will be woefully inadequate. Sometimes, I do wonder if many doctrines I disagree with in the church fathers came up because none of them, as far as I know, were Jewish.

I think sometimes Stanley’s language of the Old Testament can be over the top. Yes. The book of Hebrews refers to the old covenant as obsolete. That does not mean the Old Testament is obsolete. The Testament contains the covenant, but it is more than the covenant.

Yes. The God of the Old Testament is seen as violent at times, but what about the God of the book of Revelation? Yes. The God of the Old Testament said things about slaves, but what about the fact that Jesus and Paul never told people to release their slaves en masse? The God of the Old Testament condemned homosexuality and so did Paul, but you know, Jesus didn’t say anything about it so maybe it’s okay.

I should clarify I think Jesus didn’t speak about it because in ancient Israel, it wasn’t an issue. It was just condemned and if anything, Jesus’s silence on the matter should be seen as tacit agreement with the principle. He didn’t hesitate to speak out in other places where he thought the law was not right, such as divorce.

This isn’t to say that I disagree with everything Stanley says in this book. Some material I think is quite helpful. I think it’s important to realize that a contradictin in the Bible does not spell the end of Christianity. I think it’s important to realize that we don’t have to answer every question about the Old Testament, or even the New for that matter. I think it’s important to realize that we can know moral truths apart from the Law.

I also think it’s a great point to say that we meet many people who say they want to get as close to that fine line without crossing over it as they can, which is a self-emphasis. On the other hand, there are many people who want to be full of God and the Holy Spirit and have a passion in prayer and such. Unfortunately, that can also still be just an emphasis on self. You want to have these things sometimes because you want to be sure you are in the right.

I think it’s a good insight to say that the love of God must not be just vertical, but it must be horizontal as well. I think though that Stanley can neglect the vertical in some cases. What about passages like Matthew 6 where you go into your prayer closet alone and don’t show people that you’re praying? Your Father who sees in secret rewards you.

Of course, if we do something just for a reward, that’s not good, but sometimes God tells us to do things and we will be blessed. The verse in question is one such case. Let’s face it. When a man starts dating a girl, you can say all you want the nobility of love and such, and many good men somewhere do, but yeah, he’s also thinking about the privilege of having sex with her.

I think it’s a great question to ask what love would require of us. What is the most loving thing we can do? It’s a good principle to look at if we want to study how it is a Christian should walk. It’s also noteworthy that the apostles repeatedly pointed to the example of Christ and walking like Jesus.

I also did enjoy the bit on eschatology and the destruction of the temple. I have been an orthodox Preterist for years and it’s good to see someone well-known like Stanley presenting this viewpoint. I hope more Christians will come to embrace it.

In the end, I have mixed feelings. I understand the motivation behind the book and why it is that way and for that, I agree, but I still fear we can be too dismissive. I wondered at times about how Stanley would answer if someone asked who was skeptical about Jesus, “Is the God of the Old Testament the Father of Jesus?” I don’t doubt that Stanley thinks such, but I just wondered.

But if Stanley wanted controversy, he’s certainly produced a work that will bring it about. If Stanley has overstated his case, then it could just be that this leads to the work that can bring about the necessary corrective that will be the balance without going to the extreme that the inerrancy witch hunt has gone. I am also thankful for excellent work in New Testament scholarship, but I hope we will see more in Old Testament as well, like Walton and Longman.

If you pick up this book and read it, you might agree with most of it, you might disagree. Either way, you will have an opinion. Most everyone who reads this will have something to think about.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Deeper Waters Podcast 9/29/2018: Ross Hickling

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

Evidence. We all say we want it, but do we really? If we get evidence, do we know how to evaluate it? What are the standards of legal investigation that are to be used for a claim? Can we use these on historical claims?

And what of the skeptics of the faith? On the internet, Richard Carrier is one of the big ones that comes up. While he is indeed well-known on the internet, outside of the internet he’s not having the impact he would like to have. His big book on doubting the existence of the historical Jesus really didn’t get much notice.

That’s most scholars. Not all are like that. There is one who decided to look at this internet blogger and see what he was saying. He took the work of Carrier and subjected it to tests based on his life in law enforcement and evaluating evidence. He focused mainly on the resurrection of Jesus. Does Carrier’s case against it hold up? He concludes no. His name is Ross Hickling, but who is he?

