Book Plunge: A New Dawn For Christianity

What do I think of Barry Blood and Rev. Michael MacMillan’s self-published book? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

A friend of mine gifted me this book thinking I’d enjoy it. I did last night finish the main story part which I take it to be the contribution by Barry Blood. I have started the application by Macmillan, but I wanted to at least start with the main part now. There are many arguments in there, but most of them are sadly quite outdated.

The story involves two college students named Greg and Lea. Greg is a Christian, though I would say a nominal one, and Lea is a foreigner who is not familiar with Christianity. He takes her home for the holidays to meet his parents and that includes going to church. She asks him questions about Christianity to which he says he’s not a preacher and she says “Sure, but you ought to know to explain it enough to someone.”

Give credit where credit is due. Lea is right here. If someone wants to tell someone about Jesus, they ought to know enough to explain it.

Unfortunately, Greg doesn’t know enough so it’s recommended they go to Professor Tracy at the college. Tracy is glad to teach them about Christianity provided they get other students involved, which they do. Note that Tracy wants to also teach them “factual” information about Christianity.

Tracy teaches the group the difference between popular and academic Christianity. Popular is what is usually heard in churches. Academic is what is taught in colleges and seminaries. However, as we see what Tracy thinks is academic, it will be a wonder how he ever got his job at all with all the misinformation he has.

Tracy has a statement that some people think the age of the Earth can be proved with the Bible, but scientific knowledge has disproven that just as it has disproven that the Earth is flat. I don’t wish to enter into the age of the Earth debate, but I would like to challenge Tracy fo find the educated person in the Middle Ages who believed the Earth was flat. They knew it was a sphere since Aristotle. Anyone who taught otherwise would be the exception and not the rule.

Tracy also talks about the origins of religion. Of course, there will be no mention of the work of people like Andrew Lang or Wilhelm Schmidt. At one point even, Freud’s Future of an Illusion is relied on.

He also says there are stories of eating the flesh and drinking the blood of ancestors to acquire their special skills and knowledge. No source is given for this kind of claim and I suspect it’s from Freud. This is also supposed to be tied into the Eucharist, despite the Eucharist being rooted in a specific Jewish rite known as Passover and Jews condemning cannibalism, but hey, details. Who needs them?

From here, Tracy tells the students that the God of Christianity is just as much a human construct of the imagination as other gods are. Naturally, Tracy does spend time looking at the philosophical arguments for the existence of God and….oh wait. Of course, he doesn’t. Readers wanting to hear about the five ways of Aquinas, the argument from morality, from beauty, the ontological argument, the argument from conscience, Near-Death experiences, the resurrection of Jesus, properly basic theology, intelligent design, etc. will be disappointed. I am not saying I endorse all of these arguments. I don’t. I am saying they should be taken seriously as scholarly arguments.

Tracy also says Christian scholars have known these are constructs for years. Of course, he ignores many leading philosopher scholars who specialize in arguments for the existence of God, such as Feser, Kreeft, Moreland, and others. No no no. Christian scholarship is best represented by Bishop John Shelby Spong, who I don’t have any reason to think is a scholar anyway. The character of Professor Tracy is just redefining Christianity to mean what he thinks it means and then it sounds like there are Christians agreeing with him.

The students go off to investigate in books, but apparently never learned the lesson of reading both sides of an argument and they insist the books are by Christian scholars and not just atheists. Unfortunately, Greg exemplifies many Christians when he says that he was always taught to not question the existence of God or the Bible and that such is a sin. This is indeed an attitude we need to eliminate from modern Christianity.

Sadly, if Greg is unquestioning of one paradigm, Tracy and the others are unquestioning of the other. Apparently, you are not to question Karen Armstrong, Grant Allen, and others.

Greg goes back to talk to his pastor about what he has learned to see what is true. His pastor says it is all true, as will a second pastor he talks to in the book. Apparently, Blood and Macmillan live in a world where pastors really know the truth but aren’t telling it to their flocks. What we have is just a conspiracy theory for atheists.

As we go on we find interaction with Marcus Borg, Jack Good, and Paul Tillich. Naturally in New Testament, you will find zero interaction with N.T. Wright, Craig Keener, Ben Witherington III, Craig Evans, Mike Licona, Darrell Bock, Daniel Wallace, or a number of others. Sadly, these students are as unskilled at research as is Professor Tracy.

Tracy also talks about the savior motif, which is the idea that Jesus is a copycat of other religions. Let’s start with Hesus of the druids. Oh wait. That doesn’t work well. What about Mithras? Well, Mithras was born from a rock wearing a cap and carrying a knife and slew a great bull and threw it to the Earth and there’s no record of a resurrection of Mithras let alone him dying. You won’t see any interaction with someone like David Ulansey here. Others like Thulis of Egypt and Indra of Tibet are mentioned. Good luck finding any real scholars who agree with these claims.

