Our Marching Orders

What do we do depending on how today goes? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Our country right now is in political turmoil. Assuming the election does end tonight, one side is going to go to bed tonight very very unhappy. As for me, I’m a conservative who has voted Republican all my life and I have kept that up and frankly, today terrifies me. Many of you might not agree, but I do think a Hillary election would be the worst thing to happen to America. Instead of being NeverTrump, I was and am definitely NeverHillary.

Maybe you don’t share my sentiments, but either way, I hope you can understand my own fears. They are fears that have made it difficult for me to sleep at night and left me worrying about the future. We already struggle here economically as it is. Will our situation get worse? This is especially important for those of us, like myself, who are in the non-profit industry. We rely on donations. What happens if those do not come in because people do not have it anymore?

Never mind also that there is a lot of political unrest that I see. Many people, whether they are NeverTrump or not, are angry about the FBI probe and think that we can’t count on the government to look out for us anymore. Add in other concerns like putting justices who will defend abortion on the Supreme Court and the second amendment and our fear of ISIS and there is even greater fear.

What happens if things go negatively? I am fearful that we have reached a boiling point here in America. There is so much unrest that if that one spark comes to light the fuse, I don’t know what will happen to the powder keg that is our country. This election has sadly brought out the worst in us and people on all sides have called into question each other’s Christianity and conservatism.

Yet as I ponder this fear, I try to think back. The early church faced a far worse scene. They had the Roman Empire to deal with and there was no internet they could use to connect to each other, no special advocates for Christianity, and no generations of study on Christianity. They were day-wage earners who for the most part would not have any savings stored up and could often find themselves the target of prison, death, and just outright shaming simply for their religious stance, which was also a direct challenge to Caesar.

Now here’s the sad part.

They probably trusted God far more than you and I do today.

Let’s consider Paul. Paul is in a prison cell and he’s writing letters and what is he writing? He’s writing on how to have joy. Yep. I find it hard enough to do outside of the prison cell. I find it hard to do in a society where I can have pretty much everything that I want. Paul honestly shames me in this regard.

Why is it that Paul could have this attitude? He knew what a difference Jesus made to everything. He saw the world was no longer the same place and the Roman Empire was just a bump on the road to the glory of Jesus. Does that mean he foresaw a day where Constantine, the ruler of the empire, would become a Christian? We cannot know, but we can be sure he was convinced the church of Jesus Christ could never be stomped out. God would not be thwarted.

Why do I not have faith like Paul’s? If I must be honest, and of course that is a requirement for a Christian, I believe it is because I do not really see the difference that Jesus makes. Jesus brought a radical transformation into this world.

Consider what the new atheists often say about morality. If we ask if it’s right for one man to own another as a slave, the new atheists answer the question is obvious. Everyone knows that. The people at the time of Jesus would agree. It’s a simple answer. Certainly, slavery is okay. Our world is built on it. They would be shocked at the new atheists today. Don’t we all know that we have to have this institution?

Why do we accept the idea as obvious today that slavery is wrong? Because we grew up with that Christian background. Many of our moral stances are what we have inherited so long from so many past generations that now we don’t even think about it. Unfortunately, we are seeing this start to come undone. This is especially so in the area of sexual morality with the whole redefining of marriage and the allowance of abortion.

Christianity grew up in a world where slavery, abortion, and homosexual practice were all accepted. Christianity changed it all. If you want to talk about a situation that was hopeless, look at Christianity. If an alien from another planet was watching the world in the first century and was wondering who would be in charge in 300 years, either this ragtag group called Christians or the Roman Empire, they would put their money on the Roman Empire.

They would be wrong.

What did it take for this to happen? The church was the church. Several months ago I was talking with someone who was asking me about where our country was going. What will it take to stop a continual downfall? I gave the answer I always give. The church has to be the church.

What does that mean? We have to literally be Jesus to the world. Now some of you are probably thinking “That means we walk with love and kindness and be good people.” Of course, we should do that, but it is much more than that. We must say Jesus is Lord and Caesar is not and it does not matter who the Caesar is.

