Book Plunge: Why God?

What do I think of Rodney Stark’s book published by Templeton Press? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Religion has been told it’s on its last legs. Atheists today are predicting its demise and many are getting set to celebrate a world without religion. Could it be that their cries of triumph are a bit early? Could it be that despite the best efforts of atheists, religion is not on its way out?

Rodney Stark has written this book recently to analyze religion, what it is, and why it is that it stays with us. The book is loaded with propositions and definitions put forward. It does not argue for the truth or falsity of any religious position whatsoever, including theism. It just tries to state the facts about religion, what it is, and why it seems to endure, and what difference it makes to its followers.

There is plenty of helpful information and food for thought in here. I think the first chapter is one of the best with defining what religion is and especially helpful is the differentiation between many religious practices and magic. Stark describes as well in the book how people approach God and the way that religious growth takes place in a society.

On the other hand, sometimes I thought things weren’t given the time they needed. 87 definitions can be understood, but in a book with 236 pages, 192 propositions about religion means that many of these propositions will not be given the attention that they deserve. Some of them will seem to be thrown out without as much backing as one would like.

I also wondered how much of this relies on modern sociology. We could look at how new religious movements start today, but would it have been the same in the past? Has Stark compared how a religion grows in an honor-shame context as opposed to our more Western guilt-innocence context? How would that affect religions like Christianity? How does it change the dynamics for Islam when one realizes that Islam spread by the sword?

What about people coming to a religion because they think that it is true? While Stark is not wanting to defend the truth of any one religion, it seems hard to avoid the notion that many people come to a religion not just for sociological reasons, but also because they think the religion is true. No doubt, many do join because their friends and family have joined the religion, but not all of them do. How do these people affect our study of religion?

There is also information about how for many young people, their friends today are not necessarily part of their same religious heritage. Perhaps what is needed the most for today is a study on religion in the age of the internet. How does something like Facebook affect the way that a religion is spread? Today, we can even hear people talking about the church of Facebook. Are internet debates changing the way we view religion?

Stark’s book is worth reading, but at the end, while I got some helpful definitions and such, I couldn’t help but think that I was given a quick tour. I would have liked to have seen the question of truth raised more often. That doesn’t mean I expect Stark to defend or attack any one religion, but deal with the idea please about people who come to a belief because they think it’s true. Still, those wanting to understand religion should try to understand this book.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Bernie Sanders and Religious Exclusivity

Is it wrong that Christianity is an exclusivist religion? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

In a hearing for Russell Vought recently for office, Senator Bernie Sanders expressed some hostility towards Vought for his position on Christianity. Apparently, Vought holds this really bizarre position. He thinks Christianity is actually true and not only is it true, it’s the only true religion and thus all other religions are wrong and will not get you into the grace of God.

Now to Sanders, this might be news. It’s not like this is a new development in Christianity. Christians have held to this belief since the very beginning, even when it led to them being outed by the Roman government and put under all manner of persecution and had them branded as atheists. We have to wonder if this is the first time Sanders had heard about this.

He’s right that while Christianity would be the majority religious belief in America (Or at least claimed) that there are numerous other believers in other religions and no religions here in America. Does this mean that Christians are automatically meant to treat them as lesser citizens. Sanders seems to think this, but on what grounds?

Let’s start with establishing something. Every religious belief is exclusive on some areas. Even a universalist would say that a person who thinks only one way to God is true will still make it to God, they are wrong in holding an exclusivist position. A pluralist will have to essentially change every other religion out there in order to make his pluralist religion true.

This includes Judaism and Islam as well. Try going to a regular synagogue and saying you’re a Jew who accepts Jesus as the Jewish Messiah. See if you’re treated as a Jew like everyone else. While there might be some exceptions, many Jews who embrace Jesus as the Messiah are excluded. Islam is often violently exclusive as is seen by many of the terrorist attacks we have going on today.

This is simply because of logic. All Christians give claims that are truth claims and those claims by nature exclude anything that contradicts them. This is no different from every other field out there. All truth claims do this. If Christianity has it essential that Jesus is the Messiah, then if the claim is true, all religions that disagree are wrong. If Islam were right in that God is a monad and only one in person, then all religions that disagree, like Christianity, are wrong.

One of the great freedoms we have in this country is the freedom to come together and worship as we see fit and to discuss our religious differences. In the practice of true tolerance, we have it that you can disagree very strongly ideologically, and yet still leave in a spirit of peace and even friendship. These are the discussions we should be having. I have no desire for us to try to establish a theocracy here because it would not be God ruling. It would be some men claiming to rule in the name of God.

The problem for Sanders is that he’s doing the exact thing he condemns. He is saying that if you hold X religious belief, you are not fit for public office. This is a rather exclusionary position and is saying that someone is wrong to hold the religious belief that they do, yet all the while complaining that it’s wrong to say another religious belief is wrong. It can’t be had both ways.

Naturally, a Christian who holds public office should care about the freedom and well-being of all of his constituents. This is part of our religion as well. We are not to show favoritism. If a Muslim and a Christian come to trial and the Muslim is in the right, the Christian should back the Muslim. He can disagree with his religion all day long and should, but in this area, the Muslim is in the right.

Sanders is, unfortunately, being an example of someone who doesn’t really understand religions and doesn’t see them as truth claims but more as personal preferences. Sadly, a lot of Christians might take the same attitude, but it’s not one Christianity has had historically. Part of this is also an example of the great problem we have of religious illiteracy here in the West where many people talk about religion and religions, but they don’t really understand them.

