Book Plunge: The Jesus Quest

Where does Ben Witherington see the quest going? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

In The Jesus Quest, Ben Witherington surveys many of the latest writings (at the time) on the historical Jesus by scholars and critiques them. Rarely does he make a statement about his own view. He interacts with all sides, but he does seem to have more non-Christian scholars being critiqued rather than Christian ones.

The book starts with a quite brief explanation of the first two quests that could be read in about ten minutes or so. This gets us then into the third quest, which is of course the meat of the work. The start before looking at the various views of Jesus is looking at the views of Galilee.

As Witherington says, the quest for the historical Jesus is also becoming the quest for the historical Galilee. We cannot separate Jesus from the time and the culture that He lived in and understanding this has been an essential step in looking at who the man was and the way He saw Himself and the way His contemporaries saw Him.

At this point, Witherington does his readers a great service by familiarizing them with many aspects of the culture of Jesus that would not be known by most. For instance, he gives a brief explanation of an honor/shame culture and what it means to say a society believes in limited good.

The next chapter goes into looking at the Jesus Seminar and their methodology. Witherington points out that a minority of fellows on the voting panel could think Jesus did not say something and yet it will still show up in the results that Jesus did not say it despite it was the opinion of a minority. Also of course, there’s the troubling aspect that the group had a bias against miracles and did not represent members from leading educational institutions or even other countries.

So now we get into more specific looks. Witherington’s first group is the cynic sage group which consists of Crossan, Mack, and Downing. Next are the ones who see Jesus as a man of the Spirit, which includes Borg, Vermes, and Twelftree. (Twelftree being the first Christian being reviewed) For Jesus as an eschatological prophet, the views critiqued are that of Sanders and Casey. Next is the prophet of social change where Witherington interacts with Theissen, Horsley, and Kaylor. In the seventh chapter, there’s a look at the Jesus as the Wisdom of God, though from a different perspective, the feminist scholarship of Fiorenza. It is in this chapter Witherington goes into the most detail of his own view of Jesus as God’s Wisdom. Finally, he reviews the idea of Jesus as a marginal Jew and as a Jewish Messiah. Knowledgeable readers should recognize John Meier for the first view. For the second, Witherington critiques Stuhlmacher, Dunn, De Jonge, Bockmuehl, and finally, N.T. Wright.

Witherington’s book provides an excellent read. Witherington is known to have a fascinating memory and is a fair critiquer. He points out benefits made from the views of others and is dismayed that some people will not read their books due to their wild ideas. He treats the Christian authors just as critically.

I was dismayed at Witherington’s arguments when it came to eschatological passages like Mark 13. For instance, Witherington says that passages like Mark 14:62 and 13:26 are not about vindication as Wright says since Casey says that the events of God’s judgment take place on Earth but not in Heaven. I do not think Wright would disagree with this! It is the point that earthly events are a sign of what is going on in the Heavens. I am under the impression that Witherington sees 1 Thess. 4 and the Olivet Discourse as referring to the same event, when I do not see that at all. After all, if the Olivet Discourse is the same as 1 Thess. 4, it strikes me as odd that the resurrection would be left out of that.

In spite of all of this, a reader wanting to learn about the quest for the historical Jesus and about interacting with the scholarship on the quest will be benefited by reading Witherington. My concerns after all are about a secondary matter and do not drive away from the value on primary issues that this book addresses. For those who want to know about leading scholarship in this field, I recommend it without hesitation.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Deeper Waters Podcast: Michael Licona 6/29/2013

What’s coming up on Saturday’s episode of the Deeper Waters Podcast. Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

Some of you have been wondering I’m sure when Michael Licona would show up on the Deeper Waters Podcast. Most readers of this blog and listeners of this show know that he is my father-in-law so it would seem natural that he would be an early guest. Mike has a schedule like everyone else. We had hoped to have him earlier this month, but there were difficulties involving his mother’s health. Now, we’re ready to go.

Some of you also know about Mike from the controversy that arose back in 2011 over his book “The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach.” If you are, I think if you were one who sided against him, you should listen in and hear his view and let it be given a fair shake. There are many misunderstandings of his position and unfortunately, many people will already be convinced of Mike being liberal in his position to Scripture. He is not.

Yet of course, there is much more to this than Matthew 27. We need to talk about the resurrection itself. Mike has written the book that is now the authority on the topic and anyone who wants to give an argument against the resurrection of Jesus had better be capable of making a stand against the arguments in this book. I predict in reality that too many people will handle it the same way they do with Keener. The “too long, didn’t read” applies here.

We’ll hopefully be talking about the methodology as well of historiography. It’s not just about knowing the facts but knowing how it is that you get to the facts. Mike found in his research that many schools teaching history are not teaching historiography. What difference does that make?

What about the problem of miracles? Mike has a chapter in his book on this entirely. Of course, you should know that Craig Keener will be our guest on August 3rd to give us a much fuller treatment, but Mike will have to deal with that objection answering the position of Hume as well as answering modern advocates of a Humean position, such as Bart Ehrman.

Then we get into the facts themselves. What are the facts concerning the resurrection of Jesus? Can we really know anything that would allow us to make a case? Do we have more than just “The Bible says so” in order to show that Jesus rose from the dead?

Finally, there is a section in the book dealing with counter-theories. Many scholars avoid offering theories on the resurrection, but some do. Mike interacts with those theories and gives his reasons for thinking that they do not add up, all the while even commending them where they do meet the necessary criteria of historiography.

