Deeper Theology

Are we staying in the shallow end? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

My wife has been looking into Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy lately. This was really an area I never wanted to get involved in, but now I am. I want to know what claims she’s hearing and if I think they’re accurate or not. As it stands, I still remain a convinced Protestant, but I am noticing something.

While I think we Protestants have excelled at Bible Study, we’ve often neglected theology. We don’t really know much about what to do with our doctrine of God. We seem to treat the Trinity as this nice little doctrine that we keep around and we get out when we need to address Jehovah’s Witnesses.

My blog has been called Deeper Waters from the beginning because I think we have too often gone shallow. This has largely been due to a lack of discipleship on our part. We place a big emphasis on conversions. I really don’t like that term at all.

Imagine if we said we wanted to see more marriages. We worked to get people to the altar and to say their “I do” statements and then did nothing with them. Hypothetically, those people went back to live with their parents and never interacted at all.

We often do the same kind of thing with conversion. The goal is to get someone to walk down the aisle and say a prayer and make Jesus their savior. There is no investing in them. There is no training in them. There is no discipleship.

This isn’t an across the board condemnation. Of course, there are some churches that do this. There are far too many who do not. This is especially needed in an age where Christianity is being questioned left and right and most people don’t know how to make a basic defense of what they believe let alone know the basics of what they believe.

We often go to churches and sing songs about how Jesus is so important to us. Apparently, He’s so important that we don’t study anything about Him, learn about Him, read the Scripture that tells about Him, or think about Him much at all, except, you know, those times when we need something. Our Christianity is all about what Jesus does in our lives instead of what we do in His.

This is so even with our salvation. Many times, the goal of Christianity has been to get people to go to Heaven. While there, you will live forever and get to see your loved ones again. Oh yeah. God is there too, if that interests you and all. There is nothing about building up the Kingdom of God here. There is nothing about the difference salvation makes in this life. Paul said that if it is only for this life we have hope, we are above all men to be pitied. Paul knew we have hope for this life. Today could it be that Paul would write “If it is only for the next life we have hope….”?

What’s the solution?

It’s a really easy one. Return to deeper theology and study. This isn’t the area of only other traditions. Protestants in the past have done this. I suspect most of it is that here in the West, we have grown more individualistic and all about us. We spend so much time “listening for the voice of God” that we don’t really consider who it is we’re “listening” to.

At the Orthodox church, the priest told me to borrow if I wanted to learn from the library a book called The Orthodox Way. I have been going through it and wondering “Aside from a few secondary details, what about this is specifically Orthodox? I have no problem believing this about God as a Protestant.” I wonder how many people see this and don’t realize that other traditions can have the same views of God as well.

Our Christianity is supposed to be the central defining feature of our lives. Let’s make it that way. Let’s not drop our intellectual weapons. We can better know the God we say we love and serve by studying Him. A good spouse seeks to understand the other spouse so they can better love them. Should we not treat God even better?

In Christ,
Nick Peters

What You Believe About God Matters

Does it matter what you believe about God? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Everyone has a worldview. Many of us are not aware of it. A worldview is your answer to the biggest questions in life. When you receive information, it is filtered through your worldview. It is possible to change the answers to the big questions, but depending on how central they are to your worldview, it will take that much more to change them.

The late Christian philosopher Ron Nash gave a list of five questions for a worldview. These are all excellent questions I think to summarize what we believe.

God is first. Does He exist? How many gods are there if they exist? Is God reality or something else? What is the nature of this God or gods that are believed in?

What is the nature of the cosmos? Is it eternal? Is it something made by a greater power? Is it real?

What is the nature of morality? Are there true objective statements of morality? Is morality up to the individual? How is morality known?

What is the nature of man? Does man have a soul? Is he an accident? Is he in the image of God? Is he God?

What is the nature of the afterlife? What happens when we die? We cease to exist? We become gods or angels? Heaven or Hell? Nirvana? Reincarnation?

These are all good questions and volumes have been written on each. I’d like to dabble a little bit at the first question. What does it matter what you believe about God?