According to his bio:

Ross retired as a Senior Inspector with the U.S. Marshals Service in 2014 after serving in federal and local law enforcement for 26 years.  During his career in law enforcement, Ross functioned in various investigative roles to include a narcotics detective, SWAT team operative, threat investigator, seized assets investigator, fugitive investigator, and sex offender investigations coordinator. Midway through his career with the U.S. Marshals Service, Ross began to prepare for a career in ministry after retirement when he began his seminary education.  Since that time, Ross has earned a BS in Religion (Liberty University), an MA in Religion (Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary), an MA in Christian apologetics (Biola University), and a PhD in Missiology/Christian apologetics from North-West University, Potchefstroom Campus, South Africa. Ross worked under the supervision of prof. dr. Henk Stoker while completing his thesis at NWU Potch critiquing a skeptic’s challenge to the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  During his time with the U.S. Marshals Service and while completing his studies, Ross realized the need to bring evidentiary principles to the study of Christian apologetics. Since retiring, Ross founded “Shield Your Faith,” an organization dedicated to sharing the great reasons for faith in Jesus Christ from an evidentiary perspective, took part in an international apologetics campaign in the Philippines (2016)/South Africa (2017, 2018), currently teaches apologetics on the seminary level (Charlotte Christian College and Theological Seminary), and is currently the chapter director at a Ratio Christi club at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.  Ross is married to Andrea, his lovely wife of 29 years, has two adult children, and resides in Kernersville, NC.
As one who has spent a lot of time arguing with mythicists, which gets more and more pointless, I have always been interested in excellent critiques of those proponents of it and while Hickling doesn’t really take those on, his insights are still great to have. We will be talking about such things as evidence for the resurrection, the appearances of Jesus the disciples claimed to experience, and pagan copycats. I hope you’ll be listening and please go on iTunes and leave a positive review of the Deeper Waters Podcast!
In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

Book Plunge: What Is Man?

What do I think of Edgar Andrews’s book published by Elm Hill Publishing? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

I want to thank Edgar Andrews for sending me a copy of his book for a review. I am not a scientist, but I like to try to read books when they’re sent my way. I don’t always manage to, but I want to try. Still, it can be difficult for me to read scientific books because there’s so much terminology I’m not familiar with it and that has to be tied in with other terminology I’m not familiar with.

Andrews does take an approach many conservative Christians take which is to argue against evolution. Now as a non-scientist, I can look and think that that looks like a good point, but the reality is I just don’t know. I’m not a specialist in the field and I could show such to a friend who’s an evolutionary creationist and he could tell me various problems with it.

So can I really comment? Not at all. Andrews could be right. He could be talking nonsense. I really don’t know. I am skeptical since evolution does seem to be the reigning paradigm and not just with atheists but with a number of devout Christians as well.

So what can I comment on? I can comment on the Biblical data. When we get to the image of God, Andrews looks at the work of J.P. Moreland. Moreland is a great philosopher, but that is no reason to think he’s an Old Testament scholar. Andrews doesn’t think there’s much to the representational view, but based on the work of John Walton, I happen to think that it is the most persuasive view.

Andrews also says that when the New Testament says that God is love, it could also be taken to say Love is God. I have to disagree with this entirely. This is a great error I think of our age. Love does not have the nature of God. God has the nature of love. The two are not interchangeable. Love has often been a great idol of our day. To be fair, Andrews does say it can only be understood in reference to the character of God, but even then I disagree. God is necessary ontologically for us to love, but epistemologically we can know what love is without knowing who God is.

When we get to Jesus, I can’t say I necessarily support the use of prophecy. It is doable, but it takes some special skill to do it in our day and age. Andrews goes to a passage like Daniel 9:24-27. This is an excellent passage and I think fulfills Jesus down to the last detail and in precise manner, but sadly, it is also one of the most debated passages in the Old Testament. Unless you are skilled in this kind of argument, you are likely to be destroyed in the argument.

I also wish there would have been more interaction with scholars on the resurrection of Jesus. More of Habermas and Licona would have been good. Perhaps Andrews should co-write with another and he does chapters on science and a historian does the chapters on the New Testament?

So in the end, there could be a lot of good stuff on science, but I just don’t know. I appreciate the passion and zeal Andrews has for Jesus, but I don’t think the arguments in the Bible section are the best. I agree with Andrews’s conclusion on what man is, but I don’t know enough to evaluate the arguments.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Deeper Waters Podcast 9/22/2018: Tim O’Neill

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

Atheists often pride themselves on being people of reason. They only believe something based on evidence and they’re not gullible enough to buy into myths. Unfortunately, gullibility is part of human nature and one doesn’t get a free pass because they’re an atheist. Atheists many times do fall for myths and two of the greatest ones they fall for are the ideas that Jesus never even existed and that the so-called Dark Ages was a science stopper.