What are we as Christians to do then? We are to teach our people that Christianity is not just a flavor of ice cream that you happen to really like, but making really serious divine claims about everything in reality, and that we are to go and live out those claims. We are to uphold the Kingdom of God in all things, but also to uphold the great love of our neighbor that we are commanded as well. Who knows? Sanders might find that living in a society like that isn’t as bad as he thought.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Does Religion Make You Stupid?

Does your brain improve if you get rid of religion? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

I was recently sent this article by Caroline Beaton about religion and what happens to one’s brain when they stopped believing in God. Of course, Beaton describes it as an improvement. Does her argument hold water?

It’s interesting that Beaton begins this with a personal testimony. She talks about losing her virginity at 16 and then living a life of disobeying the rules. I find it amazing that many skeptics of religion who used to be Christians always seem to start with a personal testimony. It’s like they can’t get away from their upbringing.

It also looks like for parents and throughout this article, that much of Christianity in particular is all about morality. Christianity has things to say about morality, but the purpose of Christianity is not to be a moral philosophy but a historical faith with moral implications. On a related point, the word true, or some variation of it, never shows up in the article. Apparently, that question didn’t really seem to matter.

Beaton says that 35% of youth show no religious affiliation. These are called the nones, but it’s a misnomer to think they’re necessarily non-Christians. Many people in a higher power. Many pray. Many have high views of the Bible. They just don’t care for something along the lines of “organized religion.” I recommend anyone wanting information on that read this book.

She quotes a radiology professor who says that religion acts like a drug. For some people, that is no doubt true. There are many people who will use their religion as a way to get spiritual highs. The goal of the religion then is to feel good about one’s self or to feel that one is close to God. In that case, the idea that religion can act like a drug is certainly true. That’s also part of the me-centered aspect of Christianity today. It’s my contention that true Christianity at times can make you feel good, but it can also make you feel miserable. In fact, it should make you feel miserable at times. You should feel sad about the suffering of humanity or the realization of your own sin or knowing that your friends and family are lost.

Beaton also says she believed in young-earth creationism and evolution for awhile both. At this, it never seems to occur to Beaton that maybe she was the problem and not the religion. Had she ever really thought deeply about her religion? She talks about losing interest in a picture Bible. What did she expect? Of course it wouldn’t bring the same interest. We can’t all be children forever and we need increasing awareness of our religion.

Beaton goes on to say

As I tried to reconcile my belief in God with my growing knowledge of the natural world, I drew arbitrary distinctions. God couldn’t see me poop but he could hear me pray, I decided. Eventually I couldn’t figure out how, physically, he could do either.

Absent is any mention of doing any real research. Instead, the lines are arbitrary. What were the grounds for this? You don’t want God to see you poop but you want Him to hear you pray? It sounds like Beaton had her religion for personal comfort. Beaton goes on to say

This scientific descent from religion is common. Pew’s 2016 survey on why now-unaffiliated Americans lost faith yielded explanations such as, “Rational thought makes religion go out the window,” “Lack of any sort of scientific or specific evidence of a creator,” and “I’m a scientist now, and I don’t believe in miracles.”

Part of the problem here is a scientism that has taken over much of our thinking. In fact, I would say the fact that we have debates on if the Bible teaches YEC or OEC is a demonstration that we read even the Bible through a scientific lens. It never seems to occur to some people that maybe science isn’t the best place to go to for this question. I also notice the idea of rationality. Let’s say something about that.

There are stupid Christians and there are stupid atheists. There are genius Christians and there are genius atheists. It’s not the point that you “become rational” and suddenly you change your worldview. One of the big problems I have with many atheists today is that they deem automatically that anyone who believes in anything religious is automatically irrational. This contributes nothing to a good debate.

She continues

When we get to college, however, cultural testimony changes. An analytical, scientific view reigns, and there’s little room for God. We staggered home from parties pontificating on the pointless evil of Western religion. We made friends by cynically confessing our doubt. College is “very likely to challenge the more conservative belief systems we have in our brains,” Grafman says. It deflates our adolescent faith.

Of course, parties where you stagger home, no doubt from drinking too much, are the perfect places to be thinking on Western religion. Apparently, the college library isn’t of much use. Beaton is accurate when she says that an adolescent faith is deflated. Perhaps it needs to be. Perhaps they need to look at these doubts and move onto an adult faith where they actually think about what they believe.

When we finally break up with religion, we rebound. Eventually, non-religious people who once had religious epiphanies get those same feelings from being in nature, or from seeing profound scientific ideas expressed, Anderson says. “The context changes but the experience doesn’t.” Most non-religious people are “passionately committed to some ideology or other,” explains Patrick McNamara, a neurology professor at Boston University School of Medicine. These passions function neurologically as “faux religions.”

And once again, there you have it. It’s all about the feelings. You could have feelings and emotional experiences with a religion based on your own temperament and such. For me, they don’t happen often because I am not a man of emotional passion like that. That’s okay. Still, if the purpose of your religion is to make you feel good or have pleasurable sensations, you’re doing it wrong. Your religion is meant to inform your life about who you are and the way the world is and your place in it.

Ultimately, Beaton doesn’t really give us anything here. There is no question of truth. There is no question of research. All we have is really a long personal testimony with some scientific statements thrown in. It’s good to know that just by entering college Beaton thought she had all that she needed. Hopefully, Beaton will in the future visit a library and learn something about these systems she has been freed from. Until then, I do not know what happens when your brain gets freed from religion, but I know what happens when it gets stuck on your own experiences and doesn’t understand religion.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Is Abortion A Religious Issue?