Let’s start with the simple question of existence. Do you believe that something exists, something a group like AA would call a higher power? If so, how important is this power to you? How do you know? Picture that you are presented with undeniable proof that this higher power does not exist. How much does that change your worldview? The degree to which it changes shows how much place is given to your higher power.

For instance, if you just lose emotional comfort and personal help, well that’s all God is to you. He’s an emotional comfort and personal helper. If you lose a ground of all being and an explanation for all that is, then God is that much central to you. This is a good time to ask yourself this question. “What do I really believe about God and how central is He to what I believe?”

Something amazing about our time is that we don’t really think about God. We know so much about our favorite sports team, a video game, a TV show, a movie, but how much do we think about God? Does God not merit more attention than our favorite hobbies?

Much of Christian suffering today I think can come from bad thinking about God. One pictures God as a tyrant perhaps demanding perfection and being willing to strike us down for our sins. One pictures God as an emotional band-aid which is helpful when you’re hurting, but what happens when He doesn’t come through one time? Does God suddenly not care?

Does it matter that in much of Christian thinking God doesn’t change? You bet it does. If God loves us and is love, then He eternally loves us. We can rest assured in Him.

Speaking of love, what do we mean if we say that God is love? Is God warm sentiment? Is this love romantic love like one has for a spouse or other significant other? Does He love us for who He is or for who we are?

What about classical attributes of God? Is He omnipotent or omniscient or omnipresent or omnibenevolent? Are those terms you’re not used to? What do they mean? Is it not worth considering?

If you were to marry someone, you would want to know something about who they are first. After all, this is the person you’re going to be hopping into bed with. You are going to be sharing your own body with them and your very life with them. Should you not know who they are?

I encourage Christians to really think about God and do so with more than just your experience. Inform yourself with Scripture, but also with those who have gone before and great minds today. J.I. Packer’s Knowing God is an excellent place to go to for instance.

Good theology is extremely important for Christians to have. God is a person (Or rather tri-personal) and needs to be known for who He is. A deficit in our knowledge of God can only hurt us and we will replace truths of God with falsehoods that our own minds come up with. Naturally, we all believe some wrong things about God, but it is important that we try to eliminate those beliefs that are false.

Naturally, Christians have one other area. How has God revealed Himself? Our best answer is that the greatest revelation is in Jesus Christ. What does Jesus tell us about God? What does it mean that Jesus is fully God and fully man? What does it matter that He died and rose again bodily? Is it just a free trip to Heaven or a proof that Christianity is true?

I really encourage Christians to think about these questions. I have not attempted to really answer them here. It’s more important at this point to know that they’re there and they need to be taken seriously. If you have time to learn about your favorite hobbies but not about God, you really need to get your priorities straight.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Are Theology and Doctrine A Bad Thing?

Can having theology or doctrine get in the way of your walk with God? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Recently while I was doing the book plunge through Why There Is No God, a friend got in touch with me asking about a minister he talked with regularly. This was a person who said he just used the Bible. He didn’t need any of this theology or doctrine. It got in the way.

For some people, this sounds noble, but really, it’s a train wreck. Just as a start, unless this pastor knows Greek or Hebrew, he is relying on others and not the Bible only. He’s relying on good translators to tell him what the words of the Bible should be translated as.

I also want to know what God He’s talking about. How does He know this God has revealed Himself in the Bible? How can He tell that to his congregation? What will happen when his young people come to him and ask him why they should believe because of all these videos they see on YouTube and such? What’s going to be said?

One of the biggest problems with this is that ultimately, theology and doctrine is just about knowing God and who He is. It’s saying that you believe specific things about God. How does it get in the way of a relationship with God to know specific things about Him and have beliefs about Him?

Imagine if I came to you and said “I want to have a great marriage. I don’t need any of these facts about my wife or anything like that. I just have her and all this information about her will get in the way of my relationship with her.” You would think that was crazy and rightfully so. If you’re in a marriage with someone, don’t you want to know as much about them as you can? Why would you want otherwise?

If that applies to your marriage, how much more does it apply to the most important person in your life, the person of God? Why would you not want to know about Him? Why would you not want truths about Him? Your walk with God can be further improved if you know some truths about who God is and what He is like. (Now the problem is can we often move past that point of knowing the truths and start living the truths.)