I am excited about this interview and for those of you who have questions about the resurrection of Jesus, this is the guest for you! Feel free to call in! Our number for taking questions during the show is 714-242-5180! I hope to hear from you!

The link can be found here.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Waves Come Crashing Down Part 2

Do bad arguments make a big splash? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

Moving on with our obnoxious atheist, we find this statement next:

“100% FACT: not only are the gospels anonymously written, but they are written in the 3rd person (deepening the anonymity of these unknown ancient authors) …RED FLAG!!!!”

The reality is many works in the ancient world were written anonymously. We know who wrote them from other sources, such as is the case with Plutarch. If the only ones we knew about were the ones who put their name on, we would not know much. Furthermore, even with a name on a work, there’s still dispute. Not all Platonic dialogues are said to be by Plato. Some NT scholars don’t accept the Pastorals as Pauline even though Paul’s name is on them. Most would not accept that Thomas wrote the Gospel of Thomas.

In reality, this objection is old. It goes back to Augustine in Contra Faustum. Let’s start with the objection of Faustus found in 17.1. (My great thanks to Tim McGrew for his vast knowledge of this subject and sharing it.)

“1. Faustus said: You ask why we do not receive the law and the prophets, when Christ said that he came not to destroy them, but to fulfill them. Where do we learn that Jesus said this? From Matthew, who declares that he said it on the mount. In whose presence was it said? In the presence of Peter, Andrew, James, and John—only these four; for the rest, including Matthew himself, were not yet chosen. Is it not the case that one of these four—John, namely—wrote a Gospel? It is. Does he mention this saying of Jesus? No. How, then, does it happen that what is not recorded by John, who was on the mount, is recorded by Matthew, who became a follower of Christ long after He came down from the mount? In the first place, then, we must doubt whether Jesus ever said these words, since the proper witness is silent on the matter, and we have only the authority of a less trustworthy witness. But, besides this, we shall find that it is not Matthew that has imposed upon us, but some one else under his name, as is evident from the indirect style of the narrative. Thus we read: “As Jesus passed by, He saw a man, named Matthew, sitting at the receipt of custom, and called him; and he immediately rose up, and followed Him.” [Matthew 9:9] No one writing of himself would say, He saw a man, and called him; and he followed Him; but, He saw me, and called me, and I followed Him. Evidently this was written not by Matthew himself, but by some one else under his name. Since, then, the passage already quoted would not be true even if it had been written by Matthew, since he was not present when Jesus spoke on the mount; much more is its falsehood evident from the fact that the writer was not Matthew himself, but some one borrowing the names both of Jesus and of Matthew.”

Augustine replies to this in 17.3 and 17.4

Augustine replied: What amazing folly, to disbelieve what Matthew records of Christ, while you believe Manichæus! If Matthew is not to be believed because he was not present when Christ said, “I came not to destroy the law and the prophets, but to fulfill,” was Manichæus present, was he even born, when Christ appeared among men? According, then, to your rule, you should not believe anything that Manichæus says of Christ. On the other hand, we refuse to believe what Manichæus says of Christ; not because he was not present as a witness of Christ’s words and actions, but because he contradicts Christ’s disciples, and the Gospel which rests on their authority. The apostle, speaking in the Holy Spirit, tells us that such teachers would arise. With reference to such, he says to believers: “If any man preaches to you another gospel than that you have received, let him be accursed.” [Galatians 1:9] If no one can say what is true of Christ unless he has himself seen and heard Him, no one now can be trusted. But if believers can now say what is true of Christ because the truth has been handed down in word or writing by those who saw and heard, why might not Matthew have heard the truth from his fellow disciple John, if John was present and he himself was not, as from the writings of John both we who are born so long after and those who shall be born after us can learn the truth about Christ? In this way, the Gospels of Luke and Mark, who were companions of the disciples, as well as the Gospel of Matthew, have the same authority as that of John. Besides, the Lord Himself might have told Matthew what those called before him had already been witnesses of.
Your idea is, that John should have recorded this saying of the Lord, as he was present on the occasion. As if it might not happen that, since it was impossible to write all that be heard from the Lord, he set himself to write some, omitting this among others. Does he not say at the close of his Gospel: “And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written”? [John 21:25] This proves that he omitted many things intentionally. But if you choose John as an authority regarding the law and the prophets, I ask you only to believe his testimony to them. It is John who writes that Isaiah saw the glory of Christ. [John 12:41] It is in his Gospel we find the text already treated of: “If you believed Moses, you would also believe me; for he wrote of me.” [John 5:46] Your evasions are met on every side. You ought to say plainly that you do not believe the gospel of Christ. For to believe what you please, and not to believe what you please, is to believe yourselves, and not the gospel.
4. Faustus thinks himself wonderfully clever in proving that Matthew was not the writer of this Gospel, because, when speaking of his own election, he says not, He saw me, and said to me, Follow me; but, He saw him, and said to him, Follow me. This must have been said either in ignorance or from a design to mislead. Faustus can hardly be so ignorant as not to have read or heard that narrators, when speaking of themselves, often use a construction as if speaking of another. It is more probable that Faustus wished to bewilder those more ignorant than himself, in the hope of getting hold on not a few unacquainted with these things. It is needless to resort to other writings to quote examples of this construction from profane authors for the information of our friends, and for the refutation of Faustus. We find examples in passages quoted above from Moses by Faustus himself, without any denial, or rather with the assertion, that they were written by Moses, only not written of Christ. When Moses, then, writes of himself, does he say, I said this, or I did that, and not rather, Moses said, and Moses did? Or does he say, The Lord called me, The Lord said to me, and not rather, The Lord called Moses, The Lord said to Moses, and so on? So Matthew, too, speaks of himself in the third person.
And John does the same; for towards the end of his book he says: “Peter, turning, saw the disciple whom Jesus loved, who also lay on His breast at supper, and who said to the Lord, Who is it that shall betray You?” Does he say, Peter, turning, saw me? Or will you argue from this that John did not write this Gospel? But he adds a little after: “This is the disciple that testifies of Jesus, and has written these things; and we know that his testimony is true.” [John 21:20-24] Does he say, I am the disciple who testify of Jesus, and who have written these things, and we know that my testimony is true? Evidently this style is common in writers of narratives. There are innumerable instances in which the Lord Himself uses it. “When the Son of man,” He says, “comes, shall He find faith on the earth?” [Luke 18:8] Not, When I come, shall I find? Again, “The Son of man came eating and drinking;” [Matthew 11:19] not, I came. Again, “The hour shall come, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God, and they that hear shall live;” [John 5:25] not, My voice. And so in many other places. This may suffice to satisfy inquirers and to refute scoffers.