Is abortion an issue that is religious? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Like a lot of you, last night I watched the Vice-Presidential debate. As we got to the end, I wished I could have jumped in and batted for Pence, especially when abortion came up. I certainly would have loved to have seen a Francis Beckwith or Scott Klusendorf up on the stage. I think Pence did great there, but he could have gone in for the jugular a number of times.

After the debate, a mutual friend of Allie and myself was surprised to see me say on Facebook that the issue should not stay with religion but should go with metaphysics and science. She was surprised because Allie and I are so religious. This is a good issue to talk about. Does my bringing up another area show that I am not religious? Am I wrong to move to a different territory?

Keep in mind that in all of this, I plan to also cite the debate from last night. The transcript I am going with is here.

So let’s start. Now there is no one specific Bible verse on abortion to be sure, but there are passages that indicate that one should not take innocent human life. It’s hard to get more innocent than a child in the womb. This is why the early church also took the response they did to abortion. They sought to end it and in fact were pro-life everywhere else. They rescued baby girls that had been abandoned that would either be eaten by animals or taken by men and raised in the sex industry of the past.

Also, I want to say that the Bible does not present statements of morality as if they were new. There is no reason to think that Moses got the Ten Commandments and everyone said “Whoa! We gotta stop this murder thing!” Murder was known to be wrong by Cain when he murdered his brother. Moses himself hid after killing an Egyptian. Judah knew about adultery as well having done it with his daughter-in-law and Joseph fled from Potiphar’s wife because of his moral stance on adultery.

The same happens with history. Why does the Bible say that Jesus was crucified. It says it not so it did happen, but because it happened. The writing of the crucifixion is not the cause of the crucifixion. The happening of the crucifixion is the cause of the writing. They wrote it down because it happened. The same with the resurrection I’d say as well. That’s a historical fact.

Now is there anything that history can’t ascertain about this? Yes. History cannot tell you that Jesus died so that man could be right with God and God’s Kingdom could come on Earth. It can tell you that that’s why Jesus and others believed He died, but the answer to the question is ultimately more theology than history. Of course, if Jesus didn’t die and rise, then all the theology won’t change that.

So do we have extra information with abortion? We do. We have the science of what goes on in the womb when the sperm and the egg unite. We can map out the whole process and for those wanting that, there are plenty of good books pro and con on abortion that can tell you that. We also have metaphysical arguments for what life is and why it’s good and sacred. These help build up the case against abortion.

It’s also important to point out that if your position is said to be religious, then that often gives it an automatic bias in the eyes of people as something they don’t need to take seriously. If science shows life begins at conception, that has implications for religion, but the position itself is not religious. It’s just a matter of fact.

Often when an idea is given and the person is said to be religious, the arguments for their position is discounted. However, arguments don’t have a religion. People do. Arguments stand or fall with the data and not the biases of the person that is held. For more on this, I recommend listening to my interview with Francis Beckwith on his book Taking Rites Seriously.

Now let’s look at some of what was said last night. Let’s start with the question itself. The moderator Elaine Quijano said the following.

All right. I’d like to turn to our next segment now. And in this, I’d like to focus on social issues. You have both been open about the role that faith has played in your lives. Can you discuss in detail a time when you struggled to balance your personal faith and a public policy position? Senator Kaine?

Of course, we have the opposition set in play right off. The idea is that faith must not be allowed in the public square at all. Unfortunately, that means that those who fear a theocracy (And if anyone can find these Christians pushing a theocracy, please tell them to stop. I’ve been told about this belief many times, but I know of very few Christians who have such plans.) in turn want to create a system where secularism is the religion of the state and no other claimants are allowed.

Now let’s start to look at Kaine’s answer.

Yeah, that’s an easy one for me, Elaine. It’s an easy one. I’m really fortunate. I grew up in a wonderful household with great Irish Catholic parents. My mom and dad are sitting right here. I was educated by Jesuits at Rockhurst High School in Kansas City. My 40th reunion is in 10 days.

And I worked with Jesuit missionaries in Honduras, now nearly 35 years ago, and they were the heroes of my life. I try to practice my religion in a very devout way and follow the teachings of my church in my own personal life. But I don’t believe in this nation, a First Amendment nation, where we don’t raise any religion over the other, and we allow people to worship as they please, that the doctrines of any one religion should be mandated for everyone.

The question is if there is any religious doctrine being pressed? Is Kaine thinking that he is advocating that people be required to uphold the perpetual virginity of Mary? Is it being debated in his state Senate what the nature of the Eucharist is? If so, then why think the doctrines of a religion are being mandated? This is just an implicit assumption that a doctrine a religion holds cannot be based on any independent facts that only the people of that religion hold.

For me, the hardest struggle in my faith life was the Catholic Church is against the death penalty and so am I. But I was governor of a state, and the state law said that there was a death penalty for crimes if the jury determined them to be heinous. And so I had to grapple with that.

When I was running for governor, I was attacked pretty strongly because of my position on the death penalty. But I looked the voters of Virginia in the eye and said, look, this is my religion. I’m not going to change my religious practice to get one vote, but I know how to take an oath and uphold the law. And if you elect me, I will uphold the law.

And I was elected, and I did. It was very, very difficult to allow executions to go forward, but in circumstances where I didn’t feel like there was a case for clemency, I told Virginia voters I would uphold the law, and I did.

That was a real struggle. But I think it is really, really important that those of us who have deep faith lives don’t feel that we could just substitute our own views for everybody else in society, regardless of their views.