The early church worked together in unison and sought to take care of their own and build one another up. We have far more resources to do this today. We have far greater means to do this today. We just don’t have the willpower to do so unfortunately. Too many of us have seen Christianity as an all-about-me scenario.

Despite this, if we are to be the church, we cannot say we will be the church in order to change our country. Christianity is not a means to an end. If we are being Christian and truly living it, the country will change on its own. Why is it that in our country Christianity can be shut down? Because they know that Christians will take it. They won’t dare say the same thing about Radical Islam.

That doesn’t mean we take the Muslim route of using physical violence. Absolutely not. It does mean that we do learn to stand up for ourselves where we can. We don’t be scared to step on toes if we have to. The early church wasn’t. Jesus Himself wasn’t.

Just yesterday, I was dialoguing with someone who I would say is a seeker with questions about Christianity. We talked about the crucifixion of Jesus and the emphasis given was on his teachings, which I think would be his moral teachings. The problem I said is this. Jesus was crucified. If Jesus was just a good moral teacher teaching these feel-good sayings, he would have been at worst a nuisance. He would not be someone that would be worth crucifying.

Yet he was crucified.

Jesus was crucified because He did rock the boat. He was seen as a threat to those in power and He must have done something to earn that attention. He not only was a threat, He went to the direct center of Judaism at the time, Jerusalem, and did it right at the time where He would know He was walking into a death trap. He did it anyway.

If you want to talk about a revolutionary position, Jesus was indeed a revolutionary. He didn’t do it with weapons like a zealot would. He did it by the offering of Himself to fulfill the role of Israel.

Jesus wasn’t afraid to rock a boat. Today, we hesitate to say anything because we are afraid we might “offend someone” or “hurt their feelings.” I do not picture Jesus having this fear at all. I am not at all saying to needlessly offend people, but if you tell the Gospel and tell people they are not in line with Jesus who is the king of this world, then you will offend them.

If we want to see our truly transformed society, it really wouldn’t depend on who got into the White House. It might make it easier for us. It might not. Our marching orders will be the same. We have to be the church.

If Trump wins, what our marching orders? The church has to be the church.

If Clinton wins, what are our marching orders? The church has to be the church.

No matter what happens, the church has to be the church. The Gospel does not need America to flourish, but America needs the Gospel to flourish. Again, we don’t do this because we want our country to flourish if we are Americans, although we certainly should much as the Israelites were even to pray for the well-being of Babylon while in captivity, but we do it because we are Christians. If you are not in America, these are your marching orders wherever you are.

So what will I do tonight? I will strive to be the church. I won’t deny it’s hard. I struggle with my own worry and anxiety and fear, but I have to look at the reality of who God is. He is on the throne. I have to trust and of course, it isn’t easy, but the early church did it with Rome. Why can I not do it here? The problem isn’t with God and it isn’t with Christianity and it isn’t with the government. It is with me.

Today and tomorrow and from now on, be the church. Those are your marching orders.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

Book Plunge: Science Education in the Early Roman Empire

What do I think of Richard Carrier’s latest book published by Pitchstone Publishing? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

When I saw Carrier had a new book coming, I decided I had to order it immediately. Carrier is one of the biggest names in atheism today for some reason and I want to be on top of what is being said as a Christian, so I placed my request and waited. The book actually came before the release date, which was a surprise, but I’m not complaining.

To start, some people will be surprised that this book is short. Had it not been for the presidential debates and then getting ready to spend Anime Weekend Atlanta with my wife, I can conceive of someone going through this in a day. The content pages aren’t large in number, they have footnotes, and the font seems larger than normal. This isn’t a complaint by the way, but just a statement of fact.

Reading this also, one in many ways seems to encounter a Carrier that they haven’t seen before. I thought his book on the historicity of Jesus just went for stretch after stretch after stretch and his book on sense and goodness without God had no real referencing to speak of. The style in this is quite different and I would not have known it was a Carrier book unless I had read it on the front because that was so incredibly different, but I understand that this is based on his dissertation so that’s probably what explains it.

