Book Plunge: Paul and the Language of Faith

What do I think of Nijay Gupta’s book published by Eerdmans? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Just go online to any atheist community or atheist-Christian debate and watch what is said about faith. Faith is believing without evidence. Faith is saying things you know aren’t true. When I meet these people, I ask them about the word pistis in the New Testament, which is commonly translated faith, though not always, and ask if they have any evidence for their claim that that is how pistis was understood.

Oddly enough, they have none.

I guess they believe without evidence.

So when I saw that a New Testament scholar had published a book on pistis like this, I had to get it immediately. Gupta decided to do his research after hearing students in his seminary even speak the same way. I have heard this happen before remembering one Christian responding to an atheist he couldn’t answer by saying “I have faith!”

Gupta mainly wants to focus on how faith is used in the Pauline literature, but he does explore how it is used in literature outside of the New Testament for that. The findings are entirely consistent with my own research over the years. Faith generally refers to loyalty. It is an essential that holds society together. One is expected to have good faith when making contracts and covenants. Faith refers to the reliability of something.

Faith is also an action that one does. If you have faith, you will perform in such and such a way depending on the referent of said faith. An easy-believism would not have made any sense to Paul or anyone in the ancient world. If you believe that Jesus is Lord in the true sense of faith, you should live accordingly. Yes. Even the demons in James do that. They live consistently in trembling knowing judgment is coming.

So it is in Scripture that faith is not just signing a doctrinal statement. It is saying that you are loyal to King Jesus. Now to be sure, sometimes, faith can be used in a different sense. It can be used to describe the content of what one believes, such as one who keeps the faith, but that can just as well mean that such a person has remained loyal to King Jesus.

There is a section on what is meant by the faith of Christ as it were. Does it mean Christ’s faithfulness or does it mean our trust in Christ? I won’t spoil for those who haven’t read the book. If you are interested in that debate, you do need to see this book.

Those who are atheists should consider reading this book as well, at least the section on pistis outside of the New Testament and even in Jewish writings like Josephus. Those who say faith is blind are referring to a more modern Western look at the word. They are not referring to anything that can be found in the New Testament.

If there was one thing I would change about this book, it would be to cover more of Hebrews. You might say that this book is about Paul and what he meant by pistis, but sometimes Gupta does go to Revelation and the Gospels. Should Hebrews 11:1 not have been covered at least one time in all of this? I consider this a major oversight and I hope that in future editions, this important passage will be covered.

Despite that, the book is highly educational on the meaning of faith. If you are a Christian who uses faith in the sense of blind belief even when you don’t have evidence, stop. If you are an atheist who thinks faith is the same thing, stop. Both of you are ignoring the historical context of the word.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Deeper Waters Podcast 11/2/2019

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

Epistemology is a branch of philosophy that has in its own way always been around, but wasn’t its own individual branch until sometime after Descartes. Differences have gone all the way back before from Plato to Aristotle. Plato had the theory of the forms to explain how we know things. Aristotle didn’t disagree entirely with the forms, but said we know things through sense experience, or at least that’s where our knowledge begins.

Today, we can look at the material world and see that we have a lot of science and think that that is the path to knowledge. By contrast, what is religion? Religion is done by authority. The adage of “The Bible says it. I believe it. That settles it.” Some leave out the “I believe it” which would be redundant in a sense.

Is that the way religion is done? Do we just believe something because we read it in a book? How can we know God exists? How can we know what He’s like? Can we have a proper experience of God? How could we tell if that was a valid experience? Can one just intuit God exists even if they don’t know how to articulate the Kalam Cosmological Argument?

We’re going to be discussing religious epistemology today. How can someone know something that is a religious claim? Does one just have to take something by faith? What is faith anyway?

To discuss all of this, we’re bringing on a young scholar. Young is the word as just checking, my wife and I were surprised to see he’s just a few months older than she is, and yet he already has an Oxford published book called Religious Epistemology.. His name is Tyler McNabb.

So who is he?

According to his bio:

Tyler Dalton McNabb (PhD, Glasgow) is a Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Macau. Before taking his current position, McNabb taught three years at Houston Baptist University. McNabb is the author of Religious Epistemology(CUP) and co-author of Plantingian Religious Epistemology and World Religions (Lexington). He has also authored/co-authored various articles published in journals such as Religious StudiesEuropean Journal for Philosophy of ReligionInternational Journal of Philosophy and TheologyThe Heythrop Journal, and Philosophia Christi.  