The writers Tracy recommends here are Thomas William Doane and Kersey Graves. This would be enough to make Tracy a laughingstock in modern scholarship. Even Richard Carrier, who is certainly no friend to Christianity, says that one should not use Kersey Graves. Tracy also thinks the best comparisons are with Krishna. Perhaps Tracy should do what Mike Licona did and interview a scholar like Edwin Bryant on it.

Naturally, Tracy will talk about Bible contradictions, but why waste time? He tells his students to just go and Google, which of course is the best way to gain historical information. He also says this is hardly what one would expect if the Bible were the literal Word of God! Of course, there’s no explanation of what literal means here and no defense of the idea that the Bible is supposed to be the only book in existence that apparently is meant to be always read in a wooden literal sense.

He also tells us that inerrancy is a new doctrine from Charles Hodge. Not at all. This has always been the position of the church that the Bible is without error. All Tracy would need to do is read a book on the history of inerrancy. I’m not saying inerrancy is true. It’s not a hill I’m willing to die on. I am saying Tracy just doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

He also says he would have to defer to Spong who in debating a preacher about the inerrancy of the Bible asked the preacher, “Have you read it?” Well, if Mr. Spong wants to ask me, yes. Yes, I have. I have read it several times.

When Tracy talks about answered prayer, he says that in every case the answer is ambiguous. It could have occurred in more than one way and every time somehow, God fixed it. Seriously though? Every single case? Tracy is simply an amazing man. Apparently, he has gone all over the world and all of time and seen every single claim of an answered prayer. What a marvel this man is!

He also tells us that answered prayers are always coincidences. Keep in mind that this is his claim. It would be fascinating to see him back it. Tracy would have to have knowledge of every prayer said and what happened as a result. Now I have no problem saying coincidence happens sometimes and people do treat prayer in a way such as parking lot prayers. (I prayed for a close spot and it was there the 7th time I drove around the lot!)

He also tells us that there has never been in the history of the world a miracle healing of a case of cancer. Never? Really? This is quite a strong claim. How does Tracy know this? One would hope that there would be interaction with Craig Keener on miracles, but alas, there isn’t. It would be horrible to have both sides interacted with.

Tracy goes back to the New Testament saying Paul made a massive leap in referring to Jesus as the Passover lamb and this has been called the centerpiece of the Christian faith? The centerpiece? Seriously? By who? The centerpiece has been the resurrection of Jesus.

As for a massive leap, well let’s see. It’s generally agreed that Jesus was crucified and He was crucified around the time of Passover. Could it be that this was known historically? Could it be Paul saw the connection there and that it was part of the Jesus tradition that is passed on in 1 Cor. 11?

Tracy also tells us that in all thirteen books attributed to Paul, there is nothing about the teachings of Jesus, unless you ignore passages like 1 Cor. 7 and 11 or 1 Tim. 5. As for other teachings, there wasn’t any need to really. This would be part of the background knowledge in a high context society. Paul is writing incidental letters to answer questions people have about the teaching of Christianity at the time.

Tracy also says the word Trinity isn’t in the Bible and the idea didn’t even show up until the 4th century. Well then, congratulations to Tertullian for mastering time travel and speaking about the Trinity in the third century! What a marvel that was to have accomplished that!

Tracy talks about his own realization of this and how he found out that the word Trinity isn’t in the Bible. Wow. What a shock. One reference he gives is the Catholic Encyclopedia. He’s free to read the account from the Catholic Encyclopedia online all he wants to.

He could have also bothered to interact with the Early High Christology Club which includes scholars like Michael Bird, Richard Bauckham, Larry Hurtado, Chris Tilling, and others. Edmund Fortman is quoted with his book Our Triune God, but no page number is given and it is doubtful the authors of this book have ever truly read Fortman.

When someone asks about who decided this stuff, Tracy reminds her that this was the worldview of a people who believed the Earth was flat. First off, they didn’t believe that. Second, let’s suppose that they did. If the only way that they could have known this was through modern scientific knowledge, so what? That means they didn’t know anything about anything because they didn’t know something only a modern person could hypothetically know?

Tracy says there was no substantiation of the doctrine whatsoever. It’s amusing to hear him talk about DNA tests. One wonders what DNA tests one would do to verify the Trinity. Tune in tomorrow when Professor Tracy uses DNA tests to discover the mass of Pluto!

