Book Plunge: An Outline of Orthodox Dogmatic Patristics

What do I think of Romanides’s work published by the Orthodox Research Institute? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

A warning about this book. This one is deep. The average person will not understand it. If you want a book on Orthodoxy that is friendly to the average reader, this isn’t the one. This is not said in an insulting sense as such could be said about several Protestant and Catholic books. It’s just said because it’s true.

Yet going through, there was not much in theology that I had a problem with. It’s one reason I don’t understand it when people say they move to Catholicism or Orthodoxy because of the theology. The theology is still very much the same.

It’s when we get into more secondary issues that I start having problems as those secondary issues can often at times appear to be primary issues. This is something that makes this different from many other denominational issues. Orthodox and Catholics both set themselves up as the true church and everyone else is in some lesser position, although I have some reason to be concerned some Orthodox do see those on the outside as not even Christians.

Mainly, this happens when it comes to Scriptural interpretation. Romanides will tell us about a divine council that gives the interpretation of Scripture and one should not try to think they can interpret apart from that guidance. Unfortunately, no backing is given for this other than the assertion that this council comes from the apostles. How one can know this is unknown.

This is one of my problems when tradition is put on the same level as Scripture. Which tradition? How can we know? The Orthodox claim the wisdom of the apostles lies in this divine council. The Catholics claim it lies in the magisterium. Both of them claim this on the basis of tradition and both say the other is wrong on the basis of tradition. How could we choose which one?

What about a Protestant like myself? We go with the one source everyone agrees comes from the apostles, the Scripture. I don’t buy into any idea that I need this other group before I can understand the Scripture and I don’t accept such in Protestantism either. Anyone willing to do the work of study can have a good understanding of the text. Of course, this won’t be an infallible understanding, but it’s dangerous to really think one’s understanding cannot be wrong anyway.

This isn’t to say that I think the Orthodox are wrong on everything that is a secondary matter. Of course not. I am quite friendly to their idea of heaven and hell in the sense that God’s presence is a joy to believers and a torture to those who are not. I also am entirely open to the idea of the church not just being invisible but visible as well. I think that people should be able to look at us in all our traditions and see Jesus.

Again, while there are things I do like, when it comes to issues such as the treatment of Mary and the saints or the reliability of tradition, I am highly unpersuaded. In fairness, Romanides’s probably did not write this book for someone like myself but for those in the fold of Orthodoxy already. Still, if future reading doesn’t make better arguments, I will continue to be unconvinced and see such things as the traditions of men but not rooted in Christ or Scripture.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: In Search Of Ancient Roots

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

Historically, many times different denominations have not gotten along. Today, there is much more communication and with the internet here, many people are coming across other belief systems they would have no access to before. Many an orthodox Protestant can be wondering about their belief system. Where did it come from?

Stewart’s book is written to help those searching Protestants. While not for any one particular denomination, he does work to show that many of the beliefs and such that we have today go back to our ancestors. Not only that, there was great theological development even on core doctrines. One quick example is the Trinity. It’s not that Jesus rose from the dead and immediately the apostles got together and wrote the Nicene Creed. The outworking of that event took at least three centuries to get to Nicea and today we can look back and see the development of the doctrine.

One great theme of this book is that the Fathers matter. I remember asking someone well over a decade ago in talking about apologetics if they could name an early church father. The only name that came to mind was John Wesley. That’s why we have to do a better job educating. So many people know so little about these great people that many times gave their lives for the Christian faith. We not only don’t know our doctrines, but we don’t know the history behind those doctrines.

Stewart definitely wants us to return to the Fathers. He tells us that early Protestants were known for doing this. Today we think of other traditions scouring the Fathers, but he says in the past the Protestants were the ones doing this the most. There’s no reason Protestants today can’t be doing in-depth research on the Fathers.

He also speaks about examples of debates that we have today. The two he chooses are the frequency of the Lord’s Supper and if we should participate in infant baptism. Both of these chapters bring up points that will be of interest to anyone in these debates.

There’s also a chapter on the history of Newman with the look at the claim that to study church history is to cease to be Protestant. Stewart contends that there are two different Newmans. One is the one presented in many popular writings. The other is one the Catholic Church itself was unsure about.

Towards the end, he starts looking at the harder issues. Many of these chapters I thought would actually work better at the beginning of the book. These include the claim that the Roman Church does have the highest authority due to the seat of Peter being occupied. Stewart argues that the data for this is not as strong as would be like and the claim is not helped by the fact that many times there were rival popes and each pope was busy excommunicating the other.

There’s also a chapter on the history of justification by faith. I find the fact that so many have written on this to show that the early Fathers taught this as fascinating, but there was one blind spot here. I did not see any quotations from the Fathers. I would have liked to have seen some of those at least. One could not get an encyclopedic look of course, but something would be nice.