We are busy working on getting episodes up. I know we’re behind on schedule, but thanks for bearing with us. Please keep listening.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Gospel Allegiance

What do I think of Matthew Bates’s book published by Brazos Press? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

What is the gospel? Many pastors today write books on the topic and talk about how central it is and how important it is to be proclaiming the good news. Sadly, many of them don’t have the good news right, and these are not the liberals. These are conservative God-honoring pastors who truly want to build up the church. The gospel becomes all about what happens individually in a person’s life. Justification by faith is said to be the gospel or in some cases I’ve seen such as saying Calvinism is the gospel.

My wife and I once attended a church where the pastor at the end of every sermon gave a call to accept Jesus as savior. Unfortunately, it seemed like the whole goal every time was to get someone to go to heaven. It’s as if it’s decided that the whole point of Jesus coming and dying and rising again is all about the next life and not here.

Matthew Bates says this must change. Now while it sounds like he’s wanting to change the gospel, what he’s wanting to change is our perception. He wants the gospel to go beyond forgiveness of sins. He’s not opposed to that as it’s certainly included in the message and he’s not opposed to justification by faith, but what is the gospel?

The gospel is about Jesus coming and living and dying and rising again and thus, being the Messiah, the King of the Jews, and everyone else for that matter. We treat Messiah like it’s a name. I have even had atheists ask me why a Jewish guy would have a Greek last name, as if Jesus was the son of Mr. and Mrs. Christ. The religion of Islam stresses that Jesus is the Christ, but it gives no content to this whatsoever.

When we say Jesus is the Messiah, we mean He is the king and He came to institute the Kingdom of God on Earth. Our response to this is not intellectual assent which is normally meant by faith. Instead, what is required is a life of allegiance. This does not mean that we earn our salvation, but that our lives model what we say we believe.

The kingship of Jesus means that we are not just agreeing with a proposition, but living lives of loyalty to the king. When we get the gospel wrong, we make the gospel be all about what happens to us. The gospel is all about what Jesus did and who He is. You could give a gospel presentation today to people that would not require Jesus being the Messiah or being the king. We are doing something wrong at that point.

Bates’s message then is that this a more biblical way of viewing salvation. Salvation is something that God does in us, but we willingly submit to him with a life of faith lived outward in allegiance to him. Bates does take on some of our modern pastors who emphasize too much justification by faith. He doesn’t disagree with them, but he does say that we need to move beyond that. He does have some problems with Catholicism, though he does not say Catholics are not Christians and is concerned when any Christian is restricted from partaking of the Lord’s Supper.

This is stuff I have already believed, but once you see it spelled out, it’s hard to not see it in other places. When I hear someone give a gospel presentation or read it now, it seems so lacking. While this is something I have even done a sermon on, it is something that needs to be stressed. We have made Christianity be about a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, which is reducing Jesus down to the buddy Jesus idea, and not about Jesus being king. When I introduce myself at a Celebrate Recovery meeting, I do not describe myself as a faithful believer in Jesus, but rather as a faithful servant of king Jesus.

I hope more pastors and more Christians read Bates’s book. Bates is doing the church a great service. He is taking the material of scholars and giving it to the public on these issues in a way that is easy to understand. This book is highly readable for the layman and I recommend it greatly.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Always Be Ready

What do I think of Hugh and Kathy Ross’s book published by Reasons To Believe? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

I read a lot of apologetics books. I read all levels. Some books are entry level. Some are intermediate. Some are advanced. I have high standards. When Hugh And Kathy Ross sent me an apologetics book they had written, I saw the title and thought it looked like something basic. I looked at the bibliography. It was only three pages.

Great.

So I pick it up. There is one chapter dedicated to science apologetics. I really don’t know much about what to say with that. I have a stance that I stay out of science debates like that. I don’t know enough to recognize nonsense from accuracy. I think science is fascinating, but I can’t argue one side anyway.