One of the students upon hearing all of this says “Poof, poof, there goes another doctrine out the window!” Yes! Let’s not dare go out and question the professor and research the other side. Mr. Bright here has enough information after one lecture to decide that an entire worldview is wrong and people embracing it have no reason whatsoever.

Fortunately, as one of the students says, the teachings of Jesus remain in place. Why yes. A Jesus who goes out and teaches love and compassion and giving to the poor is certainly prime to be crucified. Those people were such scandals that Rome was greatly threatened by them. If this was the Jesus that existed, He would never be crucified. We would never know anything about Him.

This also assumes that this was all of the teaching of Jesus. Jesus was a revolutionary teaching the Kingdom of God and most of it centered around His own identity. You won’t find talk about the Kingdom from Tracy.

You will find talk about the Second Coming. Here, Tracy appears to think that only modern dispensationalism truly embraces the second coming of Jesus. Apparently, it has not been taught in reputable seminaries for decades. This is a nice escape hatch for Tracy. What is a reputable seminary? One that agrees with him and lo and behold, all seminaries and universities that teach what he teaches are reputable! Those that disagree are not.

He also talks about the afterlife and says that Freud put it best in saying that the afterlife can be dismissed because it’s wish fulfillment. For some, it could be. Atheism could also be wish fulfillment because some people want to avoid the judgment of God. Wish fulfillment could be used to avoid anything. A husband should perhaps despair on Valentine’s Day or his anniversary because he had this idea that he would be getting lucky with his wife, but hey, that’s a wish so such thinking is absurd.

Tracy also says there is no evidence of an afterlife. There is no interaction with arguments from Near-Death experiences and nowhere in the book do you see a look at arguments for the resurrection of Jesus. It’s easy to say there’s no evidence. It’s quite another to demonstrate it.

Tracy also says that there is no purpose to life at all. We each determine our own purpose. Tracy would not want to follow this out. Suppose one of the students was angry about this and decided his purpose in life from then on was to murder professors who taught such claims. This is his purpose. Tracy cannot say it is right or wrong.

Tracy also says we can live a life that will benefit others or in self-indulgence. Well, why shouldn’t I choose the latter? Maybe I want to stay home and play video games all day and not educate myself at all. Why not? The universe neither knows nor cares. I should give to others? Why? It is for their good? So what?

Tracy also says historically religions have been used as a means of control and most of it centered around fear. This would be a way of ignoring the spread of early Christianity. No one would be scared of the message of judgment unless they had reason to believe the threat had meaning. If you come up to me with what is clearly a water pistol and threaten to shoot me if I don’t give you all of my money, don’t expect to get a cent. The threat has no meaning.

Tracy looks at the Gospel of Mark also saying scholars have no idea who wrote it. This is false. I personally did research on this at Emory University getting all the commentaries from the last fifty years on Mark. The majority position is the work can be traced back to Mark. The date generally is around 70 A.D., though I would place it earlier.

In talking about any Gospel, Tracy gives no reason for the dating and says nothing about early attestation both external and internal to the authorship of the text. There are many other works from the ancient world that are anonymous, such as the works of Plutarch, that we are sure who wrote them. Without a methodology, Tracy is just giving us statements of faith.

Tracy also says none of the Gospel is history. Really? Jesus wasn’t even crucified for instance? That’s normally a no-brainer in historical talk about Jesus. Scholars like Ehrman, Crossan, and Ludemann have zero problem with it. There is no interaction with archaeological findings supporting the New Testament at all.

Tracy says that all three Synoptic Gospels were written by people who didn’t know Jesus and never heard Him speak and were written 40-60 years later. If he doesn’t know the authors, how does he know they never met Jesus or heard Him speak? There is no bothering to interact with scholarship like that of Burridge showing they’re Greco-Roman biographies intending to be a historical life of Jesus.

Tracy also says the fasting growing community today is the nones. These are people with no religious affiliation. However, no religious affiliation does not mean no religion. As Bradley Wright shows in his book, the Nones are not necessarily atheists. Many of them attend church regularly, pray, and have a high view of Scripture. They just don’t identify with one particular Christian movement.

Tracy also says orthopraxy comes before orthodoxy. Many people will say in the church you can be a good person and not believe the right things and still go to Hell. That’s because the worst thing you can do is to tell God you don’t need Him. If God has provided a way and you ignore it, that is a dishonor To God. Where did Tracy get this theology anyway that being a good person is enough? How good? What would be the standard?