The reality is, this is quite common. Consider this in Caesar’s Commentaries on the Gallic and Civil Wars.

“””: [1.7] When it was reported to Caesar that they were attempting to make their route through our Province he hastens to set out from the city, and, by as great marches as he can, proceeds to Further Gaul, and arrives at Geneva. He orders the whole Province [to furnish] as great a number of soldiers as possible, as there was in all only one legion in Further Gaul: he orders the bridge at Geneva to be broken down. When the Helvetii are apprized of his arrival they send to him, as embassadors, the most illustrious men of their state (in which embassy Numeius and Verudoctius held the chief place), to say “that it was their intention to march through the Province without doing any harm, because they had” [according to their own representations,] “no other route: that they requested, they might be allowed to do so with his consent.” Caesar, inasmuch as he kept in remembrance that Lucius Cassius, the consul, had been slain, and his army routed and made to pass under the yoke by the Helvetii, did not think that [their request] ought to be granted: nor was he of opinion that men of hostile disposition, if an opportunity of marching through the Province were given them, would abstain from outrage and mischief. Yet, in order that a period might intervene, until the soldiers whom he had ordered [to be furnished] should assemble, he replied to the ambassadors, that he would take time to deliberate; if they wanted any thing, they might return on the day before the ides of April [on April 12th]. ”

“”″: [1.10] It is again told Caesar, that the Helvetii intended to march through the country of the Sequani and the Aedui into the territories of the Santones, which are not far distant from those boundaries of the Tolosates, which [viz. Tolosa, Toulouse] is a state in the Province. If this took place, he saw that it would be attended with great danger to the Province to have warlike men, enemies of the Roman people, bordering upon an open and very fertile tract of country. For these reasons he appointed Titus Labienus, his lieutenant, to the command of the fortification which he had made. He himself proceeds to Italy by forced marches, and there levies two legions, and leads out from winter-quarters three which were wintering around Aquileia, and with these five legions marches rapidly by the nearest route across the Alps into Further Gaul. Here the Centrones and the Graioceli and the Caturiges, having taken possession of the higher parts, attempt to obstruct the army in their march. After having routed these in several battles, he arrives in the territories of the Vocontii in the Further Province on the seventh day from Ocelum, which is the most remote town of the Hither Province; thence he leads his army into the country of the Allobroges, and from the Allobroges to the Segusiani. These people are the first beyond the Province on the opposite side of the Rhone. ”

In fact, if I kept quoting every time Caesar is referred to in the third person in this work on just the first chapter, it would be a lengthy blog.

Or consider this in book 3 of Anabasis by Xenophon:

[3.1.4] There was a man in the army named Xenophon, an Athenian, who was neither general nor captain nor private, but had accompanied the expedition because Proxenus, an old friend of his, had sent him at his home an invitation to go with him; Proxenus had also promised him that, if he would go, he would make him a friend of Cyrus, whom he himself regarded, so he said, as worth more to him than was his native state. [3.1.5] After reading Proxenus’ letter Xenophon conferred with Socrates,1 the Athenian, about the proposed journey; and Socrates, suspecting that his becoming a friend of Cyrus might be a cause for accusation against Xenophon on the part of the Athenian government, for the reason that Cyrus was thought to have given the Lacedaemonians zealous aid in their war against Athens,2 advised Xenophon to go to Delphi and consult the god in regard to this journey. [3.1.6] So Xenophon went and asked Apollo to what one of the gods he should sacrifice and pray in order best and most successfully to perform the journey which he had in mind and, after meeting with good fortune, to return home in safety; and Apollo in his response told him to what gods he must sacrifice. [3.1.7] When Xenophon came back from Delphi, he reported the oracle to Socrates; and upon hearing about it Socrates found fault with him because he did not first put the question whether it were better for him to go or stay, but decided for himself that he was to go and then asked the god as to the best way of going. “However,” he added, “since you did put the question in that way, you must do all that the god directed.”

