Deeper Waters Podcast 12/23/2017: Rosaria Butterfield

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

Many of us know someone like this. It’s the person you know that is hard to reach. No. They’re impossible to reach. Might as well forget about it. This person has every reason in the world to not come to Christianity and nothing you say will ever be able to persuade them.

Sometimes, that Saul does become a Paul.

My guest this week was an unlikely convert. She was a Ph.D. professor and highly educated living with a lesbian partner and actively writing against Christianity. However, after a pastor got in touch with her, things started to change. Today, she is a devout Christian and a pastor’s wife. She will be my guest this week and due to limited time, for only half an hour, but we will make the most of it. Her name is Rosaria Butterfield.

So who is she?

According to her bio:

Rosaria Champagne Butterfield, a former tenured professor of English and women’s studies at Syracuse University, converted to Christ in 1999 in what she describes as a train wreck. Her memoir The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert chronicles that difficult journey. Rosaria is married to Kent, a Reformed Presbyterian pastor in North Carolina, and is a homeschool mother, author, and speaker.

 

Raised and educated in liberal Catholic settings, Rosaria fell in love with the world of words. In her late twenties, allured by feminist philosophy and LGBT advocacy, she adopted a lesbian identity. Rosaria earned her Ph.D. from Ohio State University, then served in the English department and women studies program at Syracuse University from 1992 to 2002. Her primary academic field was critical theory, specializing in queer theory. Her historical focus was 19th century literature, informed by Freud, Marx, and Darwin. She advised the LGBT student group, wrote Syracuse University’s policy for same-sex couples, and actively lobbied for LGBT aims alongside her lesbian partner.

 

In 1997, while Rosaria was researching the Religious Right “and their politics of hatred against people like me,” she wrote an article against the Promise Keepers. A response to that article triggered a meeting with Ken Smith, who became a resource on the Religious Right and their Bible, a confidant, and a friend. In 1999, after repeatedly reading the Bible in large chunks for her research, Rosaria converted to Christianity. Her first book, The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert, details her conversion and the cataclysmic fallout—in which she lost “everything but the dog,” yet gained eternal life in Christ.

 

Rosaria’s second book, Openness Unhindered: Further Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert on Sexual Identity and Union with Christ, addresses questions of sin, identity, and repentance that she often encounters during speaking engagements. She discourages usage of the term “gay Christian,” and she disputes “conversion therapy,” in part because heterosexual sin is no more sanctified than homosexual sin. Her heart’s desire is for people to put the hands of the hurting into the hands of the Savior, who equips us to walk and grow in humility.

 

Rosaria is zealous for hospitality, loves her family, cherishes dogs, and enjoys coffee.

Like I said, we’re only going to have half an hour of Dr. Butterfield’s time. We’ll be discussing her conversion, her life now, and what she has to say to the church. How can we be more effective with what we say? How should we approach the homosexual community? How now shall we live?

I hope you’ll be watching for this interview and please go and leave a positive review of the show on iTunes.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

End Times Evangelism Messages

What is our focus in evangelism? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Last night, Allie and I were looking for a Christian movie to watch. (To which when she asked why we don’t have a lot, I replied that most of them are just awful.) We had been watching The Gospel of Matthew put up on YouTube by The Two Preachers and so after looking for another movie there, we went to their channel to see what they had. One video was about Christmas, to which they gave the right answer. The overwhelming majority were all about end times.

The ones that we saw began with usually reading a verse. Of course, no context was given to this verse. It was just assumed that this verse had to be fully literal and had to be about our times which would have to be the end times and could have no prior fulfillment. (The prophets obviously weren’t interested in the present needs of the people. They just wanted to tell them about events over 2,000 years later.)

Then there would be some sensational story which was meant to back the event. The last video we saw talked about how important this was because so many people are converting because of these end-times warnings. In fact, many of the skeptics have to be believing it somewhere because they keep watching the videos.

By this logic, I must be believing atheist books since I read them so often.