I am beginning the second part of this book now by the Reverend *cough cough* which focuses on application. I am not expecting it to be any more historically accurate than this part was. With the bad resources Professor Tracy uses, he would not be teaching at any academic institution. It is not because he is an atheist or anything like that. It is because of his poor research methods.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

Book Plunge: An Evidentary Analysis Of Doctor Richard Carrier’s Objections To The Resurrection Of Jesus Christ

What do I think of Ross Hickling’s book published by Wipf and Stock? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

One of the most popular figures in atheist apologetics on the internet is Dr. Richard Carrier PhD. (For those seeking clarification, that’s the unemployed polyamorous prominent internet blogger who’s banned from SkeptiCon, Richard Carrier.) He’s most noted for being one of those rare scholars in the field who actually holds to and defends the idea that Jesus never existed. Fortunately, a Christian scholar has decided to pay attention to Carrier’s claims since they’re so prolific among internet atheists and put them to the test.

With his background in law enforcement, Hickling assesses Carrier’s claims according to the rules in our American courts today and the traditions they’re founded on for examining evidence to see if they measure up. Spoiler alert! They don’t. If Hickling is correct, Carrier’s case would not hold up in a court of law.

In each area, Hickling will present the claims of Carrier and then have those claims cross-examined by Christian scholars and apologists. He will also go with other scholars who have made relevant claims provided they are claims in the field. Hickling will then argue that the Christian case does measure up and defeat the claims of Carrier. This is done in three parts.

The first part is with the narratives of the resurrection themselves. In this, Carrier looks at claims of contradiction and says that the accounts do not add up so the claim should not be taken seriously. Hickling looks at these claims wisely avoiding any discussions of inerrancy. He points out what is necessary for a contradiction and how in a court of law, stories that appear contradictory are accepted because different witnesses see and say different things. Sometimes it can be different sources, different experiences, or differences in a story the accounts are being used to tell.

The second part deals with dying and rising gods. In this, Carrier claims that the Christians stole the idea from the culture around them and turned Jesus into a dying and rising god. Hickling chooses four candidates to look at which include Inanna, Osiris, Romulus, and Zalmoxis. Hickling goes back to the original sources on these and shows the vast differences that exist.

Not only that, he shows that the early church and the Jews were very guarded about their religious beliefs and did not want to mix them with others. He also shows that there is no evidence that these groups were interacting in Palestine or that the apostles, including Paul, ever went to the pagans to borrow beliefs from them.

The final part is on the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus. Carrier presents any number of claims to show that they were hallucinations. Hickling interacts with medical experts who specialize in hallucinations to show that the claims of Carrier don’t measure up. He also brings up other kinds of hallucinations Carrier doesn’t even mention.

In addition, he brings in data about the empty tomb and the martyrdom of some of the apostles that can be established, largely focusing for the latter on the work of Sean McDowell. Hickling contends that Carrier’s claims of what would cause a hallucination for the followers of Jesus doesn’t match up. This also includes one I enjoy interacting with particularly, guilt.

Hickling’s work is quite good. If there was more I would like to see, I would like to see guilt explained further seeing as I don’t think internal guilt was something that the ancients personally experienced. I also do hope that someday Hickling will turn his eye towards Carrier’s book arguing that Jesus didn’t exist. It would be great to see a thorough and scholarly takedown of such a work.

Either way, Carrier has been out there for quite awhile, but there’s a new sheriff in town with the know-how of legal evidence on his side. Hickling makes a good case and I would like to see him and Carrier interact someday on the data to see how such an exchange would go. All those on the internet who treat Carrier like the be-all and end-all of New Testament and historical Jesus studies need to look at this work.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Rappers And The Resurrection

What does making a music video have to do with the resurrection? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

A week or two ago I was driving through our town and heard a news story in the morning. Two rappers had been out on a public bridge for cars to drive across making a music video when they got hit by a driver. The driver was not charged with anything since the performers should not have been in the middle of the road. I do not think there were any deaths involved and the rappers were charged for creating a disturbance of sorts.

So I’m hearing this story and thinking in some ways it’s kind of amusing. There are a couple of people making fools of themselves out in the middle of the street and fate kind of happens to them. Hopefully, they have learned their lesson and they won’t do it anymore.

Later on still, I was driving and I heard more of the story. It turns out I was wrong about what was going on in my mind’s eye. I had pictured two guys out in the road making a disturbance when a car comes through and doesn’t have time to stop. Apparently, I had it wrong, but I think it was justifiable based on how the story was described.

As it turns out, there was a group of people in the middle of the road. I am not sure how many, but only two of them were hit. This wasn’t just a couple of guys then, but a whole entourage. Listening to the earlier story, I would have been sure it was a couple of guys only because that’s all that were mentioned.

What does this have to do with the resurrection? In the resurrection stories, we often hear differences on how many women or angels were present. The authors can mention different numbers. They can do this while knowing more were present. In John 20, Mary Magdalene is seen going alone to the tomb, but when she gets to the disciples to tell them about the body being gone, she uses the word we saying that “We don’t know where they put him.”