Ultimately, this really comes down I think too often to a case of pride. It’s this idea that I alone in the Bible have all that I need. There have been many people in the past who have thought about the Bible. For instance, unless you came up with the doctrine of the Trinity on your own, you are relying on those who went before you. There is no need to reinvent the wheel and you are not a lone ranger teacher. You need to learn from the people who came before you and hear what they have to say. Remember, there is nothing wrong with knowing who it is you jump into bed with. Just ask Jacob.

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

Do Women Need Theology?

Is it wrong for a woman to study theology? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Alyssa Poblete has written a piece at The Gospel Coalition on why women need good theology. I find this piece very important and inspirational, but at the same time, I find it puzzling. Poblete starts somewhere, but I don’t really see the connection in her argument with where she starts. She starts with talking about studying theology and remarking about starting a blog for women on theology to a pastor who told her,

“Just be careful. You don’t want women becoming spiritual leaders in the home or, even worse, wanting to become pastors.”

Now notice the pastor never condemned the blog. The pastor never condemned the study of theology. If he did, Poblete makes no mention of it. What he said was he didn’t want women usurping the role of men in the home or becoming pastors.

Now I happen to be a complementarian and Poblete says she has no problem with complementarianism. In fact, she says that she loves it. I also agree with her that the feminist movement wanted equality in some areas where women should have had equality, but it has gone too far with an effort to eliminate all distinctions between the sexes. This is simply just a denial of the simple reality we see all around us that men and women are different. Yet, I want to point out that I can easily hold to the following beliefs.

Women need to study theology.

Men should lead the household.

Women should not be pastors of churches.

Now could I be wrong about those last two? Sure. I could be. The point is that there is no necessary contradiction between those and a woman studying theology. In fact, Poblete herself says that she holds to those. As she herself says.

So I do not think women should be pastors or spiritual leaders in the home, and I would be devastated if anyone used this article to argue such points.

So since we all agree on that, I cannot help but wonder what the problem is. Perhaps it should be important to state that the reason for the stance that I hold in this regard is that it is a respect issue. Biblically, if a man is meant to lead his household, if the wife usurps on the spiritual matters, that is a lack of respect to her husband, and that is a lack of respect that will burn at his soul and eat away at his notions of his masculinity. A woman can be a great help however even if she has more spiritual knowledge and she can give her viewpoint to her husband, but the respect issue is letting him have the final say.

I definitely however do want to highlight that I agree with Poblete. Women should study and her reasons are excellent. Jesus did encourage women studying and that was something revolutionary about him. He not only traveled with male disciples, but He also traveled with female disciples.

Poblete is also right that it’s for the joy of women. What greater joy can there be for a Christian woman (Or any woman for that matter.) than knowing God? For those who think doctrine and theology should be no part of our study, then what is the point of worship? How can you really worship God if you do not know who He is? Will not having a full and rich doctrine of God lead you to a greater worship and appreciation. Having a greater knowledge of God will help you when difficult times come in your life and it will help you when it comes to raising your own children as well and being the supportive wife you need to be.

Finally, I agree that it is for the glory of God. Our goal in life is to know God and we should be seeking to get started on that. God is glorified when we glory in Him and we can do that more and more if we come to know Him as He is. Men are not the only sex created to give glory to God. Women are as well. Women also give glory to God through ways other than having sex with their husbands, making babies, and raising children. A woman can be single all her life and give glory to God based on how she lives her life. All women, married or single, should be seeking to embrace the reality of God and know Him better.

So in the end, I think Poblete has made some excellent points, yet I wonder why she is upset over what the pastor said. The pastor was not at all condemning the study of theology by women. If he was, I would have had a problem with him as well. The pastor was simply giving a good complementarian viewpoint. Now again, he could be wrong in his viewpoint, but that does not mean that he is being inconsistent.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Johannine Theology

What do I think of Paul Rainbow’s book on the theology of John? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

JohannineTheology

Johannine Theology is over 400 pages of looking at a highly complex topic. John is the Gospel that is often the most problematic for people due to its being so different from the others. Even N.T. Wright has said it is like his wife Maggie. In speaking of her he says “I love her, but I do not claim to understand her.”