We were also given the challenge that if these aren’t signs of the end times, then give what the signs are, using passages like Matthew 24. Of course, I would ask why Matthew 24 couldn’t have already been fulfilled. You know, the whole “This generation will not pass away” thing. The futurist paradigm should not be assumed. It should be argued for, much as I would gladly argue for my orthodox Preterism viewpoint.

Something that did catch me (Allie caught something else that she can write about if she chooses) was the claim that they are seeing many people convert to Jesus through end-times warnings. That could very well be true, yet I wonder is that truly the goal? I have my own problems with the idea of conversion. Making getting conversion to be the goal is like getting people to be married is the goal. Getting married is easy. Having a marriage is work. Getting converted can be easy. Being a disciple is difficult.

First off, I have this big concern about so many end times predictions being made because they can so easily be found to be false. Anybody remember 88 reasons Jesus will return in 1988? Yep. That took the world by storm and now, it’s an embarrassment to Christianity. What about people like Harold Camping and John Hagee and others? The response could normally be “Well yeah, all those people got it wrong, but we’re the ones who have it right!”

After all, you know, our generation is just so awesome that surely Jesus has to return for us!

Second, let’s look at an authoritative list of sermons that we have. How about the book of Acts?

“Are you sure you want to do that? Don’t you know that Peter’s first sermon in the book is about the last days?”

Yes. And those days were his own times right there. It wasn’t some time off in the future. The same is found in Hebrews 1 as well. What does Peter go on to say? What is the sign of the last days? God has raised up His Son Jesus. The resurrection was the focus of the message. Because Jesus was resurrected, He is Lord and Christ. Peter didn’t stay on the experience. He used the experience to get to Jesus.

You can find a list of Acts sermons here. Go through. See how many times Paul spoke about the end times or anyone else. No. They spoke about the resurrection. One heading here even is “Paul proclaims his righteousness and judgment to come.” That has to be it!” Well, no. You go there and Paul talks about the resurrection.

Paul was a guy for whom the resurrection of Jesus was central. He built his faith on that. He built it on it so much that in 1 Cor. 15 he said that if Jesus was not raised, we above all men should be pitied. It was the resurrection that established the end times doctrines and what was that end times doctrine? Oh yes. Resurrection.

When we make the focus be on something other than the resurrection, we are treating that as the foundation of our faith. You should believe in Jesus because of this end times doctrine. No. You should believe in Jesus because He rose from the dead. All the strange phenomena in the world doesn’t matter if Jesus is not raised. It’s just strange phenomena then.

My challenge to the Two Preachers then is to focus on the resurrection. Go through the videos and see how many are about the end times and how many are about the resurrection. See if that seems to be a problem or not. It’s also what I would recommend to other Christians. Some Christians major so much on end times that they have their charts and graphs all filled out, but they know nothing about how to show Jesus rose from the dead.  I’m not saying the Two Preachers couldn’t make a case. I hope they could. I’m saying we have a problem in our church when more people know about the end times than they do about the resurrection.

Some of you will disagree with me on my view of the end times. God bless you. I have no problem with futurists as people. Why would I? I’m married to one. I have a problem with futurism being the focus. (I would have a problem with Preterism being the focus instead of Jesus in fact.) I would say the same with YEC or OEC or inerrancy or any other doctrine.

Focus on the resurrection. That’s your foundation.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Destroyer of the Gods

What do I think of Larry Hurtado’s latest published by Baylor University Press? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

First off, my thanks to Baylor University Press for sending me an advanced copy. To be sure, this one is an uncorrected proof. While some matters might change before official publication, I suspect that the majority will not. Having said that, let’s dive into this book.

With a title like Destroyer of the Gods, you might be expecting some sci-fi adventure or a fantasy adventure with magic and swords clashing and explosions going off. Instead, you will get a book about the history of early Christianity. How does this fit? Because Christianity led to the death per se of the gods and goddesses of the time.

Often, we hear that Christianity is a religion just like any other. When the point is presented that James and Paul were skeptics and became believers as evidence for the resurrection we are told “People convert for many reasons.” It’s never usually seen as what a scandal it was that people converted to this religion and what that meant in this society.