It’s my personal theory that each Gospel writer mentioned the women who were his sources for the story and/or were still alive to talk about the story. Of course, it could also be just at times highlighting the ones who did something, such as the case of the angels at the tomb. If only one speaks, that is the one focused on. In his research, Mike Licona calls this spotlighting.

We still do this today in many of our own accounts and I would contend that the original news story I heard was doing just that. The whole group didn’t need to be talked about because they weren’t relevant in the mind of the reporter to what took place. The two stories do not contradict, but rather they complement one another and one brings out fully what happened more.  The same goes for the resurrection accounts.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

Deeper Waters Podcast 6/30/2018: John Stewart

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

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

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

So who is he?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: In Defense of the Gospels

What do I think of John Stewart’s book published by Intelligent Faith Press? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

John Stewart is a lawyer who works with Ratio Christi and has written a book on defending the Gospels. Stewart goes through several questions very thoroughly and point by point. He also introduces you to many methodologies and explains why he accepts the answers that he accepts.

He starts off with asking when the Gospels were written. He establishes reasons for His dates but points out that often even on the worst case scenario of a date, the date could still be within the lifetime of the eyewitnesses. He points out that this is important and compares this to other works of history as well.

Stewart goes on to use similar methodologies on other questions such as if the Gospels are anonymous or if they’ve been changed or if they’re biased. Many of the objections dealt with are the ones that most people will encounter when they engage with internet atheists. If you are often involved or know someone who is involved with those debates and wants an extra resource, this would be a good one.

The work is also short and easy to understand without using technical language. It can be read in a short time and would be ideal for college students on campuses. No doubt, this is because of years that Stewart has spent with Ratio Christi.

There’s also a brief section on Jesus Mythicism in one of the chapters. This will be helpful for those who regularly encounter this crazy idea that seems to keep popping up its head. While the material there is basic, it is enough to help you out with the average mythicist.

I also like the argument dealing with the question of if the Gospels are anonymous. This is a common one that shows up on the internet, but it is one I do not see professional scholars dealing with, mainly because most scholars don’t use “The Gospels are anonymous” as a reason to think that they are automatically untrustworthy. Stewart rightly points out that it does help us if we can have good reasons to name an eyewitness behind a Gospel, but it is not a necessity to know if the Gospel is reliable or not.

If there were some criticisms I would give, the first one is that the book does need an editor. There would occasionally be seen typos that were distracting. One in particular was to hear about how to respond to Bark Ehrman. This is a slip of the keyboard of course, but it can damage one’s reputation.

I also would have liked to have seen a lot more specifics on ideas that have been overturned in the past 100 years about the Gospels due to archaeology. Mythicism was addressed, but that has never been a reigning theory among scholars. There have been very few isolated individuals who have held that position, although the number today could be greater due to the rise of the internet and the fast spread of false information.

Still, there is much to commend in Stewart’s book. It is a good opening defense one can have in the case of the Gospels and the author does make sure to focus there. He does have a short section on the Pauline epistles, but that is not what the book is about so he does rightly stick with the Gospels. I recommend this one for your college student, especially one who wants to better defend the Gospels.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

Book Plunge: Why Christianity Is Not True Conclusion

How shall we wrap it up? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Our journey with David Pye at this point comes to an end unless there are future books, although he is responding in comments so we might see more there. In the conclusion, Pye just sums up pretty much earlier chapters. There are some appendixes afterward. One is on the dear Dr. Laura letter which we addressed earlier. The others are on Christianity being a religion and what it means to be a committed Christian. There is not much to say about those latter two as they seem to go on pop Christianity sayings.

A few things in the concluding chapter however.

Pye does look at the passage in Revelation to the church in Laodicea about how He wishes the people were either hot or cold, but they are lukewarm instead. Pye makes a common mistake of thinking hot means passionate for Jesus and cold means someone who is not convinced that Christianity is true and is considering dropping. If he decides to drop it he is cold, but if he doesn’t he is lukewarm.

I have sadly heard this often in churches, but it is quite foreign and just considering it should tell us. Who among us thinks cold water is entirely bad? You might heat water for hot chocolate, but don’t we like cold beverages as well? Isn’t cold water refreshing?

The city of Laodicea had water sent through pipes to it from the outside. Some of it was hot and some of it was cold. Each could be used for a sort of purpose. If water was lukewarm, it really served no purpose. Jesus is not making any statement about passions but saying that the Laodiceans have become water that is good for nothing.