Rainbow begins with a brief history on Johannine studies and with a defense of authorship and the date of the writing and such and from there, it’s off to see what the book has to say. The opening should be sufficient for those who are interested in the basic apologetic aspect to understand the usage of John in studies of the historical Jesus.

Rainbow argues that while John’s Gospel certainly tells us about the life of Jesus, the main character being it all is really God. The Gospel should be read not just as a Christological statement but as a Theological one. This is fitting since we are told that it is the Son who is explaining the Father. We know God by knowing the Son. He who has seen the Son has seen the Father. We cannot know God as He truly is apart from knowing the Son and the Son came to reveal the Father.

I found this to be a highly important insight. Rainbow is not at all downplaying the importance of Christology. He has plenty to say about that in a later chapter and of course, he comes down on the side of orthodox theology, but he does want to stress that we cannot leave God the Father out of the equation in John.

I will say when he got to Christology, I was disappointed on one aspect. Much of the Christology came from the Gospel. I find an excellent place to go to really to get Christology in the Johannine corpus is to go to the book of Revelation. I did not see this interacted with in the work. Revelation begins after all describing itself as the Revelation of Jesus Christ and it does say that the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.

Rainbow also covers other themes related to theology. He covers the question of salvation and that of apostasy. He covers issues related to free will and predestination and points out that John has no desire to really address our questions there. It could be argued that John in fact argues for both sides of the equation. He also argues for how John says the church is to be to the world.

Surprisingly, there is little on eschatology and this was one area I did have a difficult time with as I happen to highly enjoy discussions of eschatology. Rainbow does take a futurist stance in his writings and that is not something that is argued for. I find it interesting for instance that Revelation is said to tell us about the antichrist and yet Revelation never once uses the term.

Still, Johannine Theology is a difficult topic to handle and I think Rainbow for the most part does an excellent job. I would have liked to have seen more on eschatology, but then that could be its own book entirely. Still, if you want to understand the writings of John in relation to theology, then you should get yourself a copy of this volume.

In Christ,

Nick Peters

Book Plunge: The Civil War As A Theological Crisis

What do I think about Mark Noll’s book? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters. 

The Civil War was an awful time in our nation’s history. There can be much debate about what went into it and why it happened. I personally don’t think the war was about slavery at the root, but I think slavery did play a part in it. I would say it was about the decision of the states to secede the union. It did end in freedom for the slaves and the abolition of slavery, but there was more to it than that. Still, that’s just a theory and I leave it to Civil War historians to say more about that.

There can be no doubt however that slavery is a dark mark on our nation’s history as well. What is even sadder about it is that so many people were using the Bible to defend the practice. This has led many of us to forget that the Civil War was not just a crisis of politics, but in fact it was a crisis about theology, since both sides would be able to say the exact same statements about the Bible. They’d just disagree on hermeneutics.

Knowing my interest in inerrancy, it was suggested to me that I should read this book. I’m glad I did. I found in it many of the problems that are still going on today.

Here in America, we believe greatly in the individual power of each person. To some extent, this is not problematic. However, the problem is we often carry this over to every area. We say that the average man is capable of electing his leaders for government. (Note that unique aspect of us. We are a self-governing people instead of people who have a king ruling over us.) We believe in the American Dream where with hard work and ability, you can reach the goals you have. You are to have the freedom to pursue happiness.

If all of this is true, then surely we can also do what every other man should surely be able to do! We can read the Bible and interpret it correctly! This is especially so since if this is the Word of God, then it must be that information which God would want us to know and if He wants us to know it, it should be simply to understand shouldn’t it?

Now I do think the common man to an extent can understand the Bible. You can get the main message of the Bible, such as that of salvation found in Jesus Christ, out of the Bible by a casual reading. Yet you will not get the inner intricacies of the Bible without doing real deep study and it could be the “common sense” interpretation, might be what many Americans think it is, but not what it really is. 

Of course, the fact that we were materialist did not help with this. By materialist, I do not mean philosophical materialism, but rather that we had a great love for our wealth. Slavery was a great way to increase your wealth. Invest a little bit in some slaves who you don’t have to particularly treat well and have them do all the work for you. 