Or 2.20.4 in The Jewish War by Josephus

“They also chose other generals for Idumea; Jesus, the son of Sapphias, one of the high priests; and Eleazar, the son of Ananias, the high priest; they also enjoined Niger, the then governor of Idumea, (32) who was of a family that belonged to Perea, beyond Jordan, and was thence called the Peraite, that he should be obedient to those fore-named commanders. Nor did they neglect the care of other parts of the country; but Joseph the son of Simon was sent as general to Jericho, as was Manasseh to Perea, and John, the Esscue, to the toparchy of Thamna; Lydda was also added to his portion, and Joppa, and Emmaus. But John, the son of Matthias, was made governor of the toparchies of Gophnitica and Acrabattene; as was Josephus, the son of Matthias, of both the Galilees. Gamala also, which was the strongest city in those parts, was put under his command. ”

In light of this, we agree with the words of John David Michaelis in Introduction to the New Testament, 3rd ed., vol. 1, part 1 (London: F. C. and J. Rivington, 1819), pp. 20-21:

“A man capable of such an argument must have been ignorant not only of the Greek writers, the knowledge of which could not have been expected from Faustus, but even of the Commentaries of Caesar. And were it thought improbable that so heavy a charge could be laid with justice on the side of his knowledge, it would fall with double weight on the side of his honesty, and induce us to suppose, that, preferring the arts of sophistry to the plainness of truth, he maintained opinions which he believed to be false.”

What can we conclude then? Only someone utterly ignorant of history would raise a red flag at something being in the third person. It is not a shock that such an atheist is.

The article by J.P. Holding on this topic can be found here.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: The Jesus Legend

What do I think of Greg Boyd and Paul Eddy’s book. Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

I have often made the complaint about how weak our apologetic material is due to a lack of real scholarly interaction. Many popular writers avoid it. There have been writers in the past who have not taken this route such as Lee Strobel in interviewing numerous scholars, and J. Warner Wallace, who in the back of his book “Cold-Case Christianity” lists a number of scholarly works and authors to go to.

Fortunately, the Jesus Legend is not like that. I noticed on the back of the book that even Robert Price encourages people to read this book alongside of his. Unfortunately, I suspect most who read Price’s book will not take the time to read a work like this one.

The Jesus Legend is a work written to deal with many of the ideas out there that say Jesus is entirely mythical or that there was much baggage added on to a historical figure that came from pagan sources. You’ll find everyone from Robert Price to John Dominic Crossan dealt with here.

Boyd and Eddy are upfront about their bias at the start. They are Christians. They have no thought that any of us will come to the data entirely neutral. I agree with them. We all have our biases and presuppositions that we bring to any area of study.

The start of the work is about the methodology that will be used, which is absolutely essential. Too often claims are made with no idea given as to how those claims are reached. Boyd and Eddy give reasons why the assumption that miracles cannot happen and all happens on a naturalistic system should be called into question. They are not against someone being critical, but they are stating that those who are critical of miracles should just be just as critical of their skepticism of miracles to make sure it is well-grounded.

From there, the writers lay out the groundwork of first century Palestine. Again, this is a must. Jesus must fit into his historical context somehow. This also includes looking at the question of the relationship of Judaism to Hellenism. Would they be open to making up a Jesus and use pagan ideas to do so?

The next part deals with ancient history and Jesus. We are often told today that if Jesus was so important, surely some people would talk about him! In reality, we should be surprised anyone did. Jesus’s account would have been seen with skepticism and many a Messiah figure was walking around town supposedly doing miracles and such.

In fact, that he is mentioned by Tacitus and Josephus and others instead of all these other would-be Messiahs is incredible. It shows Jesus had the farthest reach, and why should this be the case? Could it be because there is more to the case for Jesus than for anyone else?

What about Paul? Paul wrote when there was a heavy background tradition orally sharing much about Jesus, yet there are allusions to the work of Jesus in Paul and facts about his life. In an oral community, these would have been recognized. (The authors want us to keep in mind we live in a post-Gutenberg culture so it’s difficult to understand how an oral culture would work.)

Speaking of the oral tradition, that’s our next stop. Boyd and Eddy give a rundown on how oral cultures work and what impact writing would have on them. Also, they ask the question concerning if the events in the gospels really happened, or were these the result of prophets in the early church having revelations about Jesus and getting them imposed on him for the gospels?

The final section deals with the use of the gospels as historical sources for Jesus. It starts with answering the question of genre. If the gospels are shown to be Greco-Roman biographies, and they are, then this increases their credibility. Next the authors evaluate the gospels as sources. Are they reliable? Can we give them general trustworthiness? Finally, they have a section completing their cumulative case. The end result is the Christ of orthodox Christianity is the same as the Christ of history. No other Christ better fits the picture.

I hope there will be more works coming out like The Jesus Legend. The only downside is that few people who read someone like Price will bother to pick up a work like this one. It is their loss when they refuse to do so. Christianity needs more material like this than it does soft apologetics that lacks in-depth scholarly research.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Wave Comes Crashing Down Part 1

Is this wave heading for a crash? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

There’s a certain loud-mouthed atheist who has a tendency to make up claims about himself and make it seem as if he’s refuted a number of great minds in the field of apologetics. This one is constantly going around to apologetics forums, a number of which have banned him because of his problematic behavior. He considers himself the “New Wave” of atheist debaters, to which if he is the new wave, then Christianity is in good hands! Seeing as he has such a tremendous ego and a fulfillment of view that the ignorance of a new atheist on a topic they pontificate on is in direct proportion to their hubris, he’d probably like me to tell you his name.

So now let’s move on then to the first of seven irrefutable claims he says he has!

First claim:

100% FACT: we don’t know who wrote the gospels (guess all you want but at the end of the day we don’t know who wrote them because no one signed their name to them) …RED FLAG!!!!