Pye also encourages people considering Christianity to be careful of Christian propaganda and testimonies. I agree, but I would also say to be careful of ANY propaganda and testimonies. Yes. Atheists have testimonies. I meet many regularly who tell me about their past life as a Christian. It’s almost like they never learned to move beyond their personal testimony.

I would also encourage researching the best works of scholarship on the issue and in looking at Pye’s work, I don’t think he did this. I see some interactions with Lewis, which is good, and the most recent scholarly work from a Christian side I see is McGrath. I like Alister McGrath, but one needs to have more than one.

I also think based on Pye’s story that he had a very pop Christianity type of Christianity. He talks about a big problem to him was the one in the fifth chapter about there not being a command to worship the Holy Spirit. This is an example of letting a secondary issue become primary. What? This is a secondary issue. Yes. If the Holy Spirit can be seen to be God in the New Testament and you are told to worship God, then you worship the Holy Spirit even if not explicitly stated.

Furthermore, consider this. Picture being a Christian who is convinced Jesus rose from the dead by the history and by exegesis and church history, you are convinced that the Bible teaches the Trinity. Will the lack of an explicit command like that trouble you? Nope. Not a bit.

By the way, that’s a big problem I see with Pye’s work. Nowhere does he touch the resurrection of Jesus. If you want to say Christianity is not true, you need to say something to explain the rise of the church. How do you explain what happened to Jesus?

On a positive note, I will say Pye’s work is very readable and while he is much more on the atheist side, he does not have the vitriol that most atheists I encounter have. Pye does strike me as the kind of guy I could go to the pizzeria with or have some tea with at Starbucks. I also do think his criticisms about how we live our lives and do evangelism should be heeded.

Perhaps we will interact more with Pye in the future even beyond the comments, but in the end, I put down his book and don’t see anything to raise any substantial doubt.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

No. It’s Not The End of The World.

Does Matthew 24 predict the end of the world? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

My view in eschatology is Orthodox Preterism. I understand the hesitancy many have towards it and I suspect often it’s because they see it through the lens of dispensationalism. In dispensationalism, when Jesus comes, it’s the end. Many hold to the idea that the world will end and we’ll all live forever in Heaven. Indeed, many messages in church have it that the goal of Christianity seems to be to get to Heaven.

This isn’t to say we shouldn’t think about Heaven. I think the reason we say this is actually the opposite. We’re not thinking about Heaven. We just hear about this place that is really good and we don’t think about what makes it really good. What makes Heaven good is God.

So when we come to a passage like Matthew 24, many people today think it talks about the end of the world. I mean, isn’t that what the text says? Let’s look at verse 3.

And as he sat upon the mount of Olives, the disciples came unto him privately, saying, Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?

There you go! Right there, it talks about the end of the world. Case closed! Right?

Not exactly. That’s in the KJV. It’s not the best translation job of that verse. Let’s look at the word. The word is aion.

  1. for ever, an unbroken age, perpetuity of time, eternity

  2. the worlds, universe

  3. period of time, age

    There were other words that can be translated as world. Matthew does not use them. Matthew refers to an age referring to the system of things. Besides, let’s consider some points. If the world is coming to an end, what good is it going to do to flee to the mountains? Will they somehow survive? May the end of the world not come in the winter on the Sabbath? Why those times specifically?

No. The end in mind refers as I said to this system of things. Let’s keep something in mind. When Jesus is there, His disciples ask about the destruction of the temple and when His coming would be. They have no concept of Jesus being crucified really. He’s said it would happen, but they’re expecting Him to be crowned king instead. They certainly don’t have a concept of Him dying, resurrecting, and leaving in an ascension. Why would they be asking Him about a return? He was right there and they did not anticipate Him leaving them.

This world is also not an evil thing. It is a good creation of God. God is going to redeem it just as much as He redeems sinners who come to Him. The enemy is not going to be allowed a victory so that God’s plans for this world come to failure.

So what is Jesus talking about? Jesus is talking about His coming to His throne, which is what the disciples would want to know about. Jesus is going to be the king so there’s no need of a temple. They could anticipate an earthly king, but Jesus is going to rule from Heaven. The Son of Man approaches the Ancient of Days. The Ancient of Days is not on Earth. He’s ascended in Heaven. Jesus is going up. He’s not going down.

Right now, Jesus is the ruling king. He is reigning and as Psalm 110:1 says, His enemies are being put under His feet right now. We await the full fruition of that in the resurrection, for as 1 Cor. tells us, the last enemy to be defeated is death.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Do We Take Christianity Seriously?