But that’s the only kind of chapter like that. The rest of the book starts getting fascinating as Hugh Ross talks so much about how he came to believe in Christianity. It’s a fascinating autobiographical look at things. I count Dr. Ross a dear friend of mine and I knew some of it, but a lot I didn’t know and it was amazing stuff.

Did I agree with all of it? No. Ross makes a lot about Israel being founded in 1948 and that as a fulfillment of Biblical prophecy. As an orthodox Preterist, I don’t agree, but the great thing about Ross is I know he wouldn’t have any problem with that.  If you want to work with Reasons To Believe, you’re actually required to have something that you disagree with Ross on.

Yet the story just gets fascinating to see Ross describe growing up and his life on the autism spectrum, something I relate to as one on the spectrum as well. Ross talks about problems in school and the care that he got from one special teacher. Teachers. Please never underestimate the influence that you could have on one student.

Ross also talks about the influence of Kathy on his life after he met her. At this point, as one who knows Ross’s story with her, I would have liked to have heard more. He talks about her showing up at a Bible Study he was at and then sometime later on, we hear that he’s her bride. Whoa! How did we get to that point so quickly? I would have liked to have read more how the romance developed. This could be especially helpful for people on the spectrum who are waiting to get married.

Ross goes throughout the book then talking about ministry opportunities that have come up in his life in working with the church and the launching of Reasons To Believe. Ross has it apparently that he gets into encounters all the time where he gets to share the gospel. I found this to be exciting reading.

That means that in the end, this could very well be my favorite book that I’ve ever read by Ross. It left me wanting those own opportunities to come and watching the world around me for when they could show up. It’s my sincere prayer that they will.

If you’re wanting to get a book that will equip you to go out there and have the best answers to deal with those who contradict the faith, this isn’t the book for you. If you want a book that can help discuss how to approach people better and give the Gospel, especially in a church setting, and examples of ways you can use apologetics in evangelism, this is the book for you. Veteran apologists will not likely learn much in the area of apologetics knowledge, but hopefully, they will gain a desire to interact more.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Is It Wrong To Question God?

Is questioning the Almighty acceptable? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

I was with a group of guys last night and heard someone say that you’re not supposed to question God when talking about personal suffering. This is something that we often hear from Christians. It’s as if it somehow shows a lack of faith. In reality, I think it’s quite false.

I spoke to this man later and talked with him, because I didn’t want him living with guilt when going through a hard time on top of any other struggles that he has. The Bible consistently has people questioning God. The Psalms are one such book. You do not have to go far into the book before you find people questioning God. These are not minor matters either. These are heartfelt cries asking if God is there and if He really cares or not.

And this is a great benefit for us. After all, do we view God as a Counselor as is said in Isaiah 9:5-6? What kind of counselor is it that you can’t be honest with. Are you really angry with God and having questions for Him? It’s not like you can hide it from Him. He knows it already. Let it out.

That’s actually very healthy anyway. Often, psychologists speak of this as a catharsis. We can have moments where we have so much emotion built up in us that we just have to let them out. If we store them up inside of us, they don’t do us much good. Why think you can let them loose on another human being, but not on God?

Habakkuk is another great book for this. Habakkuk is a different prophet. Many of the prophets went to the people on behalf of God. The book of Habakkuk is the prophet going to God on behalf of the people. Jeremiah is another one. You can find written in the book of Jeremiah the complaints of Jeremiah. Even in the book his secretary Baruch is of the opinion that what he is going through is pointless.

Of course, there’s Job. Job went through intense suffering. In discussing this, I asked the real purpose of Job. The purpose of Job is not to help you understand suffering and evil. If you go through it wanting to know why bad things happen to good people, you are going to be disappointed. When God shows up at the end, He says nothing about the suffering of Job.

What is it about then? It’s about the question of the accuser. Does God serve Job for nothing? If Job did not have all these blessings in his life, would he continue to serve? In the end, Job passes the test. Job is faithful to God and blessed. This despite Job questioning God and being angry with Him.

John the Baptist in the New Testament is another example. John as a baby leapt in the womb when Jesus came over and who saw Heaven open and a dove descend on Jesus at baptism and heard the voice of God speak at that moment. John also grew up certainly hearing stories about his cousin. This John the Baptist. What does he say?