What I would want to know at this point is why Kaine is against the death penalty. Now if he says it could put an innocent life to death, then I have my own questions. (One large one is why is it that it is wrong for us to determine that a criminal should die, but it’s our moral right to determine that a baby in the womb should die whose only crime is existing?) Does Kaine hold his position just because his religion says so, or does he believe his religion is telling the truth about reality. If it isn’t, why should anyone, including him, believe it? If it is, why should he be willing to go against it at all? Does he fear the judgment of men more than God?

Now Pence was given the same question.

Well, it’s a wonderful question. And my Christian faith is at the very heart of who I am. I was also raised in a wonderful family of faith. It was a church on Sunday morning and grace before dinner.

But my Christian faith became real for me when I made a personal decision for Christ when I was a freshman in college. And I’ve tried to live that out however imperfectly every day of my life since. And with my wife at my side, we’ve followed a calling into public service, where we’ve — we’ve tried to — we’ve tried to keep faith with the values that we cherish.

And with regard to when I struggle, I appreciate, and — and — and — I have a great deal of respect for Senator Kaine’s sincere faith. I truly do.

But for me, I would tell you that for me the sanctity of life proceeds out of the belief that — that ancient principle that — where God says before you were formed in the womb, I knew you, and so for my first time in public life, I sought to stand with great compassion for the sanctity of life.

I think Pence did good here, but I think he could have gone better. For us, the Bible is authoritative, but if he’s talking to Kaine about the law of the land, he will want to base that on what everyone can more easily determine. Kaine has already said he won’t let his faith dictate the law, so why not point elsewhere? Instead of the Bible, he could say “I am firmly persuaded by all the evidence we have today that life begins at conception. That is also in line with my Christian principles on the sanctity of life. Senator Kaine. When do you think life begins?”

That would have answered the question and then put Kaine on the defensive. By his own personal views, he thinks life begins at conception. By his political views, he thinks we should allow people the freedom to end that life. For now, let’s go back to Pence.

The state of Indiana has also sought to make sure that we expand alternatives in health care counseling for women, non-abortion alternatives. I’m also very pleased at the fact we’re well on our way in Indiana to becoming the most pro-adoption state in America. I think if you’re going to be pro-life, you should — you should be pro- adoption.

This is a home run for Pence. He not only provided the side that says “no abortion.” He also strongly advocated what the alternative looks like. If his state is on the way to becoming the most pro-adoption state, then this only backs his case all the more and it shows that he can hold a position of faith and live it consistently. Kaine has shown he cannot do that already.

But what I can’t understand is with Hillary Clinton and now Senator Kaine at her side is to support a practice like partial-birth abortion. I mean, to hold to the view — and I know Senator Kaine, you hold pro-life views personally — but the very idea that a child that is almost born into the world could still have their life taken from them is just anathema to me.

Another excellent reply. Pence gave a statement that really should have put Kaine on the defensive. It would have been nice to have seen him give some sort of reply to this one.

And I cannot — I can’t conscience about — about a party that supports that. Or that — I know you’ve historically opposed taxpayer funding of abortion. But Hillary Clinton wants to — wants to repeal the longstanding provision in the law where we said we wouldn’t use taxpayer dollars to fund abortion.

So for me, my faith informs my life. I try and spend a little time on my knees every day. But it all for me begins with cherishing the dignity, the worth, the value of every human life.

In fact, this is one of my biggest problems with the Democratic party. They are consistently pro-abortion. It’s amazing that this is one of the sacred cows of the party. Pence has the moral high ground here. What does Kaine say?

Elaine, this is a fundamental question, a fundamental question. Hillary and I are both people out of religious backgrounds, from Methodist church experience, which was really formative for her as a public servant.

But we really feel like you should live fully and with enthusiasm the commands of your faith. But it is not the role of the public servant to mandate that for everybody else.

Unfortuantely, as public servants, they will mandate something for everyone. Someone’s worldview will be pushed. Why not a true one? If it is true that life does not begin at conception and abortion doesn’t put to death an innocent human life, then what’s the big deal? If it is true, then it is a huge deal.

So let’s talk about abortion and choice. Let’s talk about them. We support Roe v. Wade. We support the constitutional right of American women to consult their own conscience, their own supportive partner, their own minister, but then make their own decision about pregnancy. That’s something we trust American women to do that.

And we don’t think that women should be punished, as Donald Trump said they should, for making the decision to have an abortion.

Of course, we can’t declare a new law and then make past occurrences of it a crime. That would be ridiculous, but I would want to ask this.

Senator Kaine. Do we punish a woman who kills intentionally her newborn baby?

How about her toddler?

How about her child who’s pre-teen?

How about her teenager?

If we do in all of those cases, what makes the child in the womb so different? If he says “That’s not a human life” then we ask if that can be established. If he says it is a human life but his faith can’t dictate, then we point out that it’s also a position in various religions that killing children is wrong and yet you’re willing to punish mothers who do that for children outside of the womb. Why the difference here?

Governor Pence wants to repeal Roe v. Wade. He said he wants to put it on the ash heap of history. And we have some young people in the audience who weren’t even born when Roe was decided. This is pretty important. Before Roe v. Wade, states could pass criminal laws to do just that, to punish women if they made the choice to terminate a pregnancy.

But this isn’t just a Christian position. An atheist can hold this position. Consider for instance Robert Price. He’s a mythicist, but he’s someone I entirely agree with on this end.

As for abortion, it is a crime against humanity. How can anyone claim the name “humanist” and be pro-abortion? Beats me. I’d love to see Roe v. Wade repealed. “Evidence-based policy” is the last thing Progressives really want.

Kaine treats this as if it’s automatically something we wouldn’t want. Why not make it more that something we automatically wouldn’t want is for women to terminate pregnancies and kill innocent children? And yes, I happen to think that if a woman kills a child, she should be punished for that.