For instance, religion wasn’t just a personal private choice that you made. It went through every facet of life. The average home in the Roman Empire that wasn’t Jewish or Christian had gods you were to pay homage to. Your workplace would have gods. Your social gatherings would have gods. Even if they weren’t your gods, you were expected to honor them if you were a guest.

Christians went against all of that. Christians said they could not and would not honor the other gods. By doing so, they made themselves social pariahs. They would be seen as misfits in the world and quite frankly, as threats. How will the gods respond after all when these people are not being honoring of them? How will the gods treat us if we allow these people to not honor these gods?

“But weren’t the Jews like that?!” Yes. The Jews were like that as well, but they had an ancient heritage that was based on their ethnicity. The Jews had their critics and people who admired them, but they were often more or less tolerated, largely because their beliefs were so old. When it became obvious that Christian was not an ethnicity and you had former Gentiles going all the way with Christianity, then that cover of protection on Christianity was removed and they were allowed to be targeted in a way that the Jews weren’t.

You see, if Christianity was a religion just like any other in the empire, then it would not be necessary to join. It was because it was radically different that Gentiles would completely abandon their own heritage. Note this isn’t about considering Jesus as one god among many. This is about seeing Him as God in some way. (Hurtado has written much elsewhere on the early high Christology of the Christian believers.)

On page 22, Hurtado also points out that writers like Tacitus saw Christianity as superstitious. This doesn’t mean in the sense of someone afraid of a black cat crossing their path. This means in the sense that the beliefs were repellent and monstrous. We often have this idea that the message would resonated with people because it was about justice and overcoming suffering and the equality of man. Yeah. Good luck finding evidence that the early critics of Christianity saw it that way.

To be sure, some new groups could be seen as troublesome at first, but this was often sporadic. Even at times when Jews were persecuted, they were eventually allowed to return. After awhile, the belief system of new people, like followers of the Egyptian goddess Isis, would be allowed back into the mainstream. Their deities would also be added to the pantheon of gods you could worship in Rome. Christians weren’t like this. Christians, until Constantine, never had a time of favor with the Roman Empire.

Some of you might wonder what the big deal is. “So Christians didn’t worship Roman gods. Why should they care?” Because there was no separation of church and state. To not honor the gods was to not honor Rome and to put Rome at risk. It was treason. Add to it that your crucified god was in fact seen as a traitor to Rome due to dying by crucifixion and now picture how Christians were seen. Christians were people who followed a traitor to Rome and lived lives in treason to Rome by refusing to honor the gods of Rome.

Now someone could say maybe it was just the riffraff that was doing this. Not so. Had that been the case, writers like Celsus would not have bothered responding. Christianity was gaining grounds in the upper reaches of society. I would in fact contend that that is the only way Paul could afford to write his letters and numerous copies of NT books could be made. Someone had to have had money.

Actually, this gets us into something else that was noteworthy about Christians that was unique. They were a bookish people. No doubt, this came also from their background in Judaism as well with what we call the Old Testament. Many times on the internet, you can hear people talk about what the writings of the Mithraic religion and others claim. Good luck finding those. They’re not there. What we know about many of these religions comes in fact from outsiders. Christianity is unique in that we can read the Christians themselves.

In fact, Hurtado points out that Christians popularized the format known as the codex. This is a close precursor to our modern day book. Interestingly, the books that were kept in the codex were those that were seen as Scripture. Those interested in learning about the writing styles of the early Christians will benefit greatly from this information.

Christianity also had a new kind of identity. In the ancient society, to know one member of an ethnic group was to know all of them. Stand up today and say “All Cretans are liars!” and you’ll be called out for political incorrectness. Stand up in the ancient world and say this and you’ll get hearty agreement. In fact, you could even get it from the Cretans themselves!

The Christianity identity however was a forsaking of all other identity markers. It was not rooted in your family. It was not rooted in your birthplace. It was instead rooted in a crucified Jewish Messiah in the backwaters of Israel. Now of course, if you believed His claims about Himself, that would be seen as something noble, but if you didn’t, it would be shameful. The only people this would then be impressive to were people who were already Christians themselves.