Since there’s no signature, does that mean we don’t know who wrote them?

Well, no.

Does that mean there aren’t disputes? Not at all. Of course there are, but we can say most authors did not personally sign their works. In fact, this doesn’t happen in modern times. Usually, the author of a work is identified at the beginning of a work in the ancient world, but even then that is not enough.

The physician Galen once walked by a store to see a book that he had supposedly written being sold. He did not remember writing that book so he went home and wrote on how to recognize books that he wrote. Forgery was a problem in the ancient world.

Now in NT studies, there are a number of works of Paul that are universally accepted as Pauline. These are Romans, Galatians, Philippians, 1 & 2 Corinthians, 1 Thessalonians, and Philemon. Other books are in dispute, some more than others. Here’s something they all have in common.

They all claim to be by Paul.

What does that tell us? It tells us that for NT scholarship, because a book says it is by Paul, it does not mean ipso facto that it is by Paul. Does that mean it should be disregarded? No. The internal evidence should play some role.

On the same note, it is not denied that Tacitus wrote Tacitus, but if your only reason for thinking such was because it says it’s by Tacitus at the start, then someone could just as easily say “the Pastorals say they’re by Paul, therefore they’re by Paul.” Now I hold that they are by Paul, but I know that’s not enough to seal the deal.

In reality, a number of works in the ancient world did not have a name by them. Does our atheist have a way of identifying then who wrote the lives attributed Plutarch? How about who wrote the Annals of Tacitus? How about who wrote the works attributed to Thucydides?

We do not find any argumentation from him stating how it is that one determines authorship of a work. We do not find interaction with the scholars on both sides of the issue giving reasons why we should think one person wrote a text and another another.

And in my experience, if someone does not give a reason for believing a claim besides their own incredulity and makes a case that has not been argued from the leading scholarship in a field, then that is a case that is not to be taken seriously.

If it’s not to be taken seriously, then why write posts about it?

Because unfortunately, too many people do, and these canards are the usual types that are thrown out there by internet skeptics that are a dime-a-dozen.

It’s also worth noting that this atheist constantly wants audio debates to get an audience, but he has repeatedly turned down a chance to have a written debate at That link can be found here.

My ministry partner’s write-up on this first point can also be found here.

The new wave is already crashing, but it never really got off the ground to begin with.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Genesis One: The Lost World

What’s coming up on the Deeper Waters Podcast this Saturday? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

How old is the Earth? Is it 6-10,000 years old, or is it 4.5 billion years old? Most of us have decided the place to go to is Genesis 1 and this has been the battleground for the topic. Each side has been ready to cast out the other and charges of heresy fly around. (For all concerned, I am an OEC who has a ministry partner that is YEC and a wife that is YEC)

The underlying assumption for each side has been that this is what Genesis One is talking about. This Saturday, I will be interviewing a guest that says “No. Both sides have it wrong. Genesis One is not talking about that at all.” My guest is John Walton of Wheaton who wrote the book “The Lost World of Genesis One.”

Walton says that in our scientific mindset due to the enlightenment, we have had an emphasis on the material aspects of creation, but Walton says the ancients didn’t think that way. For them, something wasn’t truly said to exist until it was given a function, and thus the account of creation as we call it is not about the material creation, but the functional creation of the universe.

And what is the whole purpose of all of this? Walton tells us that the main goal of creation was to make a temple for which God would dwell in. The deity’s idol would often sit in the temple as well, which would be that which bore the deity’s image. This means that we are an integral part of the creation. We were made to serve in a temple that reflects the glory of God.

This thesis I find extremely fascinating. It fits in so well with the NT and the writings of N.T. Wright on God wanting to dwell with His people and on eventually the new heaven coming down to Earth. It also has the advantage of doing what I’ve said should be done for some time, getting to the way the ancients would have read the Bible and trying to move away from our modern presuppositions.

Yet this view is not without its critics. There are two especially we will be discussing. One is William Lane Craig who has made a number of statements with regards to Aristotlean philosophy. Has Walton committed a grave blunder in his reasoning? We will be asking him.

Another is Hugh Ross of Reasons To Believe. I do wish to state upfront that I do respect both Ross and Craig. I am a member of the local chapters of Reasons To Believe and Reasonable Faith, but I am of course allowed to disagree. Ross comes from another perspective.

Ross does believe the Bible contains scientific information in the account and defends a more concordist position. Ross is concerned about removing a scientific witness to the world from the Bible and what it means to tell modern man the Bible says nothing in regards to science. There are also concerns about Inerrancy that have come up. (Not that we’re unfamiliar with the code word of Inerrancy being used to drum up suspicion)

Chances are, you might have your own questions as well for Dr. Walton. If you do, I welcome them. The show time will be from 3-5 EST on June 22, 2013. Our call in number is 714-242-5180. I hope you’ll be listening in for an enjoyable episode of the Deeper Waters podcast.

The link to the show is available here.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

The Silence of God

Does He have to say something? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

Yesterday, I wrote some opening thoughts on God’s silence. I wish to continue that today by looking at the problem from a different perspective. Our complaints about God with Him being silent usually go like this.

If God really cared, He would not be silent now.
God is silent now.
So God doesn’t really care.

I highly question the first premise. Yesterday, I noted that I think the Bible is lacking in the number of times it has direct interaction between God and man. Usually, this interaction was also done through intermediaries, such as prophets, or even angelic messengers. Of course, this means that God was communicating with some people, but it also means that there were a huge majority that did not get direct communication.