Finally, it ends with why people abandon Protestantism and go the other way. Again, the message is that we need to really study our history and our doctrine. We have had a sort of anti-intellectualism come over the church and too many have the idea that everything just fell down from heaven and the history is irrelevant. We need to know not only where we are and where we are going, but how we got here.

Those interested in church history will benefit from reading this. It would be good for those on all sides of any such debate. I hope we can return to some serious look at our history. In an age of greater skepticism, we need it more and more not just because of the constant changing of churches, but because of outside attacks on all churches.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

Deeper Waters Podcast 12/2/2017: Old-Earth vs Evolution

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

Many Christians do agree today that the Earth is old, but then they hit an impasse. What about evolution then? It does seem to be the reigning theory and there are a lot of Christians that hold to it, but is that really what the science shows and how does that mesh with Scripture? Christians who aren’t scientifically informed can be confused.

Recently, the book Old Earth Or Evolutionary Creation was published. It was edited by Kenneth Keathley and J.B. Stump. I got a copy of the book and when I finished it figured the discussion should continue. Since the dialogue was between Biologos and Reasons To Believe, I spoke to both ministries to get representatives to come on to talk about the book. Kenneth Keathley as well is coming on. J.B. Stump is coming from Biologos and from Reasons to Believe we have Fuz Rana.

So who are they?

Kenneth Keathley

According to his bio:

Ken Keathley is Senior Professor of Theology and the Jesse Hendley Chair of Theology at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina where he has been teaching since 2006. He also directs the L. Russ Bush Center for Faith and Culture, a center that seeks to engage culture, present and defend the Christian Faith, and explore its implications for all areas of life. He is the co-author of 40 Questions About Creation and Evolution (Kregel, November 2014) and co-editor of Old Earth or Evolutionary Creation?: Discussing Origins with Reasons to Believe and BioLogos (IVP, July 2017).  Ken and his wife Penny have been married since 1980, live in Wake Forest, NC and are members of North Wake Church in Wake Forest, North Carolina.  They have a son and daughter, both married, and four grandchildren.

Jim Stump

Jim Stump is Senior Editor at BioLogos. As such he oversees the development of new content and curates existing content for the website and print materials. Jim has a PhD in philosophy from Boston University and was formerly a philosophy professor and academic administrator. He has authored Science and Christianity: An Introduction to the Issues (Wiley-Blackwell, 2017) and edited Four Views on Creation, Evolution, and Intelligent Design (Zondervan 2017). Other books he has co-authored or co-edited include: Christian Thought: A Historical Introduction (Routledge, 2010, 2016), The Blackwell Companion to Science and Christianity (Wiley-Blackwell, 2012), How I Changed My Mind About Evolution (InterVarsity, 2016), and Old Earth or Evolutionary Creation: Discussing Origins with Reasons to Believe and BioLogos (InterVarsity, 2017).

And Fuz Rana

Fazale Rana is the vice president of research and apologetics at Reasons to Believe. He is the author of several groundbreaking books, including Who Was Adam, Creating Life in the Lab, The Cell’s Design and Dinosaur Blood and the Age of the Earth. He holds a PhD in chemistry with an emphasis in biochemistry from Ohio University.

I hope you’ll be listening to this episode as we discuss science and theology and how it all comes together. What is the evidence for evolution? How should one interpret Scripture? What is the relationship between faith and science? Please be looking for the next episode and consider leaving a positive review of the Deeper Waters Podcast on iTunes.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

Book Plunge: End Times Bible Prophecy. It’s Not What They Told You.

What do I think of Brian Godawa’s book published by Embedded Pictures Publishing? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Brian Godawa writes as someone who is a reluctant Orthodox Preterist. He writes about growing up in a futurist mindset and then when he first encountered the view that he’s currently defending of Orthodox Preterism, he was shocked. That has to be heresy! It has to be liberals not taking the Bible literally! It’s undermining the faith delivered once and for all to the saints!

His experience is not unusual. I remember being stunned the first time I heard about the Preterist viewpoint. How could anyone think this? I remember reading in an old study Bible about different views of Revelation and how some think it depicts events that happened in the first century and thinking “Wow. Some people really believed that all this stuff happened?” Of course, it was my mindset that was in the reading of “All this stuff must be fulfilled in a wooden literalistic sense.” It never occurred to me that the problem could be my viewpoint.

Like Brian, I had cracks show up in my thinking that were hard to answer. What about the statement of “This generation will not pass away?” I also started seeing that some ideas behind the view of the rapture were extremely difficult to hold. These were paths I did not want to take, but the evidence was too strong to avoid not taking those paths.

Abandoning the idea of the rapture was extremely hard, and yet I wasn’t done. As I met preterists, I started realizing that I was wrong about what they believed. It wasn’t the case that everything had happened in 70 A.D. I had just never really taken the time to look like I should have. It was a group discussion led by two preterists that got me to see what my problem was.