I actually think the book is quite informative as well. It’s important to note that science wasn’t taught as much not because it was looked down on per se, but because attitudes like virtue and rhetoric were seen as more important. This is understandable. As Lewis wrote that many people can put up one kind of moral behavior and posit that for morality and think they are more moral than people of the past because of where they excel, ignoring where they are weak, so can it be done with knowledge. For the ancients, it was rhetoric and persuasive ability that mattered. For the medievals, it was the knowledge of God that was on top. For moderns, it’s science. Of course, it’s my persuasion that we can learn from all three.

Carrier does want to compare the time to the Middle Ages, but here you see that he has not really looked at it as much. I look forward to seeing what Hannam and O’Neill will say in response. Let’s look at some such passages in Carrier to see what I mean.

“How many youths studied the enkykios (A basic curriculum consisting of scientific knowledge) and its basic science content in the Middle Ages?  I suspect it is not likely even to be comparable, much less greater. But I must leave that for others to determine.” (p. 85)

“But I suspect very much the same could be said for the Middle Ages.” (p. 89)

“It seems unlikely that these standards for the education of scientists and philosophers continued in the Middle Ages, which oversaw a broad decline of scientific knowledge, and the gradual elimination of even the idea of a philosophy school.” (p. 119)

“Medieval state and public support for education is not likely to compare as well, until the rise of the universities, yet even those were small and few in number for quite some time and thus, at least until the Renaissance, might not have surpassed what had already been available in the Roman Empire.” (p. 136)

Statements like this do show that we need to wait for that information to come out. As I said, I look forward to what Hannam and O’Neill have to say, particularly about Christianity not being responsible for the rise of science. Still, this book is actually an interesting and enjoyable read and I think contains information that is worth further study. We’ll have to see what others have to say about it.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Deeper Waters Podcast 8/6/2016: Larry Hurtado

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

All religion is pretty much the same. Right? There was a smorgasbord of religious beliefs in the first century and Christianity wasn’t any different. Right? Don’t people convert for many reasons and Christianity was another choice? Wouldn’t people have been just fine with you being a Christian as they were any other system?

My guest this week is Dr. Larry Hurtado. He is the author of the book Destroyer of the Gods. While it is not out yet, I have got to read an advance copy and it is excellent. Hurtado shows that Christianity was radically different from the religious system of Rome but replaced it so much that today we treat Christianity as the norm.

So who is Larry Hurtado?

Hurtado high res

According to his bio:

Larry W. Hurtado is Emeritus Professor of New Testament Language, Literature & Theology in the University of Edinburgh.  He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, and a former President of the British New Testament Society.  Author of ten books and over 100 articles in journals, multi-author and reference works, his research has ranged broadly on issues in New Testament textual criticism, physical/visual features of early Christian manuscripts, the Gospel of Mark, early Christian worship, and the origins and early development of devotion to Jesus.  Born and educated in the USA, he taught previously in Regent College (Vancouver) and the University of Manitoba (Winnipeg).  He lives in Edinburgh and is married to Dr. Shannon Hunter Hurtado (art historian).

We’ll be discussing what it was that made Christianity unique. What were the social stigmas involved with being a Christian? Why did they matter so much? Why was it Christianity was seen as unique for denying the gods when Jews did the exact same thing?

We will also get more basic and discuss questions like what was religion in the ancient world? What was its relation to the state? Was there really any such thing as separation of church and state? Was there such a thing as a divide between one’s private life and one’s personal life?

If one became a Christian after having been a Gentile, how would their life be different? How would their social interactions be different? What risks were they taking? Would they lose their honor and reputation? Their jobs? Friends and family? Maybe even their own lives?

And what about books? What was it about Christianity that made it a religion of the book as opposed to most other systems out there except for perhaps Judaism. How did Christianity shape the world so that today the modern book is a concept that might not have been otherwise?

Be watching for these kinds of questions on this Saturday’s show. This is an exciting book to read and one that I hope gathers more attention in the scholarly world. I’m honored to get to have Dr. Hurtado on my show to talk about it and I hope you’ll be listening and please consider going on ITunes to leave a positive review of the show.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: In Search of Paul

Do Crossan and Reed find him? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

One of the most important lessons you can learn in studying is to read those who disagree with you. Too often, we have the idea that all of them can be liberals who dream night and day about how they can undermine the Bible and destroy the faith of some at every chance. In reality, when you read them, one can often find a seriousness to the Biblical text and get valuable insights in interpretation and in fact make special note of where they agree with you. Of course, I still think they are wrong in much in the long way, but we should listen to their voices as they can most easily question our own presuppositions.