In fact, a number of times, people in the greatest suffering did not get it. The Psalms are replete with this. The Psalmists are usually quite brutely honest about the way they think that God is treating them. I really have no problem with this! If you think God is not being fair with you, if you think He is not being faithful with you, etc., well I think you’re wrong, but I understand why you’re thinking that and one of the best things I think you can do is to go to Him with your concern and express it honestly. There’s no sense in hiding it. He knows all about it after all! The person who truly trusts God is the one that can present all of them to Him, even when it isn’t the best.

There are other times. Jesus on the cross in fact asked God why He had been forsaken. John the Baptist in prison was left there and had to go send word to Jesus in order to get a message that would bring him hope. Christ Himself promised us suffering.

What if we started then at the beginning and thought “Maybe the paradigm we have is wrong and this is not normative for the Christian life.” If God does not owe us personal communication, then He is not being wrong in not giving it to us.

If this becomes a cause for doubt, then this is where I think good apologetics does come in. Now this is not a post meant to argue with the atheist or make the case for Christianity, but it is one to say where the case must lie. If we want to know if Christianity is true, we must look to the person of Jesus. Is He who He said He was? Did He rise from the dead?

If that is the case, then Christianity is true. We must deal with that. If we want to be rational people, we have to go with what is true regardless, even if at particular times we don’t like the idea that Christianity is true, and honestly, for all of us there will be times that we don’t like the claims of Christianity.

If we turn the paradigm around then, we find that God has not been silent. He came Himself in the person of the Son. How is that being silent? Is God doing something in our lives? He doesn’t owe us that He has to do anything, but again, the question is not what is He doing with us, but what are we doing in His life?

Could it be it is not so much that God is silent and hidden, but rather instead the case that we too often are not looking and closing our ears? (No. I don’t mean closing our ears to an actual voice, but closing our ears to His truth that has already been revealed in such places as the Scriptures.)

If you think God doesn’t owe you anything, then that could seem like a scary thought. Actually, it’s a most awesome and liberating thought! It is a thought that once I think you really grasp it, you will see much more of the goodness of God in your life.

Readers know my wife and I are financially strapped right now. So back in February, a friend of ours had a fundraiser selling jewelry with 25% of the sales going to Deeper Waters. We were getting ready to do the podcast and I needed a headset I could use. What was the result of this event? We had two sets of customers come by all night and we raised $75. My reply?

Thanks be to God.

God is in charge. He did not owe me a lot to come in. He was not obligated to give me so much. As it is, we got enough for me to get a headset and it has been a blessing to us ever since then. It has allowed me to do the podcast. Would I have liked more? Yes. Yet God was not obligated to give me anything. That means that every penny I got that night from Him was a gift. If I had gone in there saying “God owes me this much” and not got that much, I would have had indignation towards God for not giving what He never promised and did not owe me.

It is from this kind of perspective that we should start to look at our lives differently. Look at every good thing that you have around you. You are not owed it. It is a gift. It is grace. Your job is not perfect? You have one. The income is a gift. Your spouse has characteristics you don’t like? My wife can say the same about me definitely, and yet we are gifts to one another. (Readers of this blog after all know that I have a constant penchant for giving thanks for Allie.) Your house isn’t the best? You have a roof over your head and a bed you can sleep in.

Every good and gracious gift comes from God above….

With this kind of attitude, come to God then. Give thanks. Learn to study the Scriptures and find out what He has said in them. Our tendency when we think we are hurt by someone is to want to block ourselves away from that someone. That only increases the divide. The best way is to put your foot forward. In our relationships, we usually wait for the other person to make the first move. Let us not do that. Let us do what is right just because it is right. (Since being married, I have often made it a point when I wrong someone to go to them as soon as I can and talk it out with them. Yes. That can also include Allie.)

Perhaps when we return to God, we will find how much He is active in our lives. Does that mean He is “speaking” to us. Not necessarily in the modern sense. It does mean we realize He has spoken and instead of looking for something new, perhaps we should pay attention to what has already been said. After all, if we ignore what He has already said, why should He bother giving us any more?

Could it be again, the problem lies more with us?

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Opening Thoughts On The Silence Of God

“Why do I not hear from God?” Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

A reader yesterday suggested one cause of emotional doubt is the silence of God. Indeed, I had been planning on getting to that topic, but since it has been brought up, I might as well get to it. However, this is going to take more than one post. Therefore, consider this just a start to the topic and in fact, one I’m planning on writing a whole lot more on elsewhere.

To begin with, the reason this is such a large problem I suspect is because of a misnomer in the church. In our individualistic society, we have made it so that God is all about us rather than the point that we are to be all about God. It is the question of what God is doing in my life. It is not the question of what I am doing in His.

After all, when we look at the Bible, God is active everywhere! God speaks all throughout it! Miracles are taking place abundantly! Conversations between God and His followers are always happening and shouldn’t we expect the same today?

This is wrong on both counts.

Let’s consider someone like Abraham. Abraham was the friend of God. If anyone was to be having a regular conversation with God, surely it would be the friend of God. And yet at one point in the narrative of Genesis, we find that God is silent for thirteen years.

Thirteen years.

Can you imagine being a good friend with someone, someone you’d base your whole life around, and not speaking to them for thirteen years?

Abraham did.

There’s nothing in the text that indicates that this was unusual for Abraham. There’s nothing about him crying out that God is being silent. One can imagine how God’s regular guidance would have helped Abraham so much. He might have avoided that little situation with Hagar.