Brian’s book begins with his own story and then goes to hermeneutics. I think this is an excellent way to begin as Brian shows a different way to read Scripture that still strives to be faithful to the test and is not “liberal” or “denying Inerrancy.” Hermeneutics is one of the first areas of questions I have for futurists nowadays. It is asking them that even if their conclusion differs, and I’m thankful it does, how is their hermeneutic any different from the one that produced the four blood moons of John Hagee?

He then goes step by step through the Olivet Discourse. Brian is gentle and understands regularly how his readers could balk at this thinking. He takes a few diversions to look at questions like the antichrist and such. All the while, Brian wants to take someone’s hand and slowly walk them through this territory that could be unfamiliar to them.

Still, he has produced a convincing work. A few times I was reading and thinking “Brian. You could have a much better argument if you would include XYZ.” I would find a few paragraphs later that Brian does indeed know about XYZ and says something about it. Brian is also not at all dogmatic in what he says.

It’s also helpful that he has a part in here about the idea of Neohymenaeanism, whereby everything was said to take place in 70 A.D. No doubt, more could be said here, but he does refer to another work on this topic. He wants people to still know that Jesus will return and there will be a bodily resurrection.

Brian’s book is an excellent guide for someone wanting the ins and outs of this whole area. He also has a novel that can go with it called Tyrant: Rise of the Beast. I have not read it yet, but it is supposed to be a novel form of what he is talking about in his book if you prefer that way instead.

I recommend that anyone interested in the truth about “Bible prophecy” check out Brian’s book.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

Book Plunge: Paul Behaving Badly

What do I think of Randy Richards’s and Brandon O’Brien’s book published by IVP? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Paul can be a very polarizing figure today. Some Christians have the idea that Jesus is really awesome (And they’re right), but we don’t know about that Paul guy. He wasn’t even one of the original twelve. He didn’t meet Jesus in person. Why should we listen to him? Some skeptics will claim that it was Paul who really invented Christianity and took the good message of Jesus and turned Him into a deity and lost sight of His message.

For those of us who do like Paul, we do have to admit there can be difficulties. As the authors ask “Was Paul a jerk?” Sometimes, it looks like he was. They bring this up in a number of areas. First, the general question of if he was a jerk. Then they ask if he was a killjoy, a racist, a supporter of slavery, a chauvinist, a homophobe, a hypocrite, and finally a twister of Scripture.

Each chapter starts with the charges against Paul and they do bring forward an excellent case. You can look at the claims and if you are not familiar with the debates it is easy to ask “How is Paul going to get out of this one?” The authors also grant that Paul is not one behaving according to 21st century Western standards, but he was still just as much behaving badly to his own culture as he was just as radical to them. Paul is kind of in an in-between spot sometimes. Many times he’ll push the envelope further and leave it to us to keep pushing it. The question is are we going to do that.

Many of these questions need to be addressed for the sake of many people you will encounter who raise these objections. (Why didn’t Paul just demand the immediate release of slaves?) I enjoyed particularly the chapter on Paul being a killjoy. O’Brien gives his story in this one on how anything wasn’t to be done because we are to abstain from the appearance of evil so let’s make sure we all go see only G-rated movies and are teetotallers. (While I personally abstain from alcoholic beverages, I don’t condemn those who drink and control their alcohol.)

Some insights I thought were interesting and added perspective. Why did Paul seem to take contradictory stances on meat offered to idols? Why did he have Timothy circumcised when Timothy was from the area of Galatia and Paul had made it clear that if you let yourself be circumcised, then you are denying the Gospel. (If you want the answers to those questions, you know what you need to do.)

I would have liked to have seen a little bit more on the honor and shame aspect of the culture of the time. There is some touching on this, such as talk also about the client/patron system, but a quick refresher would have been good for those who don’t know it. Of course, I definitely recommend that anyone pick up their excellent book Misreading Scripture With Western Eyes.

This book is a great blessing that we need today. Paul, like I said, is one of the most controversial figures even among Christians. To deal with his critics and to help those who would like to support him, you need to read this book.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Why There Is No God. Part 1

What do I think of Armin Navabi’s self-published book? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Someone in an apologetics group I belong to asked if anyone had read this book. Myself, being the type who wants to be there to help my fellow apologists out, decided to get it at the library. Who knows? Maybe I have some masochist streak in me. The book goes through twenty arguments for God’s existence from an atheist who used to be a Muslim.

It describes itself as a thorough examination, yet the book is just about 125 pages long and looks at, as I said, twenty arguments. I have no idea how you can give a thorough treatment with that. In fact, it’s so short that you could easily read it in a day’s time.

Of course, don’t be expecting to find anything of real substance in here. Much of it is the modern fundamentalism relying on today’s atheist heroes who are just as much fundamentalist. If you’re also expecting to have him interact with the best arguments, like those of Aquinas, well you know without my saying it the answer to that.