Still, we’re going to be sticking with the problem of Scripture. America had been largely built on the Bible and it held a high place in American society. So what happens when there is a fundamental disagreement among the common man on how it is to interpret the most important book that exists in the American culture?

And you thought your church scuffle was bad….

As Noll also says on Location 2089 of the Kindle, foreign observers could see much clearer what was going on. If the highest authority that they had was every man’s private interpretation of Scripture, then what happens when there is a clash and there is nothing beyond that to point to? Naturally, the Catholics were willing to point out there was a problem with such a view. I, as a Protestant, would point out the need for much study and reflection in reading the leading works of scholarship. Unfortunately, too often, we’ve degenerated further into a strange idea of “That’s just your interpretation!” (Postmodernism I see as the end result of this kind of thinking.)

The great danger is that so many Protestants were saying the Bible was clear on the issue. Unfortunately, that clarity existed on both sides. One side said the Bible was clearly pro-slavery. One side says the Bible was clearly anti-slavery. Once again, we have the same problem today with people going by what is “clear.” What is clear to a modern American however is not necessarily what would be clear to an ancient Jew.

Also add in the view of providence and this makes it more difficult. Every event was interpreted as a specific “sign” from God. (I always get wary when people talk about receiving what they are sure has to be signs from God. These are even more difficult to interpret and while God allows all things to happen, there is no clear indication that any one of them is a direct message from God to the people involved.) This could in fact be something that’s a precursor to another situation today in America, interpreting events in the Middle East as signs from God and seeing Scriptural fulfillment in everything that happens.

A lot of this also came from Christianity blending itself with the Enlightenment. If the power of reason by its own is so great, then surely we can understand a book like Scripture and it must be simple. After all, if God is going to speak a message, won’t He make that message simple? Note that this is an assumption that is not defended. If anything, reading the Bible should show that the message will not be simple as even Jesus says this specifically about His parables.

It’s important to point out that the side that would have often been going the most for the clear reading of the Scripture and seen as conservative, even including the SBC, would have been the side that was pro-slavery. The other side would have been the side that brought forward the textual evidence such as looking at what slavery consisted of in the OT and the NT and what was going on at the time in the world and the marked ways slavery was different in America. Why were these arguments not given the attention they deserved? On Loc. 519, Noll says

But because those arguments did not feature intuition, republican instinct, and common sense readings of individual texts, they were much less effective in a public arena that had been so strongly shaped by intuitive, republican, and commonsensical intellectual principles.

 

Today, we would be told these arguments involved rationalization or “trying to deny the clear meaning of the text” and no doubt several wicked ulterior motives would be involved. Those who were opposed were the ones doing some of the hardest research and analyzing the Scriptures piece by piece instead of going with the “simple” interpretation. (Note: This simple interpretation is also preferred by too many internet atheists today.)

In fact, notice this contrast shown in Location 612.

James M. Pendleton was a hard-nosed defender of the Bible’s inerrancy as well as of Baptist distinctives, but that cast of mind did not prevent him from mounting a strong case against slavery as practiced in Kentucky at a time when possible legislation concerning slavery was being considered by a state constitutional convention.

Note this. Pendleton is seen as a strong defender of inerrancy and the Baptist faith, and yet marked out because he opposed slavery. Now none of this is said to slam Baptists as a large number of Northern Baptists did oppose slavery. Many Baptists today from the South have acknowledged this dark mark on their past and it does no good to deny it. It must be owned up to just like Crusades that went wrong or the fact that even one death in the Inquisition was too many. (Although the number of hundreds of thousands or millions is not accurate at all)

Pendleton also dealt with what was called “the Negro problem.” This meant that even if you freed the slaves, how are you to treat the black population? Are you to view them as Christian brothers and sisters? To the shame of the North, even up there that was not done that often. It would still be difficult to accept them not just as free, but as fully human. In fact, the problem of race was one that could not be answered from within the Biblical text, like many others. (Geez. Maybe extra-Biblical resources aren’t always so bad.)

What this gets down to was that too often, an attack on slavery was seen by those with the persuasion that the text was simple and clear, that this was an attack on Scripture itself and an undermining of its authority. After all, if this is what Scripture clearly teaches, then if you are going against it and bringing in ideas outside of the text, then you are going against the text of Scripture and undermining it as the final authority.