Another difference would be how these people lived. Many of us have heard the stories of people who become Christians. They describe their lives before Jesus came and after Jesus came and frankly, many times the before part sounds a lot better. “Yeah. I used to have tons of money and was extremely popular with everyone and I could have any woman I wanted and then, well, I met Jesus, and now I live a moderate lifestyle where I work 9-5, I get shunned by society, and I have said I will have sex with no one until I marry and then only with her.” Of course, I do not want to give an impression that people should not come to Jesus, but frankly, our testimonies could use some work.

Still, this is something that would have made the Christians stand out. They had a lifestyle like this on the issue of sex. If you turn on your television today, sex is often seen as just another hobby that we do together and no consequences to it. In fact, Roman society could be even more open in some ways than ours is. To become a Christian was to give up one of the great gods of the Roman empire (Or severely restrict it) and in fact one of the great gods of the modern West.

So let’s take a look. What have we learned about what it would mean to be a Christian? (And this is only an inkling of what’s in the book.)

First, it would mean that you were a social pariah. You were going against the gods and you would in fact be called impious in a culture where piety was valued. Second, it would mean that you were a person who was identifying with a traitor to Rome and engaging in treason to Rome as well. Third, it would mean you were a bookish sort of person in a culture where books were valued to be sure, but your sacred beliefs were usually not written down. Finally, it would mean that you would have extreme positions on how limited your sex life was to be by comparison.

Well obviously this is something people would flock to!

And yet, Christianity was the destroyer of the gods. When you meet an atheist today, for the most part, they say they don’t believe in God. They don’t usually say the gods. Christianity was a system that changed that. Our modern celebration of justice and equality and other virtues comes largely from the Christian story. Our idea of being able to tolerate different belief systems without agreeing or participating comes from Christianity. Christianity replaced one system with another, its own, and did so good a job that today we often don’t realize it.

If there were areas of improvement for this book, I would like to have seen some more talk about honor and shame. This is really all throughout the book, but very rarely explicitly stated as such. The honor-shame paradigm I think brings so much more of this to life.

Little was said about the belief in resurrection as well. I would have liked to have seen more on that since much of the ancient world saw resurrection as laughable. In fact, some of them would have seen it as abhorrent just as much. Despite this, Christianity made it the foundation of their belief system.

I also hope that the completed copy of this book will have a bibliography. The one I have does not have one, but again, I do have an uncorrected proof. Perhaps that will come in the end. It would be greatly helpful.

Still, this is an excellent book. I had to break out my highlighter again and use it plentifully. This is definitely an area worthy of further research.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

The Problem of Conversion

Are we doing something wrong in the church today? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

In popular thinking today, it’s often asked how we can get more converts into the church. I state instead to others that I have no desire whatsoever to get converts.

“How can you say that? Do you not care about bringing people to Jesus?”

Of course I do. I would not be doing what I do all day if I did not, but I choose to follow what Christ said. Go and make disciples of all nations.

Let’s consider an analogy. It is rightly said that marriage is on the decline in our country. So let’s suppose the goal then is to make more married people? That’s easy enough. I have men who are friends and single. If they wanted to, they could go out and find someone and get married today. They could encourage all their friends to do likewise and their friends could encourage their friends, etc.

Voila! Problem solved! Marriage is back!

Well, no. We might create a lot of married men, but would we really create a lot of husbands? Would we be creating men that are devoted to loving their wives and seeking to grow in that love or not?

Getting married is easy. Any one can do that. Being a husband or wife? That takes work! The same has been said about children. Anyone can make a baby but it takes a man to be a father. Unless there’s something wrong biologically with the man or the woman, any man can get a woman pregnant. Not a big deal. I know of no way that there’s a secret technique that a man must use in the bedroom and only if he pulls it off rightly will his wife get pregnant. (If such was the case, then we’re sure wasting a lot of money on birth control and the abortion advocates can stop complaining)

Making the baby is simple. The guy’s work is usually done pretty quickly. Raising that baby as a father? That’s a lifetime of work.