I think you should live your moral values. But the last thing, the very last thing that government should do is have laws that would punish women who make reproductive choices. And that is the fundamental difference between a Clinton-Kaine ticket and a Trump- Pence ticket that wants to punish women who make that choice.

Once again, it comes down to what is the choice being made? If the choice is to kill an innocent child, then the question would be why should we oppose that? Are there cases where Kaine wants the killing of children to be legal? After this, we have a back and forth. It starts with Pence.

But here’s — there is a choice, and it is a choice on life. I couldn’t be more proud to be standing with Donald Trump, who’s standing for the right to life. It’s a principle that — Senator Kaine — and I’m very gentle about this, because I really do respect you — it’s a principle that you embrace.

And I have appreciated the fact that you’ve supported the Hyde amendment, which bans the use of taxpayer funding for abortion, in the past, but that’s not Hillary Clinton’s view. People need to understand, we can come together as a nation. We can create a culture of life. More and more young people today are embracing life because we know we are — we’re better for it. We can — like Mother Teresa said at that famous national prayer breakfast…

KAINE: This is important —

PENCE: … bring the — let’s welcome the children into our world. There are so many families around the country who can’t have children. We could improve adoption…

KAINE: But, Governor…

PENCE: … so that families that can’t have children can adopt more readily those children from crisis pregnancies.

It’s important to point out that Kaine had no trouble quoting Matthew to attack Trump, not realizing that the Bible apparently has something to say about killing innocent life. One of my own Catholic friends said it would have been great to have seen the Pope come on the stage and immediately excommunicate Kaine. Kaine seems quite selective when he wants to use the Bible.

But to get to what Pence has said, he’s made a great speech here. His viewpoint is one that is welcoming of children and doesn’t believe that they should be punished for existing. He is interested in creating a culture of life. This is quite important. Kaine then replies.

Governor, why don’t you trust women to make this choice for themselves? We can encourage people to support life. Of course we can. But why don’t you trust women? Why doesn’t Donald Trump trust women to make this choice for themselves?

That’s what we ought to be doing in public life. Living our lives of faith or motivation with enthusiasm and excitement, convincing other, dialoguing with each other about important moral issues of the day…

Okay. Let’s go this way.

Senator Kaine. Do you trust women to make the decision to kill their infants on their own?

Their toddlers?

Their pre-teens?

Their teenagers?

At what point do you think a woman should be trusted with the choice to kill her children or have that choice removed? Why is Kaine personally against the death penalty? Does he think that people shouldn’t be trusted with when to kill criminals? Why is he personally pro-life? Does he think it kills an innocent human being? If so, then he is saying he personally thinks abortion kills an innocent human being, but he thinks women should have the freedom to choose that on their own.

PENCE: Because there are…

KAINE: … but on fundamental issues of morality, we should let women make their own decisions.

Seriously? Would you do this anywhere else? All laws deal with moral issues. (Perhaps we should ask Kaine if he doesn’t think Trump should make the decision on when he should pay taxes or release his tax returns.) Should we let women make the decision to kill children outside of the womb, or their husbands, or that annoying dog of the neighbor? Seriously?

PENCE: Because there is — a society can be judged by how it deals with its most vulnerable, the aged, the infirm, the disabled, and the unborn. I believe it with all my heart. And I couldn’t be more proud to be standing with a pro-life candidate in Donald Trump.

Whether you stand with Trump or not or think he’s pro-life or not, the first part of this is excellent. Pence is absolutely right. Not only can a society be judged that way, they should be. So should individuals. We could all consider how we’re treating those who are the most vulnerable.

The issue of life does have religious implications, but it itself is not dependent on any one particular religion. It can be grounded in traditional Natural Law thinking. I don’t fault Pence for not being a trained pro-life apologist, but I would have loved to have seen a Beckwith or Klusendorf on stage dealing with Kaine last night.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

Book Plunge: Destroyer of the Gods

What do I think of Larry Hurtado’s latest published by Baylor University Press? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

First off, my thanks to Baylor University Press for sending me an advanced copy. To be sure, this one is an uncorrected proof. While some matters might change before official publication, I suspect that the majority will not. Having said that, let’s dive into this book.

With a title like Destroyer of the Gods, you might be expecting some sci-fi adventure or a fantasy adventure with magic and swords clashing and explosions going off. Instead, you will get a book about the history of early Christianity. How does this fit? Because Christianity led to the death per se of the gods and goddesses of the time.

Often, we hear that Christianity is a religion just like any other. When the point is presented that James and Paul were skeptics and became believers as evidence for the resurrection we are told “People convert for many reasons.” It’s never usually seen as what a scandal it was that people converted to this religion and what that meant in this society.

For instance, religion wasn’t just a personal private choice that you made. It went through every facet of life. The average home in the Roman Empire that wasn’t Jewish or Christian had gods you were to pay homage to. Your workplace would have gods. Your social gatherings would have gods. Even if they weren’t your gods, you were expected to honor them if you were a guest.

Christians went against all of that. Christians said they could not and would not honor the other gods. By doing so, they made themselves social pariahs. They would be seen as misfits in the world and quite frankly, as threats. How will the gods respond after all when these people are not being honoring of them? How will the gods treat us if we allow these people to not honor these gods?

“But weren’t the Jews like that?!” Yes. The Jews were like that as well, but they had an ancient heritage that was based on their ethnicity. The Jews had their critics and people who admired them, but they were often more or less tolerated, largely because their beliefs were so old. When it became obvious that Christian was not an ethnicity and you had former Gentiles going all the way with Christianity, then that cover of protection on Christianity was removed and they were allowed to be targeted in a way that the Jews weren’t.