I have decided to investigate five arguments a day. Keep in mind a lot of these arguments are arguments that I would not use. Still, even when critiquing a bad argument, we can learn much about Navabi’s approach. Let’s go ahead and dive in.

Argument #1: Science can’t explain the complexity and order of life; God must have designed it this way.

Many of you know I’m not one up for Intelligent Design arguments. If I go with design, it’s the teleological design in the fifth way of Aquinas. (btw, Navabi shows his ignorance here by saying Paley introduced the design argument in 1802 when really, arguments of design go all the way back to even the time of Christ.) Navabi starts with a claim that it used to be that many natural forces were attributed to deities. While this is so, I think many atheists make a false assumption here. Since these were explained by deities, the deities were invented to explain these. That doesn’t follow. Why not that the deities were already thought to be there and that they were assigned these by their worshipers in order to explain how they take place?

Many of you also know that as a Christian apologist, I have no problem with evolution. If you just say evolution explains it, I’m not going to bat an eye. That’s because a question is being answered that I think doesn’t answer the main question for Christianity in any way. Before we go to the next question, we have to address the main argument that Navabi puts forward that we were all expecting.

“If complexity requires a creator, who created God?”

This is Richard Dawkins’s main argument and so many atheists bounce around this Sunday School question as if no one in Christian history ever thought about it. When we talk about something needing a cause, what we really mean is potential being made actual.

What?

Okay. As I write this now, I am sitting at my computer. Suppose my wife calls me and wants something from me. If I agree, I will stand up and go to her. I can do that because while sitting, I have the potential to stand. Once I stand, I have the potential to sit, or lie down, or jump, or do any number of things. Actuality is what is. Potentiality can be seen as a capacity for change.

When any change takes place in anything, that means a potentiality has been turned into an actuality. As I write this, my wife is in the living room watching Stranger Things for the third time. The change is happening on the screen because of signals that are being received from somewhere else through Netflix. (Don’t ask me to explain how it works.)

Now many of us could see this cause and effect going on and say it makes sense. (In fact, it’s essential for science.) Still, we might ask about our own actions. Aren’t we the cause? Do we need anything beyond us? A Thomistic response is to say yes. What we do we do because of something external to us driving us towards it and that is the good. We either want the good and pursue it or refuse it and rebel against it.

What does this have to do with God? For us to say God has a cause, we would have to show that there was some change that took place in the nature of God. If there wasn’t, then there is nothing in Him needing a cause. The universe we know undergoes change so something has to be the cause of the change in the universe.

But isn’t God complex? Actually, no. Note that I am talking about complexity in His being. I am not talking about God being simple to understand. In Thomistic thought, God is the only being whose very essence is to be. There is no distinction between being and essence. You and I are all human. There is a human nature that is given existence and then that for us is combined with matter that separates us from one another. Angels, meanwhile, are each all their own nature and that nature is granted existence. There is no matter that separates them so they differ by their nature. God alone is no combination. Because of this, He doesn’t need a cause.

That’s pretty complex. If you want to read more about this, I really recommend the writings of Edward Feser. He’s quite good at explaining Thomistic concepts for the layman, and I’d say much better than I am at it.

Argument #2: God’s existence is proven by Scripture.

Navabi gives many of the same fundamentalist arguments here that we’ve come to expect. Naturally, it begins with talking about inconsistencies in Scripture. After all, many times the way that a Christian approaches inerrancy can be the same way that a fundamentalist atheist does.

A favorite one to start with is creation. After all, no one ever noticed that the sun comes after plants in the creation account. You don’t really need to ask if Navabi will interact with any arguments. Young-Earthers and Old-Earthers both have said something, but for people like Navabi, just raise the objection. That’s enough. For what it’s worth, I prefer John Walton’s stance.

Let’s also look at some supposed controversies on the resurrection accounts. Here is the first one.

Matthew 27:57-60.

57 When the even was come, there came a rich man of Arimathaea, named Joseph, who also himself was Jesus’ disciple:

58 He went to Pilate and begged the body of Jesus. Then Pilate commanded the body to be delivered.

59 And when Joseph had taken the body, he wrapped it in a clean linen cloth,

60 And laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn out in the rock: and he rolled a great stone to the door of the sepulcher, and departed.

Acts 13:27-29.

27 For they that dwell at Jerusalem and their rulers, because they knew him not, nor yet the voices of the prophets which are read every sabbath day, they have fulfilled them in condemning him.

28 And though they found no cause of death in him, yet desired they Pilate that he should be slain.

29 And when they had fulfilled all that was written of him, they took him down from the tree and laid him in a sepulcher.

Did you see the contradiction?

Navabi wants us to say that in one account, Joseph buries Jesus. In another, the people do. It’s amazing that this one is put forward as anything serious. Joseph was among the people who did crucify Jesus, though he was a secret sympathizer. His action of burying Jesus would be seen as the Sanhedrin providing for his burial. How is this a contradiction?