So now back to the illustration of the church. In the church, we often go and make converts. What happens in our evangelism? We have someone who has come to the church and filled out a card. We go out to them. We talk with them about Jesus. We get them to say the prayer and then celebrate about our success!

It would be better if we kept tabs of such people and see how many of them actually come back to the church and how many of them grow in Christ? I’m sure some do, but do most?

Now granted if you just go with converts, you can grow a church pretty quickly. You can have several people sign up and come in to the church and be active members, but are they really going to be growing in the grace and knowledge of Jesus? Or, are they more just going through the motions?

How many marriages do you know of where the love died a long time ago and today, people are going through the motions just because it beats the alternative?

Worse, these people are absolutely unprepared for what waits outside the church. Atheism has gone popular in the new atheists. The internet has made information of all worldviews easily accessible. Worse still, someone with no knowledge can be seen as someone with knowledge just because they have a web site. To those untrained in a field, an argument from even a Christ-myther seems sophisticated.

There’s also the cults that are out there. Walter Martin of the Christian Research Institute said that the average Jehovah’s Witness can turn the average Christian into a doctrinal pretzel in 90 seconds or less. I would not hesitate to say the average Jehovah’s Witness knows the Bible far better than the average Christian.

This isn’t even counting moral problems! Affairs take place right within the church. 1 in 3 men in the church are said to struggle with pornography. A pastor dare not speak about homosexuality or sex outside of marriage or couples living together lest it offend those people in the church or put him on the political radar of the enemies of the church.

Our youth are often the biggest consequence of this. In their classrooms, they will no doubt hear of evolution. Now I as a non-scientist do not speak on evolution. I see it as an irrelevant question to Christian belief, but we all know there are atheists who see it as the most relevant question. If evolution is true, Christianity is false for them, and they will no doubt proclaim this letting their students know you either go with modern science or go with the Bible. It gets even worse if they make it that the Bible can only be read to say the Earth is 6,000 years old. (Do note I have friends who are YEC, my ministry partner is YEC, and my wife is YEC. In fact, a person who is an evangelical and told me about the dangers of making YEC an essential part of Christianity is himself a YEC)

And of course, the youth will have the moral issues as well. If they’re on YouTube looking up their favorite song, they could see an atheistic video on the side. Just one click is all it takes. In Middle and High School, they will be tempted sexually since all their friends are doing it and why not? It’s so much fun and it doesn’t hurt anyone! We’re just sharing love! It will get even stronger in college where professors are more upfront with an atheistic agenda and co-ed dorms are becoming more and more common and parties will involve alcohol and sex abundantly.

And hey, a young person wants to be cool.

In the past, I have written profusely on why apologetics is a necessity for the “relevant” church today such as found here, here, here, here, here, and here. This is just a snippet of it all.

In fact, to say otherwise for our youth is to say it is important for them to have pizza and to attend concerts for their growth in being like Christ, but it is not important for them to actually learn anything about Jesus Christ. You might as well tell a newlywed couple it’s not important for them to really learn anything about each other. Just have a lot of sex together and you’ll be fine!

If you want to grow closer to your spouse in marriage, you will need to learn about your spouse, devote time to your spouse, and actively do things for your spouse, and you have to do that regardless of how you might be feeling at the time. Even if you feel unloving, you are to be loving.

If you want to grow closer to Jesus Christ, you will need to learn about Jesus, devote time to Jesus, and actively do things for Jesus, and you have to do that regardless of how you might be feeling at the time. Even if you feel like you don’t care, you are to care.

When we make converts, we get people who are not prepared to deal with what is outside. When persecution comes, they will either fall away, which is the most disastrous of all, or they will simply hole up within themselves, which is fortunately going to keep them in the Kingdom, but they will be carrying weight for the those who are active and be a hindrance to demonstrating Christlikeness.

Let’s take the first example. What happens? It usually results in fundy atheists. Christians who did not get any answers and became convinced that there were no answers because no one takes their questions seriously. I meet these people most every day on the net. They have a grudge against their former belief system and are some of the hardest people to reason with.