He’s in prison and sends his disciples to ask Jesus if He is the Messiah or should we wait for another. Jesus gives an answer to show that He is. Then Jesus turns to the crowd and talks about how hard it is to find faith because here even is John the Baptist and yet John is without faith and….

Wait.

What’s that?

He doesn’t say that?

He says what?

He says that of all men born to that time, none of them is greater than John the Baptist? You mean Jesus blesses and holds up as an example the guy who questioned Him? Jesus celebrates this man? Sure, he says the least in the Kingdom of Heaven will be greater than him, but he sure heaps some praise on John.

Now don’t get me wrong. How you question God could be wrong. Questioning itself is not necessarily. Faith can be something you wrestle with. When I go through some intense suffering, I do ask why. One often thinks that if they were God, they would do such and such. In reality, you wouldn’t, because if you were God, you’d have the perfect knowledge and wisdom that He has.

If anything, coming to God and being honest is a step of trust. It’s telling God that you don’t know what is going on, but you want to understand better, yet you are just thoroughly perplexed by what He is doing, or sometimes not doing. Questioning can be a way of saying you are willing to let God see all of you, which is kind of a no-brainer because He already does and you can’t hide anything from Him anyway.

Go ahead and question. God’s not obligated to give you an answer and honestly, we probably wouldn’t understand the answer, but you can know that He is there and He does hear and He does care. We in evangelical circles often sing the hymn “Just As I Am.”

Come to Him just as you are. He already knows. He heals up the wounds of the brokenhearted and He is there.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Why Christianity Is Not True Chapter 4

What is faith? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

It was with a fear of great disappointment that I read David Pye’s chapter in Why Christianity Is Not True on faith. I was getting concerned when the chapter began. David Pye starts with

The reader may for some time have been wanting to say something along these lines: “What about faith? You’re talking about Christianity, a religion, but don’t religious beliefs just come down to faith? Aren’t you missing the point by ignoring faith and talking only about evidence?”

In other words, religion and religious beliefs are seen as belonging to a different
category than most human thought, one where beliefs not based on evidence are viewed as normal and to be expected.

From here, Pye goes on to describe a pastor who says this is a misconception and the congregation chuckles. He says this might be a chuckle of anxiety as many think that this is what faith is. Sadly, I think that Pye is right in this. This kind of faith is seen as a virtue. This shows a great failure in educating the church.

The major shock to me in this chapter came when in a way, Pye gets the answer to the question of what faith is right.

Faith can be seen as trust. To have faith in someone is to trust them. We can think of faith in God or faith in the bible in this kind of way – trusting in God or trusting in the bible as the Word of God.

He goes on to say that

A word that I think captures what faith is like in practice is loyalty.

Having a religious faith in practice – and especially in the long term – may be similar to supporting a poor football team. A loyal supporter stays with his team through thick and thin. Even though his team have been relegated each of the last two seasons, have just been knocked out of the Cup in the first round and are still playing hopelessly – he still turns out week after week to support them. He is showing loyalty.

This, I think, is very similar to the outlook of religious people. There may be little evidence to support what the religious person believes. Nonetheless he is loyal. He sticks with what he believes. He has faith.

The last part about a lack of evidence I disagree with of course, but the rest of this isn’t too bad. In the ancient context, faith would be seen as a kind of loyalty to a person. Faith is not about how you know but how you live what you know. The analogy of an airplane is accurate. One can be equipped with all the knowledge that planes fly and are a safe way to travel generally. It’s when one takes the step and gets on the plane that one is acting on what they know, which is an act of faith. It’s not blind faith, but it is following through with the evidence.

Pye goes on to list some other ideas of faith. One is faith as defiance. He tells about a Catholic who doesn’t know his Bible well and is visited by JWs. When confronted with their knowledge, to which sadly they are better informed than he is, he says he does not care what they say. He was born a Catholic and he will die a Catholic and nothing will change that.

This is not true faith and this is a little problem with Pye’s earlier analogy. Faith to a sports team does not mean they are the only true sports team. Faith in an ideology should mean that ideology is true and you live according to it. If one does not have solid reason to believe it is and is confronted with unanswered defeaters and one cannot find an answer, then one should seriously consider they are wrong. Faith, properly understood, is good, but faith for the sake of faith is not.