There’s also how many figures were seen at the tomb and how many women there were. The basic replies work well enough here that some writers chose to focus on one man or angel instead of pointing out two. I think the women mentioned were the ones alive at the time who could be eyewitnesses.

To be fair, the dating of the crucifixion between John and the Synoptics is a live one. I have no firm conclusion on this, but also it doesn’t affect me either way. The basic facts about the historical Jesus do not hang on this. Scholars do not doubt that Jesus was crucified at the time of Passover.

I will have no comment on what Navabi says on the Quran. I will leave that to the experts in Islam.

When we go back to the Bible, Navabi throws out that the writings were based on oral tradition and written decades or centuries later. Well with the New Testament, I don’t know any scholar who says centuries later. Navabi also doesn’t bother to investigate oral tradition and how well it works or how much later other ancient works were then the events they describe. Neither will many of his atheist readers, you know, the people who talk about loving evidence so much. (Except for claims that agree with them of course.)

And then there’s the claim that the books are anonymous and we don’t know who wrote them. His source for this is Ehrman’s Jesus Interrupted. I have written a reply to that here. It would be good for Navabi to explain how he knows how other anonymous works in the ancient world were written by the people they’re ascribed to and to actually investigate the arguments for traditional authorship, but don’t be expecting that.

Argument #3. Some unexplained events are miraculous, and these miracles prove the existence of God.

This chapter is quite poor, which is saying a lot for a work like this. A miracle is described as an improbable event. You won’t find any interaction with Craig Keener’s Miracles even though this came out after that did. We’re told that a problem with miracles is that they’re unfalsifiable, which is quite odd since so many skeptics make it a habit of disproving miracle claims.

Suppose someone walks into your church service who has been blind all their life. A member of your church comes forward and says to them “God told me to come and pray for you” and ends a prayer saying “In the name of Jesus, open your eyes” and the person has their eyes open. Are you justified in believing a miracle has taken place? I think you definitely are.

These are the events that we want to be explained. If Navabi wants to say miracles cannot happen, then he needs to make a real argument for that. If he wants to say they have never happened, then he needs to be able to show his exhaustive knowledge of all history. Can he do that? After all, his claim is quite grand and could be hard to “falsify” since we don’t have access to all knowledge of all history.

Argument #4. Morality stems from God, and without God, we could not be good people.

While the moral argument is a valid one, never underestimate the ability of atheistic writers to fail to understand an argument. Navabi’s first point is that morals change. However, if morals change, can we really speak of objective truths? Those are unchanging things. If morality just becomes doing whatever people of the time say is good, then congratulations. We do what we think is good and congratulate ourselves on doing what we already agree with.

As expected, Navabi trots out Euthyphro. This is the question of if something is good because God wills it, or does God will it because it’s good. Again, atheists bring up this argument found in Plato completely ignoring that it was answered by Aristotle, his student, in defining what the good itself is. When atheists bring this forward, I never see them define what goodness itself is. We could just as well ask “Is something good because we think it is, or do we think it is because it is good?” Everyone has to answer Euthyphro unless they define goodness separately.

This is followed by the problem of evil. There are more than enough good resources out there for someone wanting more. I am including some interviews I have hosted on my show about the topic that can be found here, here, and here.

Navabi concludes with a natural explanation of morality to the tune that it evolved. Unfortunately, this doesn’t explain things because there has to be a standard of good we have in mind by which we recognize a good action. Goodness is not a material property that comes about through evolution. It is something we discover much like laws of nature or logic.

Argument #5 Belief in God would not be so widespread if God didn’t exist.

This is not an argument I would make, but there are some examples of bad thinking here. Navabi says that if God was revealing the world religions, wouldn’t we expect them to have more in common? Unfortunately, why should I think God is revealing all of them. Could man not believe and make up his own easily enough?

Navabi also says that if these religions are describing the physical world, they can’t all be right, but they could all be wrong. Of course, this isn’t really an argument. One needs to show that all of them are wrong.

Finally, while I don’t use the argument, it does have to be acknowledged that theism is widespread. Given this is the case, why is it that the theistic claims are treated by the atheists as extraordinary claims? Wouldn’t it be the opinion outside of the ordinary, namely that God does not exist, that should be considered as extraordinary?

We’ll go through the next five next time.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

What is Hermeneutics?

What on Earth is hermeneutics? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Hermeneutics is a big word to a lot of people. If you have grown up in the church. chances are sadly that you’ve never heard it. Sadly, many of today’s popular preachers don’t have a clue about it, such as in how we like to share this joke meme concerning someone like Joel Osteen.