Now let’s take the latter group. These people hole up inside themselves or with others of the same mindset. They might be helping each other be good people, but they cannot effectively evangelize. Once someone challenges their perspective, they’re sunk. In such a world, this person is going to be a hindrance in evangelism as others of the fundy atheist mindset will look at them and say “Yep. All Christians are as deluded as I was.” Others might be nicer and will have no problem letting them keep their beliefs, just so long as they “don’t hurt anyone” or “force your view on me.”

Also for this latter group, what will keep them going? Their experiences. Now experiences are a good thing, but you cannot make a regular diet out of them, at least not the grand ones. Those do not happen on demand after all and we cannot will them that easily.

There’s also a great danger that we have other groups that have experiences. I know of a Muslim man who claimed he was miraculously healed of pancreatic cancer. Prima facie, I have no reason to deny this claim. Why should I? Should I deny that he is wrong about his own life just because his worldview is different from mine? What about Mormons who claim to have a burning in the bosom? Should I claim they do not? Of course not. If all you have is your experience vs. another person’s experience with nothing else to fall back on, then there is no reason to choose one over the other except personal preference.

But what if you did have something you could use? What if you could use truth? Ah. Now we’re getting somewhere. Note that I am not saying the church must be full of scholars, though I am hopeful all would take part in scholarly information. The church should have people who have some basic knowledge about their worldview. Here are the basics they need I think.

Each person needs some reason to hold to the existence of God be it cosmological, moral, or even an argument like the resurrection of Jesus.
Each person needs to know how they can make a case for something being right or wrong.
Each person needs a basic understanding of biblical interpretation.
Every person needs a basic understanding of the reliability of Scripture including textual criticism.
Each person needs to be able to make a historical defense for the resurrection, at least a basic minimal facts approach.
Each person needs to be able to show the Trinity in the Bible.
Each person needs to make a case for their view of the atonement.

Well geez. That sounds hard.

Yes. Sounds hard to those of us who realize we live in a society where you can still remember how to get to every dungeon in the original Legend of Zelda, follow the plot of your favorite TV show with myriads of characters, know the statistics of your favorite sports teams, and memorize songs, jokes, and recipes.

This will take work. No denying that. The question that must be asked then is “Is Jesus Christ worth that work?” If He is, then act accordingly. If He is not, then also act accordingly. We can easily boast about how we would die for Jesus and how much we love Him and what He means to us. If such is true, then one should look at this and say “No problem.”

And what happens then? We get disciples. We get people who are actively learning to seek to grow in their faith. Here’s another tip for those of you out there. Get at least one good mentor. I have several mentors that I still go to today, but I have one main one that I email every night who helps hold me accountable and has been my friend and confidante in many tough situations. I say that as one who considers myself mature in the faith. I need a mentor. I am thankful to have one.

What will disciples mean? It will mean pastors also preach more informed sermons. Why? Because the congregation will know most of the basic stuff already that you’re sharing. If you want to teach them, you’ll have to go deeper than they are. If not, then they will leave you because those who are actively seeking to grow in their faith want more than just milk at church.

It will also mean we have a better presence of evangelism. Imagine how much it would mean if all Christians could at least make a case that there was a historical Jesus instead of just saying “Well you have to have faith!” Would nonsense like Richard Dawkins’s “The God Delusion” even make a dent in the Christian community? Not a bit.

It will also mean people living holier lives. Why? Because those who are disciples of Jesus are the ones that will be taking His commands more seriously and holding one another accountable for what they do. These people will be thinking with a well-informed mind on Christian issues and know how they apply to the current situation in the world and to their own personal lives.

Dare I say it, I think this one change alone could bring about the revolution in America we’ve been waiting for. Why is our situation the way it is? Is it because of the gospel? No. We know the gospel has the power to transform lives and culture. Well if it’s not on the end of the gospel, then it must be on our end. The problem is not the message. The problem is us. If we want to change the world, we must start with changing us.

From now on, do what Jesus said. Don’t go out and make converts. Go out and make disciples. Just as importantly, be one yourself.

In Christ,
Nick Peters