If Christianity is true, does it matter? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Our church has a stations of the cross going on now. Yesterday, my wife and I joined our small group there to go through it together. At one point, someone in our group asked a question along the lines of why we don’t seem to have excitement about this. We have a God who loves us so much that He did all of this. Does it really matter?

Let’s use a different example. The Star Wars films are awfully popular, although I never got interested in them really. Let’s suppose something about them. Let’s suppose that we found proof beyond a shadow of a doubt that these events that happened a long long time ago in a galaxy far far away really happened. What difference would it make?

There would be several people wanting to go on space explorations to try to find the locations in the movie. Scientists would be researching in new ways once they realized that feats shown in the movie were popular. Many people would be doing whatever they could to tap into the force. Some would use it for good and some for evil.

Now let’s compare this to the claims of Christianity. God is the most awesome and powerful and intelligent and wise and good being of all. There is no one that compares to Him. He loves humanity greatly and sent His Son to die for us. By His death and resurrection, all who trust in Him will rise again in glorified bodies never to suffer or die again. Those who do not will face an eternity of judgment.

Before it’s even debated if these claims are true or not, let’s say something. They are serious claims. I hope we can all agree also that if they are true, they do make a difference. If God exists and has spoken, we should all want to listen to what He has to say.

But does it make a difference? Often, it doesn’t. One of the reasons I think this is the case for us is often many of us are too familiar with it. We have heard the stories all our lives and they no longer shock and amaze us. Too many Christians just know it’s true because it’s in the Bible, without bothering to see how we got the Bible and how we can know it’s treu.

It also is because there’s not much at stake for us. Today, we can often think the worst persecution is being made fun of on the internet or perhaps economic pressure from society. While these are something, they don’t compare to what goes on in other countries where being a Christian is a crime and you can be put to death. If you know that what you believe can get you put to death, you’re going to want to make sure of it’s truthfulness and if you’re sure it’s true, you should take it seriously.

Many times, it can also be we don’t realize the implications of what we believe. A lot of people just think, “Jesus rose from the dead. Therefore, Christianity is true.” The goal of Christianity is to make sure you get to Heaven. Very little of it seems to apply to this life.

If that is the idea you’ve got, then it’s a highly lacking one. Christianity says that Jesus is our companion in all things and the Holy Spirit lives in us. That means we have the third person of the Trinity (Maybe some Christians need to see what a difference that makes too!) living in us. We have a God we can come to in our hour of need. Jesus doesn’t just help us overcome death. He helps us in all of our battles here.

That also means all our suffering is redeemed. No suffering a Christian undergoes will be wasted by God. All of it will be used for His glory. That should really revolutionize the way we view suffering.

The resurrection also tells us that this world is good. It’s not an accident. Our bodies are good things and we should take care of them. It also means that there is something great and good worth focusing on. Sadly, many Christians say they love God, but they seldom bother to seek to understand anything about Him.

Think about this if you’re married and if you’re not, imagine you are. What kind of spouse are you if you only look to your spouse and think about the good feelings they give you and what they do for you? You’re not much of them. You need to seek to understand who your spouse is, do things for them, do what they want and like and need. There aren’t exact parallels, but the marriage relationship is the picture most often used of that of Christ and the church.

Now I haven’t said anything about if Christianity is true, but that’s a benefit of apologetics. By studying it, one sees that it is true and it does really change the way you live. If you haven’t studied any apologetics, I really encourage you to do so. If you found out that Star Wars really happened, it would change things. Won’t it change them if you find out Jesus is who He said He is and did what He said He would do and still does that?

If you and I are still unexcited about this, then maybe we need to examine ourselves.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Things To Not Do or Say When Someone Dies

Are there some things you don’t want to say after someone’s death? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Just yesterday, we got a surprise as Allie and I woke up and she saw on Facebook that one of our friends back in Charlotte had died recently. We still don’t know much about it, but it was something sad. This got me to thinking about what happens when people die. People can mean well by these, but they are not good or accurate to say or do.

#1. God needed a new angel.

This one is false and really unkind, especially to children. No. When a person dies they do not become an angel. An angel is a wholly separate kind of being. Angels as Hebrews says are ministering spirits. We are not going to be just spirits. We are going to be humans.

But why is this unkind, especially to children? Imagine a child who has lost his mother. What happens when he hears “God needed a new angel.”? What kind of God are you giving these children then? A God who will take their mother away from them just because apparently He is lacking something?

#2. They are experiencing the resurrection!

This one can come in a number of varieties. When my grandmother passed away, I was one of three ministers assigned her funeral. I was to speak last and the minister at her church did a message and said, “Right now. She is experiencing the power of the resurrection!” I was just looking and thinking, “Sorry Pastor, but I’m pretty sure I can see her body down there right now.”