You see, if Christianity was a religion just like any other in the empire, then it would not be necessary to join. It was because it was radically different that Gentiles would completely abandon their own heritage. Note this isn’t about considering Jesus as one god among many. This is about seeing Him as God in some way. (Hurtado has written much elsewhere on the early high Christology of the Christian believers.)

On page 22, Hurtado also points out that writers like Tacitus saw Christianity as superstitious. This doesn’t mean in the sense of someone afraid of a black cat crossing their path. This means in the sense that the beliefs were repellent and monstrous. We often have this idea that the message would resonated with people because it was about justice and overcoming suffering and the equality of man. Yeah. Good luck finding evidence that the early critics of Christianity saw it that way.

To be sure, some new groups could be seen as troublesome at first, but this was often sporadic. Even at times when Jews were persecuted, they were eventually allowed to return. After awhile, the belief system of new people, like followers of the Egyptian goddess Isis, would be allowed back into the mainstream. Their deities would also be added to the pantheon of gods you could worship in Rome. Christians weren’t like this. Christians, until Constantine, never had a time of favor with the Roman Empire.

Some of you might wonder what the big deal is. “So Christians didn’t worship Roman gods. Why should they care?” Because there was no separation of church and state. To not honor the gods was to not honor Rome and to put Rome at risk. It was treason. Add to it that your crucified god was in fact seen as a traitor to Rome due to dying by crucifixion and now picture how Christians were seen. Christians were people who followed a traitor to Rome and lived lives in treason to Rome by refusing to honor the gods of Rome.

Now someone could say maybe it was just the riffraff that was doing this. Not so. Had that been the case, writers like Celsus would not have bothered responding. Christianity was gaining grounds in the upper reaches of society. I would in fact contend that that is the only way Paul could afford to write his letters and numerous copies of NT books could be made. Someone had to have had money.

Actually, this gets us into something else that was noteworthy about Christians that was unique. They were a bookish people. No doubt, this came also from their background in Judaism as well with what we call the Old Testament. Many times on the internet, you can hear people talk about what the writings of the Mithraic religion and others claim. Good luck finding those. They’re not there. What we know about many of these religions comes in fact from outsiders. Christianity is unique in that we can read the Christians themselves.

In fact, Hurtado points out that Christians popularized the format known as the codex. This is a close precursor to our modern day book. Interestingly, the books that were kept in the codex were those that were seen as Scripture. Those interested in learning about the writing styles of the early Christians will benefit greatly from this information.

Christianity also had a new kind of identity. In the ancient society, to know one member of an ethnic group was to know all of them. Stand up today and say “All Cretans are liars!” and you’ll be called out for political incorrectness. Stand up in the ancient world and say this and you’ll get hearty agreement. In fact, you could even get it from the Cretans themselves!

The Christianity identity however was a forsaking of all other identity markers. It was not rooted in your family. It was not rooted in your birthplace. It was instead rooted in a crucified Jewish Messiah in the backwaters of Israel. Now of course, if you believed His claims about Himself, that would be seen as something noble, but if you didn’t, it would be shameful. The only people this would then be impressive to were people who were already Christians themselves.

Another difference would be how these people lived. Many of us have heard the stories of people who become Christians. They describe their lives before Jesus came and after Jesus came and frankly, many times the before part sounds a lot better. “Yeah. I used to have tons of money and was extremely popular with everyone and I could have any woman I wanted and then, well, I met Jesus, and now I live a moderate lifestyle where I work 9-5, I get shunned by society, and I have said I will have sex with no one until I marry and then only with her.” Of course, I do not want to give an impression that people should not come to Jesus, but frankly, our testimonies could use some work.

Still, this is something that would have made the Christians stand out. They had a lifestyle like this on the issue of sex. If you turn on your television today, sex is often seen as just another hobby that we do together and no consequences to it. In fact, Roman society could be even more open in some ways than ours is. To become a Christian was to give up one of the great gods of the Roman empire (Or severely restrict it) and in fact one of the great gods of the modern West.

So let’s take a look. What have we learned about what it would mean to be a Christian? (And this is only an inkling of what’s in the book.)

First, it would mean that you were a social pariah. You were going against the gods and you would in fact be called impious in a culture where piety was valued. Second, it would mean that you were a person who was identifying with a traitor to Rome and engaging in treason to Rome as well. Third, it would mean you were a bookish sort of person in a culture where books were valued to be sure, but your sacred beliefs were usually not written down. Finally, it would mean that you would have extreme positions on how limited your sex life was to be by comparison.

Well obviously this is something people would flock to!

And yet, Christianity was the destroyer of the gods. When you meet an atheist today, for the most part, they say they don’t believe in God. They don’t usually say the gods. Christianity was a system that changed that. Our modern celebration of justice and equality and other virtues comes largely from the Christian story. Our idea of being able to tolerate different belief systems without agreeing or participating comes from Christianity. Christianity replaced one system with another, its own, and did so good a job that today we often don’t realize it.

If there were areas of improvement for this book, I would like to have seen some more talk about honor and shame. This is really all throughout the book, but very rarely explicitly stated as such. The honor-shame paradigm I think brings so much more of this to life.

Little was said about the belief in resurrection as well. I would have liked to have seen more on that since much of the ancient world saw resurrection as laughable. In fact, some of them would have seen it as abhorrent just as much. Despite this, Christianity made it the foundation of their belief system.

I also hope that the completed copy of this book will have a bibliography. The one I have does not have one, but again, I do have an uncorrected proof. Perhaps that will come in the end. It would be greatly helpful.