As Noll regularly points out, this was an American problem. It wasn’t that much of a problem to those who were outside of America. In America, to go against this viewpoint would make you be seen as heterodox. In the other nations, it would not. The problem then was not the Bible, but rather how Americans viewed themselves and ultimately, that came from how they viewed God should present His message. Our individualism made it possible.

Reading this book for me was a quite eye-opening event and I made several several more highlights in my Kindle that could not be recorded. What are some lessons to get?

First, we should all seek to go beyond the common sense interpretation of Scripture. We must really wrestle with Scripture and while I am not a presuppositionalist, that does not mean I do not recognize the importance of presuppositions. The assumptions that we bring to the text can affect the way that we read the text.

Second, we must also get over ourselves majorly. All of us who want to learn the Scriptures need to realize that there is no shortcut to understanding. By all means pray before Bible study, but don’t pray expecting God to just beam the answers into your head. You’re going to have to do your part to learn the answers.

Third, be extremely careful about signs. Some signs read would have pointed to the favor of slavery. Some would have pointed to the condemnation of it. It’s very difficult to judge God by current events, especially since you don’t know which ones are specifically from Him and which ones aren’t. We tend to view ourselves as really really special and therefore, God will treat us differently.

Fourth, even opponents of Scripture need to learn to not be so simplistic. When we go by what the clear meaning is, we have to ask who that is clear to. Is what is clear to a modern Westerner the same as what is clear to an ancient Jew? The Bible was written for us, but we must not think that it was written to us. It is not all about us.

Fifth, different interpretations does not mean that one is calling Scripture or inerrancy or anything like that into question. In fact, the ones who were opposed to slavery certainly did have a high view of Scripture. The fact that they weren’t using simple arguments was often seen as if it was a point to be used against them.

Anyone interested in learning the importance of good interpretation in history and the problems with a rampant individualism need to take this book and see what it has to say.

In Christ,

Nick Peters

Book Plunge: The Legend of Zelda and Theology

Is this book worth the price of the rupees? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

I grew up a gamer. I’ve always loved games. My wife and I still have several gaming systems here. One series that I grew attached to early on in my life was the Legend of Zelda. I got that and Super Mario Brothers 2 for Christmas one year and ended up playing Zelda first, even though Mario was the harder to find.

Before too long, I wanted everything of Link’s. I wanted to get a boomerang because, well, Link had one. I had a fascination with swords because that was the weapon Link used. I even went to a barber once with a Nintendo Power magazine saying I wanted my hair cut like that. Unfortunately, I didn’t have side burns yet, so no deal.

When I found out about this book, I was pleased to have a gift certificate from my sister for my birthday and promptly ordered it. We’ve seen several books in the pop culture and philosophy series, but this is the first one that I’d seen with pop culture and theology and frankly, I want to see more!

I found this to be an excellent work looking at the games in a way that I never had before and asking good questions. This isn’t just a passing glance at the games. The people who write these articles are both serious gamers and serious thinkers about theology. I happen to admire that. I try to be serious in whatever I do. When I write, I take my work seriously. When I play a game, I also take that seriously. I seek to give my best in every area.

They also make a defense of gaming in general, while of course pointing out that like many good things, it can be done to an extreme. I found it amusing to read about the creator of Zelda signing autographs and having a message telling children that on sunny days, they need to go outside.

Playing Zelda in many ways is like exploring in ways you don’t get to in real life. That is why gaming is seen as an extension of one’s own self. There does seem to be a bond between you and the character and you can feel the joy of adventure and the passion of good overcoming evil and doing something heroic. Hopefully, this would extend over into the real world and people will seek to make a difference there.

There will always be a gamer side to me and I’m happy to accept that. After a day of debating online and answering questions left and right, when it comes time to unwind, I’m glad that there are series like the Legend of Zelda there to give me that time. As I’ve said, I hope that there are others that come along in this series. I would especially be interested in seeing a work such as “Final Fantasy and Theology.” My thanks to the people who put together a work that helps me see some of my favorite games in a whole new light!

In Christ,
Nick Peters