The reason the Bible records these times in fact are because they are not the norm. They are unusual. If you’re writing a biography of someone like Abraham Lincoln, you will not say “On such and such day at such and such time, Lincoln sneezed.” No one cares about that. You will record the highlights of his life such as the Lincoln-Douglas debates, his handling of the Civil War, his freeing of the slaves, and his assassination. (Not a highlight in the positive sense, but certainly an aspect of his life worth noting.)

This is the same with miracles. The Bible records these times when miracles happen because they are the exceptional times, and yet the times where they are abundant is rare. There are three such times. One is the Exodus. The next is the appearance of Elisha and Elijah which starts the age of the prophets. The final is the start of the apostolic age. Each of these centers around the new revelation that is coming. (I do of course hold that there are miracles going on today, and this is far more common in the third world and the cause of a number of churches. See Craig Keener’s “Miracles.”)

So I’d like to say at the start that God’s “abundant activity” and “constant speaking” is not really that. Over a period of around 2,000 years from Abraham to Jesus, there is not much if you averaged it out.

Second, why should we expect God would treat us the same way? This is usually part of our own pride in modern times. We are not Abraham. We are not David. We are not Paul. For most of us, the problem is that we think too much of ourselves. It could often be that God speaking to us would cause us to do so more.

Also, if our faith relies on God constantly giving us experiences, then we will never grow as Christians. We need to return more and more to the foundation of our faith, the resurrected Christ. We spend so much time waiting on God to act for us that we don’t often bother to act for Him. I suspect that when people in this position start acting for God more and more, they will find that He is much more of a reality in their lives.

To speak from my perspective, I can think of not one time in my life I have heard God speak. I know people who have and I think those will say it is exceptionally rare. I do not take people seriously who have a “Buddy Jesus” concept where God speaks to them on a regular basis that is practically casual. Too many people justify their own desires by saying “God told me” at the start. Personally, it won’t hurt you to have some skepticism over a message given to you that starts with “God told me.” Why should it? We are told to test prophecy after all!

Yet despite not hearing God speak, God has become more and more a reality in my life over the years. The more I have learned about Him, the more I have seen the great value He is to have in my life and the more I am aware of how much I don’t give Him that value too often. When push comes to shove, it is no surprise that my first thought is to think about what my God means to me. Sometimes it disappoints me that my mind can think about so many other things instead of Him. Take away God from my worldview and everything falls apart. (To which, if you remove God from your worldview and your world doesn’t change, you need to ask how much God mattered for you to begin with.)

Now I realize some of you are still saying that there is a problem. What are we to do when God is silent? Why is this happening? Does God not care? I hear those questions, and I will be getting to them, but that is for another day. For now, I have given some opening thoughts just to put my answers in better perspective. I hope it will help you.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

So Great Sin

“How can I be a Christian when I have so much sin in my life?” Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

Some friends of Deeper Waters in my last blog commented on how many Christians question their salvation because of sin in their lives. They’re entirely correct. Now we know we all have sin in our lives, which is an important point to keep in mind, but what about the person who struggles repeatedly with a sin and goes to bed at night saying “Tomorrow, I’ll do better” and then wakes up saying “Today, I will do better” and yet before too long, what are they doing? They’re on the computer watching porn again or opening up the fridge for that snack they shouldn’t have, or find themselves yelling at their kids yet again with a crying spouse.

The first part to keep in mind is this is the reality that we all have sin in our lives. We all have struggles that we need to confess to the Father. If you know of no such struggle in your life, then you have a far greater one than you realize.

But we all know of passages about people who will not inherit the Kingdom of God and also about the end of Matthew 7 with Jesus saying “I never knew you.” The last one is kind of odd. People who do great works are said to have never been known by Christ, and what’s the solution for the person who’s doubting his salvation then? Do more works to show I’m a Christian! Doesn’t look like that’s the problem in Matthew 7.

Again, a Calvinist and Arminian could agree here. The Arminian could say that the people in the passage never made a real commitment to Jesus. The Calvinist could say it was a said faith instead of a real faith and they were never part of the Elect. I have no intention of entering that debate. Eternal Security will bring no comfort to the doubter who doubts they have ever been secure.

The answer to the dilemma overall is grace.

Yes. You must realize the grace of God in your life. I’d start by really looking at your sin. Don’t look at what it means for you. Don’t think about your salvation if you can help it. Instead, just look at what it means to God. What every sin is ultimately is choosing your way over that of God. No matter how big or small, it’s doing just that. If you think your way is better than God’s, you are claiming to know better than He. You are claiming to have more knowledge than He. You are wanting the right to rule instead of him. You are guilty of divine treason.

This might not sound like help right now. I think it is. I want you to see how serious the charge is.

Now in light of that, realize this. God over and over in the Bible delights in forgiving. Take Manasseh for instance, a wicked king who sacrificed his own children to false gods, and yet in 2 Chronicles 33, we read about his forgiveness.

Over and over, if people will repent, God will forgive.

As long as you’re still seeking to move towards God, realize you’re going the right way regardless of how often you stumble. Do you thin you tire God out with your confession? He is the one who said that you are to forgive 70 times 7 times and still more.

Do you really think God would rather judge you than forgive you? If so, then you need to take your view of God under consideration. Go through the Bible and red about the grace of god over and over.

“But how can I be forgiven when I keep falling?”

Your wanting to please God shows that you are one of His. Your fear of being apart from Him shows how much you want to be with Him. It shows a broken and contrite heart, the kind that He will not despise.