Pye goes on to talk about faith as something to attack or destroy. He quotes Dawkins who says religious faith is put in a bubble often that dares not be questioned. I have to say I wonder what faith Dawkins is talking about. Even before The God Delusion I saw Christianity regularly being treated in such a way. It was nothing new to me. He also writes about how Alister McGrath was said to destroy someone’s faith in atheism.

Pye sees this as a bad usage of the word faith since Christians present faith as a virtue so why speak of faith in atheism? When we say something like this, we mean that if we were to take the atheistic idea of faith, then we aim to destroy it. There are people who have a loyalty to atheism and don’t really care about the evidence. They will believe anything provided it argues against Christianity. (Jesus mythicism anyone?)

Pye also talks about faith as a trump card. What do you do with a lack of evidence? Play the faith card. This is again, nothing like what the Bible means by faith. I have my own writing on what faith means. I have no patience for a Christian who speaks about faith when presented with contrary evidence.

Another instance is belief being thrown out as a nebulous claim. I agree. People are told to believe something and they’re not told what to believe or why they should believe it. Belief for the sake of belief is no more a virtue than faith for the sake of faith is.

Another case brought forward is that of blind faith. I have to agree with the criticism of Gumbel. Dawkins presents faith as belief without evidence, and he’s not alone in this, but the irony is that this is itself a claim of faith. Dawkins would be hard pressed to find a scholar of Greek in the time of the New Testament who would think that that is what is meant by pistis.

He also looks at cognitive bias. He quotes McGrath again who says that we all have this and usually it’s to conserve what we already believe. I agree that this is true and it’s true for anyone. I know of a number of atheists who I am sure would rather commit ritual suicide than actually admit something in the New Testament could be true. I also know a number of Christians who hold on to their faith for purely emotional reasons.

Pye says he suspects most Christians hold on to Christianity due to social losses if they deconverted. This could be true, but as expected, it is not true for all. Just last night, I was talking to someone about what it meant to become a Christian and told him that being a Christian won’t always make you feel good. Sometimes, Christianity feels miserable. You should become a Christian though because Jesus rose from the dead. When asked “But what if Jesus is just another Jewish rabbi who died a horrible death?” then I replied, “Don’t follow Him. You can like His teachings and live them out, but don’t believe He’s the Son of God or anything like that.” No one should ever believe something they think is untrue.

Pye ends saying that he believes we can only know if something is true by the evidence. I agree. He also says Christians point to evidence when available but faith when it is not. For some, this is true, but for a number, including myself, this is not. Faith is not an epistemology. It is a response to what one knows. If one says they know the Bible is the Word of God, it is faith to live it out even when life is hard. It is not to believe the Bible is the Word of God when you are confronted with contrary epistemological evidence.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

The Party of Reason

Does any side own reason? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Yesterday, I was listening to Unbelievable? and one of the guests was from a British Humanist Association. I noticed how it was said by the guest something alone the lines of the belief in reason and that they are advocates for reason. Every time I hear something like this, I always get amazed that so many atheists and such out there want to advocate reason as if it was some new discovery that they made and the rest of the world doesn’t know about it.

Part of that has been that in our day and age, many atheists, especially on the internet, like to claim that they are the people of reason. This is usually in contrast to the theists who are the people of faith. Naturally, this is not an accurate understanding of faith, but a faith that is looked at as blind belief. If any internet atheist wants to think that this is what Christians have always believed, I just urge them to go and read the most educated Christians of today and the past.

This doesn’t mean that you will agree with the conclusion that the Christian makes. It would be great if you would, but I doubt it will happen immediately, but at least see that the people are using reason. They are presenting arguments and giving evidence and asking you to follow that evidence. You can disagree, but it is still the position of using reason.

Is this to say that all Christians are like this? Of course, but this would be like saying that all atheistic philosophers are like the ones that you encounter on the internet. There are too many Christians that are very anti-reason and do say there’s no evidence and you just have to have faith. There are too many atheists as well who claim reason but will believe many of the most unreasonable positions because they argue against Christianity, such as the nonsense idea that Jesus never even existed.