In Search of Paul by Crossan and Reed is a book looking at the Roman Empire’s “gospel” in contradiction to the “gospel” that Paul taught. Both sources were claiming that there was a man who was deity and who was going to be the ruler of the world and usher in a new age.

They’re right too. Rome was indeed seeing itself in a position of restoring the world and shaping it the way it ought to be and the divine Caesars were bringing blessings to all people. This is probably why elsewhere Crossan has said that Mark 1:1 where it talks about the beginning of the Gospel of Jesus, the Son of God, could be translated as “In your face, Caesar.”

This is something I’ve used in my own apologetic. In the clash of these two forces together, neither one of them wanting to compromise an inch, it is a wonder that it was in fact Christianity that won out. How did a shameful traitor and blasphemer to YHWH (by the standards of the world) come to be the one that eventually even the Roman Emperor bowed a knee to, and this without the Christians raising a sword?

But that is another question for another time and those interested can pursue my writings elsewhere and find my answer.

To return to the review, Crossan and Reed also bank on a hypothesis that Paul in his journeys went most to the God-fearers. These were people who admired the Jewish worldview and believed in the Jewish God, but they didn’t follow through entirely. For some bizarre reason for instance, the men were hesitant to get circumcised. I can’t imagine why….

Unfortunately, this is what I consider the weakest part. It’s not really explained well and when it comes to Acts, the parts that go against the theory are deemed to be non-historical without any real argument. If they give one elsewhere, it would have been good to have seen a reference.

The authors ask why would Jews care about these God-fearers coming to believe in Jesus? They also ask why would the pagans have cared about some pagans becoming Christians. Actually, both of these questions are quite simple to answer.

Jews would care because this would go against the honor of God. They didn’t want people going around saying that the Messiah had come and that Messiah was a crucified criminal. It also didn’t help that the leaders of Israel were being blamed for this. If this went unchecked, then that would mean that God would surely come and judge the nation. They were in violation of the covenant and the new movement had to be stomped out.

Why would pagans care? Simple. These people would be deviants in society. “You’re not worshiping the gods or the emperor? You’re in fact proclaiming our gods are not real and that the emperor is not deity? If you keep this up, the gods and/or Rome will judge us!” Both groups had something to gain by going after the Christians.

Despite this disagreement, a good reader will learn much from this book. The story is also told with powerful descriptions of visiting the areas where the events took place in modern times. One gets to see how the Empire was growing alongside of Christianity and go through the letters of Paul deemed to be authentic and see how they could be translated in light of this information.

Another point of interest is that Crossan and Reed want to tie this in to modern America today. How are we like the Roman Empire and differnt from them? I found myself puzzled though in wondering what great message Jesus taught that was so unique that it is still here today from a non-Christian viewpoint. For Crossan and Reed, the impression is that it is about the end of violence, but this does not seem to be the main message of Jesus.

As NT scholars agree, Jesus’s message is the Kingdom of God and the message would then be that God has begun His rule and He has begun it in the person of Christ. The resurrection would be the vindication of that claim. (As well as providing forgiveness of sins.) This is the solution to the problem of evil. God is reworking this world and reshaping it by the spread of the Gospel.

Non-violence would be good, but to what end? Just so we can all get along? If Jesus’s message had simply been that we should love one another and avoid violence and live in unity, it is hard to imagine how it is that He would have been crucified. It must be something much more radical. This is the problem I have with Crossan’s Jesus every time I read about Him. He’s a nice guy. There’s nothing wrong with being a nice guy, but nice guys while they finish last, do not get crucified.

Despite these differences, I do encourage Christians interested in the historical Jesus and studying Paul to read Crossan and Reed’s work. It will be very eye-opening and reading a stance different from your own will help you inform yours.

In Christ,
Nick Peters