HermanNewtics

The word is a strange one still and we need to know what it is. The Collins English dictionary lists it as the art of interpretation, but especially of Scripture. As to the word origin, it has the following:

from Greek hermēneutikos expert in interpretation, from hermēneuein to interpret, from hermēneus interpreter, of uncertain origin

In Greek mythology, Hermes was known as the messenger of the gods. They had a message and he would take it to the recipient. In other words, he would be an interpreter.

Today, when we read any document, we are engaging in hermeneutics. In fact, this isn’t just reading. If you hear a message or if you even see body language taking place, you are trying to interpret it. Many a woman has been stymied by the way that a man does not catch on when she is flirting with him. My own wife has told me about two times specifically she was trying to flirt with me while married and I did not catch on. (Excuse me while I go and mourn thinking about those two times.)

Some of you have a mindset that when we approach the Scripture, we should do it literally. Properly understood, this is true. Improperly understood, this is a disaster. Properly understood, a literal interpretation means an interpretation done according to the intent of the author. Improperly done, it means that you just read everything as if it was straight forward without anything like metaphors, similes, figures of speech, hyperbole, etc. In fact, we often use the word literally when we don’t mean literally. For instance….

How do you get to the intent of the author? Is there some magic formula? Well, no. This can often be a problem in dialogue because it’s thought by some that there’s some magic technique you can use to automatically tell. There’s no more some magic technique for Scripture than there is for Shakespeare and there’s no piety in taking everything in Scripture as if it was written to 21st century Americans.

So over the next few times as we continue our look at basic apologetics, I’d like to give some rules of hermeneutics that I try to follow. These will largely focus on Scripture, though you can use them for various other texts that you come across throughout the day. (This also includes messages that are not written.) Hopefully in the end, you’ll also be paying attention to the words that others use much more and you’ll be paying much more attention to the way that you use your own words. Your own words can dig you into a hole very easily if you’re not careful with them.

Hope to see you as we continue this journey!

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Anybody Catch That Last Apocalypse?

How was the latest global event for you? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

So another blood moon has come and gone and how is the world radically different? Well, not too much. Of course, don’t leave it to people like John Hagee to be deterred by this. As he says on the Facebook page of his ministry:

Thank you Joe Pags for participating in our “Four Blood Moons” projects, and for helping us to share this great message that something is about to change! God is sending a message that (even though no man knows the day nor the hour) we need to prepare for Jesus’ return. We need to live a righteous life as unto the Lord.

One would think the Almighty would have planned these kinds of events better and would have also thought that an event like the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. or the Holocaust would be worth something, but alas, apparently not. We can be confident that two people will not be bothered by nothing happening with the blood moons. The first will be John Hagee himself. The second will be his followers. Even today if you go to the page, you can see plenty of them. The fact that this caused so much excitement in the Christian church really shows that we have a great case of Biblical illiteracy going on.

While I certainly agree with Hagee that we need to be living righteous lives, part of that righteousness would be owning up to the mistakes that you make and especially so if you have a loudspeaker to what you say and proclaim yourself to speak what you think Scripture says. Events like this only give further credibility to the idea that Christians are gullible and will believe anything that comes along and if we give that kind of impression to people, why on Earth should we think that they will treat the Gospel of Christ seriously? Of course you believe that story! You also believed in blood moons because someone on TV said it.

So here’s my bizarre pipe dream.

I have this hope that Christians will really drop their end times madness. I get tired of hearing constantly that we all know we’re living in the last days and that the end of the world is coming and we are that generation. Every other generation has been wrong, but we are the exception! The good thing is these end times people can be disproven pretty quickly as they don’t usually make predictions about events hundreds of years from now, but rather events due to happen soon. The bad part is that when they are disproven, no one calls them to repentance and they keep going. I have said before it must be nice to be a prophecy expert. You can write whatever you want and just say it’s in the Bible by whatever bizarre hermeneutic you want, you can be taken as a serious authority, sell books all around the world and be a bestseller, be absolutely wrong in all you say, and yet you still qualify as an expert.

Second, I have a dream of Christians being experts in other areas. I meet so many Christians who say they want to study end times prophecy and know all about that. How rarely do I meet Christians who want to say “I want to learn all I can about the Trinity.” One reason is end times prophecy is often about us and we love ourselves. We love thinking that we are so special as a chosen generation. The Trinity is not about ourselves. Oh it has implications for us of course, but it is largely about God. Of course, if one wants to study end times prophecy, go ahead, but please make sure it does not take the place of more important doctrines. If you know all about end times prophecy and have your charts and graphs of Revelation and Daniel all filled out, but you have no clue how to argue Jesus rose from the dead, there’s a problem.

Third, let’s hold our leaders accountable. We would want them to be held accountable if they spent money we donated in tithes in a wrong way. We would want them to be accountable if they were caught in sexual misconduct. Yet people spread untruths about Scripture on a serious level that produces embarrassment for the church as a whole and we don’t want to do anything? Hagee’s book has the subtitle of “Something’s About To Change.” What that something should include is the fact that he is still broadcast on television and that he still has a leadership position in the body of Christ.