The problem also is that if one thinks they have reason and the other side doesn’t, then anything the other side says is discounted automatically. When I was engaged to Allie, a friend and I went to an event in Charlotte where Gary Habermas was speaking and in the Q&A an atheist tried to stump him at the microphone. Gary answered all of the questions and as the questioner was walking to his seat, my friend tells me he said, “At least I have logic on my side.”

Say all you want about logic, but there is nothing in logic that says God does not exist or that miracles cannot occur. No law of logic excludes those. Unfortunately, someone like this will just think that they are ipso facto a man of reason and they automatically are because, well, they’re an atheist and they’re the party of reason and so anything the opponent says must be false. Obviously, they’re a person of faith and they’re using reason after the fact. Even if that were so, that in itself does not discount the arguments.

Reason is a great tool and everyone should use it more and more and there are people who are people of faith on both sides. When I meet an atheist who makes a statement about how much they are the people of reason, I find it hard to take seriously. If you use reason, I certainly applaud you, but you are not different from the other people who are serious debaters in this field. In fact, the constant misunderstanding of faith from a Christian perspective means I just don’t take you seriously at all.

Reason is great, but it has been used by Christians for ages. It’s nothing new. Today too many atheists act like teenagers who have been given keys to the car and think that no one else has discovered driving. Sorry, but you’re not the only ones on this highway.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

Book Plunge: Seeing Through Christianity. Part 7

What does it mean to have faith? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

It’s been awhile since I’ve done Zuersher’s book, which is mainly because having to review stuff like this after awhile feels like pulling teeth, but I think we need to get into it again. Today, we’re going to be looking at one of the favorite topics. Faith. This is one new atheists and internet atheists always get wrong. It won’t be a shock that that happens again.

We’re not disappointed. Right at the start Hebrews 11:1 is quoted and then we’re told that this is a substitute for evidence and admittance to Heaven. This is interesting because first off, heaven isn’t even mentioned in Hebrews 11:1. One could say the rest of the chapter does speak about looking for a heavenly city and such, but the notion is not equivalent to our whole going to Heaven when you die idea. Second, I faith is not seen as opposed to evidence and this is something I have written more about elsewhere.

Zuersher says the definition above means accepting something as true despite their being insufficient grounds. Of course, Zuersher could have bothered doing some actual research on the topic, but alas, that is too difficult. It’s better to just place faith in the new atheist mantra.

For Zuersher, this means faith is arbitrary. A person can have faith in anything and no one person’s would be better than another’s. Of course, this only happens to work if the claim is true about what faith is. It is not. One wonders that if this was what faith is, why do we even have the New Testament at all?

When asked what determines faith, Zuersher points to where we’re born. There’s no doubt that if you’re born in Iran, you’re more likely to be a Muslim or if you’re born in India, you’re more likely to be a Hindu, but there are also noted exceptions. Many people do convert even at the threat of death. Do they do so with no reason whatsoever?

What about what we believe scientifically? If you are born in a third world jungle that is pre-scientific, you might think the sun goes around the Earth and that evolution is bogus. You’re much less likely to think that if you are born in America. If you are born in Alaska as an Eskimo, you’re much more likely to think that blubber of sea animals is part of a healthy diet. We could go on and on.

We have the quote of Tertullian on how it is to be believed because it is absurd, but it is bizarre to think that Tertullian was opposed to evidence. His claim was rather that this is believed because no one would make up something this ridiculous. It was a turnaround on Marcion thinking that the claim was ridiculous.

Zuersher also says that according to John, Jesus was with the disciples for three years and yet needed better evidence to believe in the resurrection and asks “Do we not deserve equally compelling evidence?” Well, no. Why should you? What is so special about Zuersher that he deserves a personal appearance from the Almighty? (One is sure he’d chalk it up as a hallucination anyway.) Zuersher instead discounts the account as hearsay, despite the claim being from an eyewitness in John 21, something Bauckham makes a compelling case for in Jesus and the Eyewitnesses. (Don’t expect Zuersher to go look for counter-evidence. It’ll challenge his faith too much.)

Zuersher also says faith is a problem because it elevates belief over conduct. As long as you believe, that’s all that matters. Has he never read the book of James?! Has he never read the condemnations of wicked practice in Paul, the one who would be seen as the great apostle of faith? In fact, Zuersher in this very section quotes James and yet ignores what he says about works and faith together. Zuersher paints apologists as saying that no one is good enough, which is true, but then that means that good and bad conduct don’t really matter. Where is the apologist that is arguing this please Zuersher? Please show him to me.