Another time in Tennessee when Allie and I were looking for churches, we visited one that had an elderly pastor speaking and the kind that was disappointing me since I was surely half his age and yet I knew he didn’t know what he was talking about. He talked about a friend who had died recently and said that right now, he is walking on streets of gold. Allie had to put her hand on my leg to make sure I’d remain calm.

Why are these so bad? Both of these in essence deny the resurrection! They treat the resurrection like a spiritual event and the body is not necessary. The person I think surely still exists, but they do not exist in unity with their bodies at this time. If we say that they do something physical like this, then we are treating the body as unimportant, something Jesus and Paul never did.

#3. Putting the emphasis on Heaven.

To some extent, this is what we should do, but if you treat heaven as the whole point, you miss it. The main message has always been resurrection. I saw this one when an aunt of mine passed away in Tennessee. The pastor was spending more time talking about himself, such as coming back from his vacation to do a funeral, than talking about her. I was waiting to hear something about the resurrection. Towards the end, he finally spoke about having that blessed hope that Paul spoke about in 1 Thess. 4.

I perked up. What? Is this it? Are we finally going to hear about the resurrection?!

The blessed hope that we will see our loved ones again in Heaven!

I slouched back down again.

Yeah. Heaven is real and we should celebrate it, but heaven is not total and complete until we are there as body and soul unities and that is the final victory over death. To say that we never have anything to do with this world is not Christianity. It’s Gnosticism. This world was created to be where God would dwell with His people and these bodies are the tools we were born to use to interact with the world.

If you are speaking about a believer in Christ who has died, I recommend just saying they are in the presence of Jesus. There is much debate about what happens when people die, but there is no question that their bodies are not there with them. Those bodies stay here and await the resurrection.

#4. Don’t glamourize suicide.

It’s hard to realize, but this sometimes happens. My family told me about going to a funeral for the friend of my Dad’s best friend. The husband had killed himself in an effort to remove a financial burden from the family or give life insurance or something of that sort. The pastor actually got up and said that the last act this man did was an act of love.

This man might have meant well, but it was not an act of love. Can you imagine being one of those kids hearing that? Your Dad killed himself and that killing of himself was an act of love? You experience it as the worst thing that has ever happened to you in your life!

I understand this minister got a number of complaints. Good. Such an act is a disgraceful act to the family involved. Suicide should always be shown as a tragic way to die and never the right action.

#5. Preaching Someone Into Heaven.

I am using the term Heaven due to that being the normal parlance, but we know this kind of thing. Someone dies who we have no reason to believe was a Christian and yet none of us wants to say it and everyone tries to paint the best picture of him possible. When this happens, there is a fine line to walk.

There’s a story about two really bad brothers in a town. One of them died and the surviving one told the pastor he would make a huge contribution to the church if the pastor would refer to his brother as a saint. The pastor on the day got up and said, “I want to be honest. This man in the coffin was a liar, a swindler, an adulterer, and a scoundrel overall, but compared to his brother, he was a saint!”

So if you don’t do these, then what do you say? I would simply say that the person is in the hands of God. There could always be a last minute conversion. We don’t know, but we can be skeptical. It’s not yours to decide ultimately who goes to Heaven or Hell. You certainly don’t want to say “I’m pretty sure your loved one is being tormented in Hell right now.” Say they’re in the hands of God.

#6. Pretty much anything at all.

It’s often tempting to think we should have just the right words to say when someone dies, but you know what? You don’t. You at least don’t have the words to take away the pain. Most people wouldn’t even want the pain to go. They truly want to mourn and grieve, and why shouldn’t they? They have experienced a loss.

Do what the Bible says. Mourn with those who mourn. Keep in mind we also mourn, but not like those who have no hope. We have hope, but that doesn’t discount mourning. It’s okay to be sad. Somehow we have this idea in Christianity that we should have it altogether and never be sad. Nonsense! We are still human beings. Being human does not mean always being happy. Some things should make you smile. Some things should make you laugh. Some things should make you sad. Some things should make you cry.

There’s a story that the composer Beethoven had a friend who experienced the death of someone. Beethoven went to visit. He saw a piano in the main room, played it for half an hour with beautiful music for mourning and then left. The friend said it was the most impactful visit of all. I don’t know if it’s true, but the message of the story is the same. Do something to mourn with the person. Come alongside them. Carry the pain with them. Enter into it.

There are no quick cures for grief and this is especially the case for suicide. When I meet people who had loved ones kill themselves decades earlier, it still affects them. Death is a defeated foe to be sure, but it is still a foe and nothing to take lightly. It has real effects on us today. Handle it properly.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Zealot

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Christ,
Nick Peters