As many of us predicted, nothing happened with the latest fit of end times madness, except for the usual. Christians ended up looking foolish to the rest of the world. Let’s start holding up our speakers and leaders as accountable and even making sure we’re careful about who we choose to have those positions. The credibility of the Gospel is at stake.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Why Good Theology Is Essential

Is theology only for nerdy intellectuals? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Theology is often seen as a difficult topic, and indeed it is. Not many people are really interested in trudging deep into the world of theology. After all, God is such a hard topic to understand and you can never really wrap your head entirely around Him and will it really help my Christian life to be able to know that God is simple or to be able to have a working definition of omnipotence? Don’t I just need to know Jesus? These can be common concerns, especially for the layman, but could it be that these concerns are really keeping people from a treasure trove of knowledge that could greatly benefit them?

Some of you might think theology is too difficult to do, but the reality is you are already doing theology. Theology is any study of God and if you have any idea of God whatsoever, then that is your theology. Even atheists have a theology. They have an idea of the deity that they don’t believe in. (And if your idea of God can be compared to a flying spaghetti monster, you are missing the point big time.) The question then is not if you are going to do theology. You are. The question is if you are going to do it well or not.

Of course, depending on your intellectual abilities, you might have some limitations to how well you can do theology, and that is understandable. God did not call you to become a Ph.D. in theology necessarily, but He does ask that you know Him. If you’re content with saying that you would prefer to just sit in a church service and feel good about the worship services, then you’re in a sense using God. It’s like a man saying that he doesn’t really want to know his wife better than he does, but he sure wants to have access to the sex. Well he could get the sex from a number of women. In the same way, you can get good feelings from a number of different sources besides worship. (Including sex itself of course) Would it not be better to have the emotions that come from worship be informed by what makes those truths you’re hearing so glorious?

It also depends on where you’re going to go to get your information about God. Many of you reading this will say “The Bible” and I certainly agree that the Bible is a great place to go to get information about God, but it is not the only place. I think if you want to use the Bible, you should also have at least a basic apologetic as to why you think Christianity is true and why you think the Bible is at least reliable. If you claim that that book is different from every other book, you need to have a reason why you think that book is different from any other book and it needs to be one that Muslims and Mormons could not give about their book or books.

A dangerous way to get your theology is going primarily on your feelings and experiences, and yet this is where we go the most today. How many times do you hear in a church service to do as you feel led, which automatically assumes that God is going to tell you what He wants you to do by your feelings. There are plenty of ministers who have affairs and scandalize the church and I can assure you one reason that they do so is that they have some really good feelings in them telling them to go forward. In no other area of life that I can think of would we tell people to live by their feelings, but here in what is supposed to be the most important area of life, we tell people to do just that.

Does that mean your feelings and experiences are useless? Not necessarily. I would try to point to feelings that have a more Biblical basis, such as joy. If you are feeling hate towards your neighbor in your heart, you need to ask why. You could also consider keeping a prayer journal. For my part, I have a Kindle Fire and use the Mobile Knee App. When you see prayer requests being answered, make a note of it. That way you can look back on past experiences you’ve had and see that God has brought you through hard times. You can also hear testimonies of other people who have walked through the valley of suffering and came out the other end just fine.

If you want to be a really heady individual, you can go to reason and see what you can get by metaphysical thinking alone. For that, you could go straight to Aquinas’s Summa Theologica, but you might be better off served by reading someone who summarizes the Summa such as Peter Kreeft. At any rate, I would definitely say you should be reading other people. Too many of us have so much pride that we think we alone are the ones who have studied the Bible and there’s no need to learn from those around us and those who have gone before us. If you really want to learn about God, you need to learn from people who have walked the road before you and are walking it around you.

Of course, I pointed to the Bible earlier but even here, there are difficulties. Are you going by what the passage means to you or really trying to figure out what it means? If you think you don’t need any help with studying the Bible, there’s no reason to even really go to church on Sunday. After all, who cares what a preacher is saying from the pulpit? He has no more skill than you do! Your preacher every Sunday is basically trying to give you a commentary on the text that is being talked about and largely focusing on the application of that text to your own life today.

Again, you have help here. There are plenty of resources available. We have a plethora of commentaries today that you can look at and you can find many great books at your local library. If you aren’t interested in an apologetics debate, try to get material from good evangelical publishers like Zondervan or IVP. If you were a woman and you received a love letter from a man you were interested in, most likely you would go over that letter with a fine-tooth comb and try to find the meaning in any little nuance that you could. Should you not treat what you call the Word of God so much more seriously?

Bart Ehrman, not a friend of Christianity, has talked about asking students who come into his class these questions.

“How many of you think the Bible is the Word of God?”

Several hands go up.

“How many of you have read the Harry Potter series?”

Several hands go up.

“How many of you have read the whole Bible?”