Sadly, a lot of atheists have a tendency to do what many Christians also sadly do, and that’s to not inform themselves of arguments on the other side. If that is the case, how can we convince them that these are great myths? Perhaps we could do it by having one of their own speak to them.

Thankfully, one atheist is on a mission to do just that. One atheist is out there standing tall against the wave of bad history coming from internet atheists and saying that while he agrees with them on the question of God and the resurrection of Jesus, they are wrong here and they need to acknowledge that. He has gone so far with this that he has created a website of history for atheists. In a Deeper Waters first, I’m hosting this atheist on my show this Saturday. His name is Tim O’Neill.

So who is he?

I am an atheist, sceptic and rationalist who is a subscribing member of the Atheist Foundation of Australia and a former state president of the Australian Skeptics. I have contributed to many atheism and scepticism fora over the years and have a posting record as a rationalist that goes back to at least 1992. I have a Bachelors Degree with Honours in English and History and a research Masters Degree from the University of Tasmania, with a specialisation in historicist analysis of medieval literature.

As a rationalist, I believe strongly that people should do all they can to put emotion, wishful thinking and ideology aside when examining any subject and that they should acquaint themselves as thoroughly as possible with the relevant scholarship and take account of any consensus of experts in any field before taking a position. Which is why I began this blog in October 2015. After over ten years of seeing supposed “rationalists”, most of them with no background in or even knowledge of history, using patent pseudo history as the basis for arguments against and attacks on religion, I felt someone needed to start correcting the popular misconceptions about history which are rife among many vocal atheist activists. I also felt there needed to be some push-back by a fellow unbeliever against several fringe theories and hopelessly outdated ideas which have no credibility among professional scholars and specialists, but which seem to be accepted almost without question by many or even most anti-theistic atheists. “History for Atheists” has grown out of these convictions. In the years since I began this blog I have won a number of fans and supporters, but also gained a few detractors and hecklers. That’s the nature of the rough and tumble of the internet. If this is your first visit here I would ask you to try to put assumptions, a priori positions, and emotional preferences to one side and look objectively at the evidence and arguments I present. If we preach objectivity and dispassionate, well-informed rational analysis to others, we need to be prepared to practice these things ourselves. And remember that it’s usually only by discovering we have been mistaken about something that we can learn something new.

I hope you’ll be listening as we hear an atheist come on and talk about what his fellow atheists are getting wrong in history. Tim and I differ on several things after all, but we are united in this and I have turned to his site many times as a reference for atheists. Please also consider going on iTunes and leaving a positive review of the Deeper Waters Podcast.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: A New Dawn For Christianity Part Two

What do I think of the second part of this book? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

In the second part of this book, we have the contributions from “Rev.” Michael Macmillan. I use the Reverend in quotation marks because I wonder what exactly he is a reverend for. I mean, the first part of this book argued that all gods are human constructs, so why should his construct be treated any differently? Perhaps the authors are saying that all gods are human constructs, except for theirs.

Macmillan lists his problems with supernatural theism and one part is the violence, such as the people God kills in the Bible. It’s interesting to see this in light of the idea that he has a problem with God not always intervening in cases of people with cancer and such. I find this an interesting juxtaposition. If God doesn’t intervene every time in the evil of cancer, He doesn’t exist. When He does intervene when it comes to evil people, He also doesn’t exist. If something is arbitrary, it is when Macmillan wants God to intervene and when he doesn’t.

Of course, there will be no interaction with scholars like Copan and others who have written on the topic of the God of the Old Testament. It’s enough for Macmillan to say he doesn’t like it. There’s nothing here arguing that God is obligated to keep anyone alive or that He owes life to anyone.

I also think it’s odd to say God is evil because He doesn’t always intervene with cancer. If that God isn’t worth believing in, well what is Macmillan’s god doing about cancer? It’s still going on. People are still dying. Macmillan says that it doesn’t fit with progressive Christianity to do petitionary prayer or intercessory prayer, even if those are natural.

If the Christian God is evil, what excuse does Macmillan’s god have? Could we apply the standard questions to him to ask if he is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent? Does this god really care? Why is Macmillan worshipping him? What is this god worth?