Zuersher then says that to turn belief into a salvific credential while denying a person’s conduct is morally repugnant. I agree. Would he please point me to the apologist who is saying otherwise? I know hundreds if not thousands of them. I don’t know a single one who would disagree.

Naturally, Zuersher does not understand Pascal’s Wager which he goes after. Pascal is not presenting this to the person as a reason to believe without evidence. He’s talking about the person who’s sitting on the fence and could go either way and just isn’t sure. Pascal says if you’re just not sure and think there’s evidence on both sides, go with Christianity! At least you have a gain there. We see he does not understand this because the wager does not tell you which god or goddess to believe in. It’s not supposed to. It’s for a specific kind of individual in a specific situation. I may not really agree with the wager, but I can easily wager that Zuersher has never read Pascal.

Sometime soon we will return to Zuersher. As one can see, it is difficult to read someone like this who actually thinks he’s informed enough to write a book on the topic.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Seeing Through Christianity Part 6

Is there a problem with revelation? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Christianity is a revealed faith in that some things we know only because God has revealed them to us. In this section, we’ll look at Bill Zuersher try to take on revelation in his train wreck Seeing Through Christianity. If you’ve been with us this far, you know to not expect much.

The first thing he says is one person’s revelation is just as valid as another’s. At any time a new revelation can show up that will overturn the others. It would have been nice of course to see some substance to this claim. All he says is determining the truth is undeniably a political process. Perhaps he should engage in political processes more often then. 1 Thess. 5 in fact tell us to test everything and hold to what is true and it is done in the context of speaking about prophecy.

Zuersher also asks why God would allow competing revelations. Once again, apparently Zuersher is too lazy to bother examining the claims and wants to blame his laziness on God and say “You should have clearly answered me.” Obviously, something like binge watching The Walking Dead is of more importance, or at least taking time to write a book without bothering to understand the substance of what one writes about.

His other solution is God should have made His revelation overwhelmingly true if He wanted people to come freely. Had Zuersher bothered to look at the evidence, maybe he would have found that. If someone will not look for truth, then they cannot expect to find it.

He also says God could have come up with a better technique than books. Apparently, we’re back to the idea of a fairy on one’s shoulder constantly telling them the truth. This would destroy any real seeking of the truth and have one become a Christian just because God is a belligerent nag. Zuersher apparently lives in a world where intellectual assent is the most important thing.

He also says the Bible hardly seems like a stellar book. He says it should be equally accessible to every culture. While I hold to understanding the original culture, without that understanding, one can still grasp the basic message of the Bible. He says the meaning should be unambiguous. Why? Who knows? He says it should remain unchanged over time. Perhaps some looking at textual criticism would have helped him out. As Bart Ehrman says (And no, it is not Barton Ehrman as Zuersher consistently says):

In spite of these remarkable [textual] differences, scholars are convinced that we can reconstruct the original words of the New Testament with reasonable (although probably not 100 percent) accuracy. Bart Ehrman, The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings 3rd ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003), 481.

He also says we would expect consistency. I would argue we do have consistency. The same story is told throughout the Bible of the Kingdom of God coming on Earth based on the ministry of Jesus. He also says it would possess the highest moral and scientific content. While I would say the Bible contains many moral teachings, it also does so starting out from a specific point. A book like Slaves, Women, Homosexuals would have helped Zuersher out. (Unfortunately, research is something he’s not interested in.)

As for scientific truth, why? Seriously. Why? Are we to think Scripture is concerned with turning us into scientists? Zuersher just takes what he thinks is the most important truth and makes it central.

Of course, his favorite way to demonstrate the latter is to point to the fact that the Bible says the Earth is 6,000 years old. Naturally, he will acknowledge there are Old-Earth creationists, but he won’t bother to look at their arguments. It all comes down to “You’re not taking the Bible literally.” It’s amusing to me where we have this idea that because the Bible is Scripture, it’s to be “literal.” What we most often mean is literalistic. No one does that. Like any other literature, the Bible contains metaphor, simile, allegory, hyperbole, satire, sarcasm, figures of speech, irony, etc. We can also be sure that Zuersher won’t bother with the fine work of John Walton on Genesis 1 nor consider scholarship on the genealogies from which he makes his case.