You are not required to be perfect. Christ is perfect for you. To think that you have to live without sinning after repentance is a Mormon belief, not a Christian one.

This doesn’t mean that you don’t try to get past your sin, and for that, I offer some suggestions.

First off, have an accountability partner. I’ve told a number of my friends in regards to my marriage that if they see me stepping out of line, that they have all right to call me out on it. I have a good friend who’s a spiritual mentor for me who I email every night after saying prayers. Even if you’re not struggling with salvation doubt, I think everyone should do that.

Second, get to the root of the issue. If you have a struggle with porn, for instance, it can help to put up a block on the computer, but you need to look at the real issue. How is it that you view the opposite sex? How is it that you view sex itself? What do you consider such a good in life that you are repeating this sin to get so regularly?

Third, get professional counseling if need be. There are some problems that could be an addiction and you could need some help getting past that is more professional. In some cases, you might need medication. This is not a lack of faith! This is part of good mental health!

Fourth, do invest yourself in learning some good theology. Your doctrine of God needs to be based on more than your feelings, as does your salvation. The Bible never says anything about what it is like to “feel forgiven.” It talks about thankfulness for forgiveness, but not the internal feelings. If forgiveness depended on your feelings, our status of forgiveness would change constantly.

A final advice is to live as if you were saved and just watch what happens. Feelings tend to follow actions. Not the other way around.

Dear Christian. Know you serve a God who abounds in grace, and you are not an exception to the rule.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Salvation Doubt

Did you pray the right prayer? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

One of the worst kinds of emotional doubt a Christian can go through is the doubt over their salvation. Many a Christian has gone through this and are relieved to find that it is a common doubt in fact. (Yes. Even I have gone through this kind of doubt and in fact am glad I did since it ultimately got me into apologetics.)

Gary Habermas has said he’s collected statistics from people on how many times they’ve prayed the prayer. Top place goes to a lady who prayed for her salvation over 5,000 times. Second place went to a police officer who prayed over 3,000 times. As said, this is common and while maybe not that severe for some people, it is still a troubling doubt.

Much of the problem with this doubt is that the person who is doubting doesn’t “feel saved.” Of course, the Bible never tells us what it’s like to feel saved, so it is a wonder how someone could know what it is supposed to feel like. Also, this is based often on the silence of God, yet it is not realized that the Bible rarely has God communicating with people. These people are a select few and the speaking is clear and rare both. The concept we have is a modern concept foreign to the Bible.

Yet this doesn’t answer the question. What is a Christian to do who is doubtful that they prayed the prayer right and is worried that if they died in their sleep or in some accident or something, that they’d be in Hell forever?

Here are my suggestions.

First off, keep in mind that the fact that you are even concerned about this is a sure sign of your salvation. People who do not care about the things of Christ do not worry about if they are saved or not. If you are worried you are not right with God and did not do things right, consider it evidence about how much God means to you, which is again, evidence of salvation.

Second, if you still have any doubt about certain behaviors, just take care of them. For instance, in the Restoration churches, it is held that baptism is essential for salvation. I do not agree. What do I agree with? Baptism is a command of Christ, so go ahead and do it anyway! (By the way, for all interested, I am hydrophobic with a steel rod on my spine. Getting baptized was quite frightening for me, but I did it anyway)

If you are concerned that you did not pray right, then just pray. Aren’t you supposed to be praying regularly anyway? If you are concerned about a sin in your life, then work on giving it up! Aren’t you supposed to be doing that anyway?

Third, realize that God cares more about salvation than you do. He’s the one who initiated the whole thing, and that’s something Calvinists and Arminians both can agree on. We do love because He first loved us and apart from His act through the work of the cross and the empty tomb, no one would be saved. God is the initiator.

If God is doing the work to make sure salvation is available, then realize it matters to Him. God is not looking for reasons to send people to Hell. He’s looking for reasons to get them into His manifest presence. That includes you. God is not one who gets sheer delight out of the thought of condemning someone but wishes to bring them to salvation.

Fourth, look at what you believe. Ask yourself these questions. Do you believe Jesus is fully deity? Do you believe He died for your sins? Do you believe He rose from the dead? Do you believe that He is Lord? Sounds good to me. Now if you have doubts over questions such as the resurrection and the deity of Christ, this is the time for apologetics. This is the time to go to your library and get the books and do the reading to answer those questions.

Fifth, there are many debates that ask if we can lose salvation or not. That debate is useless to this question. After all, if you think like an Arminian you can say “I lost it.” If you think like a Calvinist you can say “Never had it and not one of the elect.” Instead, take a stance that both sides will say is essential for salvation. Just ask yourself if you’re trusting in Christ. As long as you keep trusting in Christ in fact, the whole debate really won’t matter in the long run.

Sixth, go and listen to what others are telling you in this case. Chances are, you would not ever tell someone who is in doubt over their salvation like this that they do not have it. In fact, it’s not just being nice. You wouldn’t say it because you don’t believe it. (Which it usually is good to try to think through doubt as if you were a third party listening in.)

Doubt like this is usually just a way to shut you down and keep you from living with the joy of salvation. For those skeptical, this is not just for you, but what I had to do with my own doubts. You might think I might not be taking your salvation as seriously, but I am definitely taking mine seriously, and I would not give you advice I do not think would work in my case. (This is said simply for the person who is ultra-skeptical. My real reason in writing this is of course great concern for those who do suffer with this, having been there before.)

Next time, we’ll look at more emotional concerns.

In Christ,
Nick Peters