Still, this is an excellent book. I had to break out my highlighter again and use it plentifully. This is definitely an area worthy of further research.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

Deeper Waters Podcast 6/25/2016: Jonathan Leeman

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

Politics. The very word makes us immediately want to hold our ground against our opponent. If you asked people what are the two most divisive forces in the world, chances are you’d hear politics along with religion. Whether or not that’s true, that would show how our society views both of those. If that’s the case, then what are we to think of the idea of church being political?

That is exactly what we have in this week’s guest. My guest is Jonathan Leeman who is the author of the book Political Church. It is a book that I have reviewed previously.

So who is he?

View More: http://ampersandphoto.pass.us/9marks-fall-2013

Jonathan Leeman is the editorial director for 9Marks. After doing undergraduate and graduate degrees in political science, Jonathan began his career in journalism where he worked as an editor for an international economics magazine in Washington, D. C. Since his call to ministry, Jonathan has earned a master of divinity and a Ph.D. in theology and worked as an interim pastor.

Today he edits the 9Marks series of books as well as the 9Marks Journal. He has written for a number of publications and is the author or editor of a number books:

Jonathan lives with his wife and four daughters in a suburb of Washington, DC and serves as an elder at Capitol Hill Baptist Church. He is also an occasional lecturer at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and teaches adjunctively for The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, and the Reformed Theological Seminary.

So we’ll be jumping into the hot seat. You might not get something such as who you should vote for this election cycle, but what you will get is how the church is to function and not just the church, but all of our societies. Politics is unavoidable just like religion is. As long as we are going to be doing politics then, we might as well be doing politics well.

As we prepare to go into the 2016 election season, politics is on everyone’s mind and so is religion still. Why not be prepared to talk about them? I hope you’ll be listening this Saturday as I interview Jonathan Leeman on this book. Please also go to ITunes and leave a positive review of the Deeper Waters Podcast.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Political Church

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

It’s said that there are two things that should never be talked about and that’s politics and religion. If so, then Jonathan Leeman has stepped into dangerous waters by writing this book. Churches can often have their own share of squabbles and religion can have a bad reputation today with new atheist soundbites running throughout our culture. Now you tie that in with politics, which comes from the word poly, meaning many, and ticks, referring to blood-sucking organisms.

Leeman points out that politics is unavoidable and we all come into the arena of debate with gods. The difference is the Christian comes with a big one and the secularist comes with several little gods that aren’t metaphysical claims and thus pass the muster. It could be then that when we argue on the grounds of appeal to conscience, we’re setting ourselves up for trouble. Whose conscience will win the day? If we say our conscience is tied to our God, then our opinion will be cast aside in the end and the more “objective” person will be the ones whose gods aren’t so readily apparent.

Leeman wants us to see what the making of covenants means for us today and that politics has been with us from the beginning. As soon as you have relationships going on, you have politics. People have to learn to live orderly in a society somehow. Unfortunately, we’ve often gone with a more pragmatic approach instead of an approach rooted in truth.

Leeman also brings this to how it affects our Christian relationships and I think this is the most important part of the book. This gets to the doctrine of forgiveness. What does it mean to forgive and how does that relate to politics? Forgiveness is in fact all about our relationships with one another and much of the material here can be quite convicting, especially if you have a hard time forgiving someone.

The book also comes from an approach that I think is gently Calvinistic and presuppositional, but the good part is if you don’t agree with that perspective, you can still accept the conclusion which is where many of us will end up about God being necessary for the good society. I found myself disagreeing with how Leeman reached some conclusions, but I agreed with the conclusions. I suspect many readers would be in the same boat.

Also, I thought criticisms of the New Perspective on Paul were not that strong. I don’t think they offer anything that would go against justification in the sense that we usually see it. The difference is more about what it means to be justified. I myself lean towards the New Perspective and I did not see the problems that I think Leeman thinks he sees.

Still, this is a good book to read and certainly thorough. It’s difficult to think about how a book could be more thorough on the topic. The experiential aspects are also quite helpful as you can learn to see forgiveness in a whole new light and really think about how you relate to your fellow man.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: One Nation Under God

What do I think of Bruce Ashford and Chris Pappalardo’s book published by B&H Academic? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Two of the things you’re never supposed to discuss at the dinner table are politics and religion. What happens when you bring both of them together? Usually, matters become even more explosive. Some Christians want to avoid politics altogether and think that the Kingdom of God should have nothing to do with the governments of men. Some would prefer to combine the two together and say that we will make the Kingdom of God come on Earth through the government.

Ashford and Pappalardo have problems with both positions. Something interesting about their book is that you will not find hard condemnation of either conservatism or liberalism. You will not find targeting of the Republican party or the Democrat party. You will find discussions of the issues, but the writers leave it to you, the reader, to decide where you will take your stand beyond that.

The book starts with opening sections describing the relationship between Christians and culture. Many views are critiqued and some are settled on. It also talks about not only what the content of our presentation will be in the public square, but also how it is that we will go about presenting our viewpoint in the public square. Make no mistake, the writers definitely think Christians do need to stand up for their position.

When it gets to the issues, there are explanations of what is going on in each of the issues and then there are examples of Christians who are taking a stand on those issues. These are quite helpful as they provide often not just examples of the content but how the writers want to see Christians go about making their case in the public square. The writers then end each section with several recommended books. These are classified in range from beginning level to advanced so that if you don’t know where to go, you can have a general idea.