And of course, Zuersher still says the problem is the deity didn’t make Himself clear. I would have to ask again clear to who? There are many cultures and times that we know of. Somehow, something was supposed to be clear to every single person ever? This is quite a stretch.

Naturally, Zuersher has a whole problem with what he calls the supernatural realm. Readers of this blog know I don’t use that term. Zuersher says that if God wanted to make His presence known, He would be successful. He actually says “If such a deity wanted me to know something, I would know it. Period.”

Translation: Since I’m not bothering to do the research and study of a claim, I’m just going to blame my lack of belief on God.

How does Zuersher know this about God? How does he know that God’s great goal is to get people to give him intellectual assent? From whence does he get this knowledge?

As we can expect, Zuersher says that if there were sufficient evidence, we would not need faith. I have written on this in another post. Zuersher will go after faith in another chapter so we will save that for then. He also says the fact is that the God of the Bible does not make himself known to billions of sincere seekers.

I had no idea that atheists were mind readers. This is quite astounding. Somehow, Zuersher knows all these people out there are sincere seekers? People might think they are, but Zuersher is not. Zuersher is one that is demanding that God show Himself on Zuersher’s terms. A sincere seeker will move Heaven and Earth to find the truth and will be willing to sacrifice anything he holds dear for it. In fact, few of us who are Christians would qualify at this point as we all still have little idols in our own hearts.

Still, Zuersher uses this in the end to make his formal argument. If the Christian God existed, He would make Himself known to sincere seekers. He has not done this. Therefore, He does not exist. Doubtless, Zuersher will discount any who say they were sincere seekers and found Christianity to be true. Zuersher looks to be one who blames his own unbelief on anyone else he can, except the person he sees in the mirror.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Deeper Waters Podcast 5/20/2017: Matthew Bates

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

What must I do to be saved? This was the question of the Philippian jailer and yet today, it’s still a debated question. Believe on the Lord Jesus. Okay. What does that mean? What all does it entail? Can you just walk down the aisle and say a prayer one time and boom, you’re good? On the other hand, we don’t want anything legalistic to say you must always be doing XYZ. What of Christians who have a habitual struggle with sin?

A recent book on this topic is by my guest on this week’s episode. The book is called Salvation by Allegiance Alone. It is a look at what it means to believe and how that relates to salvation and what all salvation entails. Is it just about making sure my sins are forgiven or is it something more? The book’s author is my guest coming back for the second time to the show and his name is Matthew Bates. Who is he?

According to his bio:

Matthew W. Bates is Associate Professor of Theology at Quincy University in Quincy, Illinois. Bates holds a Ph.D. from The University of Notre Dame in theology with a specialization is New Testament and early Christianity. His books include Salvation by Allegiance Alone (Baker Academic), The Birth of the Trinity (Oxford University Press, 2015), and The Hermeneutics of the Apostolic Proclamation (Baylor University Press, 2012). He also hosts OnScript, a popular biblical studies podcast.

We’ll be discussing what it means to be saved and what it means to show allegiance. Are there some flaws in our popular evangelism message? Could it be we need something more than tracts and such? Are we lulling people into a false sense of salvation based on saying a prayer one time?

Why also is there so much talk about going to Heaven when we die? To hear many sermons, you would think the whole purpose of salvation was to make sure that people get to go to Heaven when they die. Is it? What purpose does this world serve in understanding salvation?

And what about our nature? What does it mean when we are said to be in the image of God? How does creation affect our final reality? Is this world a lost cause? Are we meant to live in new and glorified bodies forever? When we are in eternity, what kind of activities are we going to be doing? Could it actually be that there is work to do in “Heaven”?

Bates’s book is a fascinating look at an important topic and one I urge you to read. We’ll be discussing what we need to do for salvation and what difference it makes. I hope to also discuss matters related to those who have regular doubts about their salvation. How can we have allegiance and assurance at the same time? Be listening then for the next episode of the Deeper Waters Podcast. Also, please go to ITunes and leave a positive review of the show!

In Christ,
Nick Peters