Few hands go up.

Ehrman’s point that he concludes from this is indeed valid. He can understand wanting to read the Harry Potter series and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that of course, but if you think a book that you have is a message from God Himself, shouldn’t you really want to read that book and understand it? If we don’t want to do that, perhaps we might want to take a look at ourselves and ask if we are taking God as seriously as we could.

The best place to go however is to look to Jesus. Jesus is said to be the one who shows us the Father. I like to describe Jesus as “God with skin on.” If you want to know what God is like, just look to Jesus. We should seek to know Jesus, but we know Jesus so we can know God. Jesus came to give not a revelation of Himself but rather to give one of the Father. It is because of Jesus that we can know God. This is something that needs to be kept in mind by those of us in apologetics who get a lot of our theology from good metaphysics but can rarely stop to ask how it is that Jesus informs our theology other than telling us about the Trinity.

I contend that if you do this, you will have a better rock when it comes to hard times. You will have something you can stand on. Your knowledge of God is only as reliable as the foundation that you build it on. If you build it on your feelings and experiences, then when those change, so will your knowledge of God. If you build it on a more reliable source, such as good metaphysics, Scripture, or Jesus, you will have much more you can go on. Also, this will inform your worship more. It will not detract from the joy you experience in worship to know more about the God you are worshiping. How could it? That would be like saying you don’t want to get married because why on Earth would you want to get to know someone and spend the rest of your life with them when you could just be having sex with them?

If you also take this route, one other idea you might be wanting to consider is getting a mentor. I suggest men get men for mentors and women get women. I myself in fact have a mentor. I have several men who are mentors to me, but one in particular who I email every night to help me on the path of spiritual development. Find someone you think would be capable of being your mentor and ask them if they are willing to guide you on that road. If they say yes, you can have a trusted friend who will share the journey with you.

Knowledge of God is not an add-on to the Christian life. It is an essential. If you don’t want to learn about the God you claim to be the greatest good in your life, maybe you should ask if He is really the greatest good in your life.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Apostles’ Creed: Conclusion

What have we learned looking at the Apostles’ Creed? Let’s dive into the Deeper Waters and find out.

As Christians, we’re people of Scripture, but it’s not as if the canon was closed and then lo and behold, everything just popped into place here centuries later. We have a rich tradition that we came from and we need to look at that tradition. Too many Christians really have no knowledge whatsoever of church history. They do not know who great thinkers were, what great problems the church faced, great events that shaped the church, and how their own Bibles came down to them.

How can it really hurt your Christianity, if it is true, to know its history?

The look at the Apostles’ Creed has been a start for that. I specifically chose this creed due to it being shared in my own church on a regular basis, which is one of the reasons I think my church is so wonderful. I listened to it regularly and repeated it regularly and started wondering how many of us have really thought about the creed.

As we’ve gone through it, I hope I’ve impressed on you a deeper meaning of what has been said. Naturally, I’m not claiming a perfect interpretation, but I’m hoping that I have given you a thought-provoking interpretation. Even more than that, I hope that I have ended up giving you a life-changing look at the creed and furthermore, I hope I have given myself one.

We Christians are actually people of creeds. Much of our Christian lifestyle focuses on right living, and indeed it should! We should be living a certain way if we are said to be Christians, but much of that should be based on right doctrine. What you live should be a direct outworking of what it is that you really believe.

Consider if you are your average middle-class person living today and lo and behold, you receive undeniable proof from your bank that a rich relative passed away and left you millions in your bank account. Is your lifestyle going to change somehow? You bet it will! Even if you say “I don’t really care for buying a lot of fancy things”, you will probably at least care for getting your children through college and if you don’t have those, you will hopefully care for giving away money you don’t really need to charities that you think deserve that money.

If you go to see your doctor and he tells you you have a disease and it will be terminal unless you do X, Y, and Z, then chances are you will end up doing X, Y, and Z. That is, you will do them if you want to live. In both of these cases, it is your knowledge that is affecting how you live and in the case of Christianity, it is the claim to have the knowledge of the revelation of God. That should change everything.

Pay attention to the creed and pay attention to what it is you believe and especially let the creed drive you back into the Scriptures, the ultimate authority we have for what we believe today. From there, spend some time studying what has happened in the life of the church and how it is that you got that Bible that you value so greatly.

The creed is a statement that connects you with those Christians from the past, Christians that lived in a world where their lives were on the line regularly and being a Christian carried a serious cost. They often also did not have the luxury of the fine resources for study you and I have. We have centuries of Christian though, a gold mine of knowledge, that we can draw from. What a waste on our part if we do not learn from it and benefit from it.

I encourage you to do be benefiting from it. This is your heritage. Some of you might enjoy going to a web site like ancestry.com and learning about your family history. How much more should you be interested in learning about the history of your spiritual family?

Let that journey begin today.

In Christ,

Nick Peters