He also talks about Paul in Acts 17 as moving away from supernatural theism by saying God doesn’t dwell in temples made by human hands and such. It’s interesting he says this while having Paul say that God is unknowable. To an extent, He is as we cannot know everything about Him, but we can know some things about Him. If He was unknowable entirely, Paul could not even say this about Him.

As for saying in Him we live and move and have our being throws supernatural theism right out the window (And keep in mind I don’t use the term supernatural but Macmilland does so I use it for that reason here), how exactly? He gives no explanation. This is really part of classical theism and has been for a long time.

Macmillan says to ask any fundamentalist and he will tell you that the Bible contains the literal truths of Acts of God. This includes a six-day creation and a worldwide flood. He also adds in the virgin birth (Which I do affirm) and the deliverance of Israel. While I do not agree with young-Earth creationism or the flood being worldwide in reach, I do support the other two. Macmillan shows no interaction with the scholarship on these issues unfortunately.

In talking about Jesus, Macmillan says that the creeds of Christianity, and he has in mind the Nicene Creed, are dangerous since they turn Jesus into a being to be worshipped rather than someone whose life is to be emulated. Macmillan says that is a long road from rabble rouser to true God from true God. Indeed, it would be, but how was this point even reached?

I honestly don’t even know how Macmillan’s Jesus got crucified and for sedition as even Macmillan says. Jesus is apparently going around Israel teaching to give to the poor and have compassion on your fellow man. This Jesus would not be noticeable. He would not be crucified anymore than a Mr. Rogers would be crucified.

Macmillan also says that the message of the Kingdom of God has been lost. This is interesting since evangelical scholars have no problem with the message. Namely among them is N.T. Wright. Perhaps we can forgive Macmillan since it looks like he limit his reading to people like Borg, Ehrman, and Spong. I’m not saying to not read them, but read both sides!

Many of us won’t be surprised when he says how the journey ends. He tells his audience, as these are all sermons given, to point to themselves and say “I am the Christ!” and to point to their neighbor and say “You are the Christ!” and then to say “We are the Christ together!” At this point, it is clear that the deity Macmillan believes in is ultimately himself.

Macmillan’s Jesus will present no challenge to him. He will not call him to die to himself. He will not call him to take up a cross. He will not call him to repent of sins. He will instead build him up so much that he thinks that he is the Christ.

Macmillan further says that through the experiences he describes, we will meet and experience Jesus like never before. Of course, if Jesus is yourself this would follow. Macmillan and his audience will not get a deeper understanding of Jesus, but of themselves. Now we should understand ourselves, but worship is not about realizing who we are but realizing who God is.

Why also should we trust this experience is reliable? What about my fellow evangelicals who experience Jesus as described in orthodox Christianity? Do our experiences not count? How will we determine whose experiences count? What if two people in progressive Christianity disagree?

He also says that one of the greatest crimes and sins is the message of salvation. It is a horrible idea to say we need salvation and has robbed death of its meaning. No idea how this is possible, but it’s amazing that Macmillan will freely list out the sins of God, but when it comes to his own he has no need to be made righteous.

When talking about prayer, he asks what meaning it has if there is no God up there to hear us. I agree. What meaning does it have? Unfortunately, he never really answers that. Macmillan cannot beseech his god for anything apparently. What good does Macmillan’s god do? Better to have the God who heals some people of cancer instead of none. If the God of Christianity is evil for allowing anyone to die of cancer, what about Macmillan’s?

Macmillan in a message towards the end says that anyone who reads his book wins even if they don’t agree, because they know the rest of the story. Now we know about 200 years of science and Biblical scholarship. Well, no. We don’t. We know about a one-sided message that has been given.

He tells me it is likely I have never heard a pastor say the Easter story is metaphorical or that God is a human construct. Well, actually, not pastors, but I have heard plenty saying such things. I have spent years reading the scholarship which is why I’m convinced Macmillan is flat wrong on these issues. He has shown no interaction with the other side at all.

He tells me also that if I don’t believe, what makes me think I know better than the world’s leading Christian scholars? I don’t. The thing is, Macmillan does, because I have read the world’s leading Christian scholars. I think their arguments are far better than those on the other side.

Macmillan may claim the title reverend, but to quote another book, his god is too small. I see nothing in his good worthy of worship. It is rather a sort of amorphous blob who in the end will be made in the image of Macmillan instead of the other way around.

In Christ,
Nick Peters