Issues discussed include topics like abortion, the nature of marriage, the environment, economics, war, race relations, and immigration. The writers again do not side with any one party on these issues explicitly. They do take a stand and often explain where it is that they make their stand, but they also leave a lot left unsaid. After all, this is meant to give you just an introduction to the basic facts and they don’t so much I suspect want to tell you their views, but rather how they think that you should go about coming to your own conclusion.

I do sometimes wish more sources had been given on a topic. One main example is that in the section on the environment, there was no mention of the main Christian response to this, the Cornwall Alliance For The Stewardship of Creation. There were a few other sections where I thought more works could have been added, but what is there is certainly sufficient to get someone started on the path.

This is a good and short book. If you work hard, you could read it in a day, but it will prepare you for when it comes time to vote. The reader will start to have a better grasp on the issues and can further read on the issues that interest them most.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Taking Rites Seriously

What do I think of Francis Beckwith’s book published by Cambridge University Press? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

In the interest of full disclosure, I want to say at the start that I was provided with this review copy by Beckwith himself to see if I wanted him to come on my podcast. Rest assured, I do. Beckwith’s book is not just a book I want to get in the hands of many Christians I interact with, but also in the hands of many atheists I interact with.

Beckwith’s main contention is that we have often misunderstood arguments and said that as long as we say that they are “religious” or have a religious motive, then that means we do not need to consider them as real intellectual arguments. This is simply false. It could be someone holds a position for religious reasons and it could even be that someone holds a position (Such as the wrongness of homosexual behavior) just because the Bible says so, but that does not mean that that is the only reason that there is or the only motive that there is.

Something I like about Beckwith’s book is that he tries to give everyone a fair shake. Even if it is a position that he disagrees with, he tries to give it a fair look. When looking at some court rulings, even if the ruling would be favorable towards his position, Beckwith can still point out why he thinks it is an unwise ruling. This is something that we should all learn from. Just because the conclusion agrees with us does not mean that the decision was the right one. You can make the right decision for all the wrong reasons.

Some readers will also be surprised to find that Beckwith disagrees with Intelligent Design. I in fact would find myself closer to his position seeing as I think that we have married Christianity to modern science and what happens if this is explained another way? Wouldn’t it be best to have our apologetic built on something that cannot be shown false by scientific discovery? Why not base our theism on metaphysical principles, especially since the question of God is not really a scientific question but a metaphysical one. (This does not mean it does not have ramifications for science, but the final arbiter is metaphysics.)

Also, the reader will find some very helpful points on the issue of redefining marriage. This is one of the major issues of our time and Beckwith rightly shows that in reality, the people that are not being tolerant and not allowing liberty are more often the ones on the left. Beckwith has a great familiarity with the literature on both sides. One will also find similarity with the abortion debate as well.

If there was one thing I’d like differently in Beckwith’s books, it’d be that I’d like reading them sometimes to be more like listening to him speak. It’s my understanding that Beckwith grew up in the Las Vegas area and knows about the comedians and if you hear him speak, it is absolutely hysterical. Andy Bannister has managed to pull off great humor in a book. It would be interesting to see Beckwith do the same.

Still, this is a book that should be read by anyone interested in religious debates. As I said earlier also, Beckwith has the great virtue as well of wanting to treat the arguments of his opponents seriously as well. Beckwith is not just wanting to reach right conclusions, but wanting to reach them the right way and will settle for nothing less.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: The Atheist Who Didn’t Exist

What do I think of Andy Bannister’s book by Monarch Books? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

As I have studied apologetics more and more, sometimes reading apologetics books now gets boring. It’s a lot of the same-old, same-old. You’ve heard it all several times before and there’s nothing new so what’s the big deal. Honestly, getting Bannister’s book, I was expecting I’d get a good primer on some apologetics issues and put it down thinking that I had had a decent enough read and that’d be it. I don’t mean that in a snide way at all. Many of these books are fine for beginners after all and I read them wanting to learn how well this would help someone who was starting out in the field.

I could not have been more wrong.

As I started going through Andy’s book, from the very beginning I saw that it was different. Now the content is still a good basic start for most people. You’re not going to get into the intensely heady stuff here. You will discuss the issues, but it is just a start. What makes this book so radically different and in turn one of the best that I’ve read on this kind of topic in a long time is the presentation. Bannister is quite the comedian. His humor shines throughout the book and this is one book where I had great joy whenever I saw there was a footnote. Normally, you tend to just pass those over. Do not do that with this book! You will find some of the best humor.

That makes the content all the more memorable. Bannister deals with a lot of the soundbite arguments that we deal with in our culture such as “You are an atheist with regards to many gods. I just go one god further.” He deals with scientism and what faith is and can we be good without God and can we really know anything about the historical Jesus? If you spend time engaging with people who follow the New Atheists on the internet, then you need to get your hands on this book. With humor and accuracy, Bannister deals with the nonsense, which tells us that in light of all the work he invested in this that first off, Bannister is highly skilled as an apologist and second, that Bannister has way too much free time on his hands to be thinking so much about this stuff.

I really cannot say much more because it would I think keep you from enjoying all the surprises in this book. There were many times my wife had to ask me as I read “What’s so funny?” Some parts I even read to her. If there was one thing I would change, it was the chapter on the question of goodness. I don’t think Bannister really answered the question of what it means to be good. He said we need a God to ground it in, and I agree, but that does not tell me what good is. Even if we say the good is God’s nature, that still does not tell me what the good is, yet we all know that people know the good and the evil without knowing who God is.

Still, do yourself a favor. Get this book and then sit down and prepare for a fun and worthwhile time. You’ll laugh and you’ll enjoy yourself so much you could lose track of how much good apologetics is sinking in.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Andy Bannister’s book can be purchased here.