Why I Don’t Debate Evolution

Is this an issue really worth debating? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Over the weekend, I saw some Christian friends arguing on Facebook about evolution. One is open to it if not supportive of it and the other is skeptical. I have also been reading through Richard Dawkins’s Outgrowing God who seems to be of the opinion that if you prove evolution, then you have put God out of a job.

Here I sit then thankful that I don’t debate the issue at all.

Let’s start with Dawkins. Dawkins regularly in his book when he talks about anything outside of science gets things stupendously wrong. I don’t want to be like that. When I get to the science section of his book, it sounds impressive, but then I think that he really blundered earlier. How do I know he didn’t do the same here? I try to give the benefit of the doubt because this is his area, but it can be difficult.

Yet here I am, someone who has not studied science. Do I want to make the same mistake in the opposite direction? Do I want to risk saying embarrassing things about science in a way that when it comes time to the areas I do know something about that people will not listen to me?

Keep in mind this is me saying this is what works for me. If you are someone who has studied science seriously and reads both sides, I have no problem if you want to debate evolution really. I think there are better areas to debate, but I’m not going to stop you.

But what about Genesis? For Genesis, I go with John Walton’s interpretation. In this one, Genesis is not describing the formation of creation in material terms, but in terms of function. It is telling how everything works together in the making of sacred space. The days can then be literal because this is just God making declarations over what He has made.

As it stands then, I have no hill to die on. My worldview then does not depend on modern science. Evolution is true? Cool. I move on. Evolution is false? Cool. I move on.

In my opinion, both Christians and atheists who think evolution is the dealbreaker are misinformed. For one thing, none of this has impact on if Jesus rose from the dead. At the most, it can damage inerrancy. The case for the resurrection of Jesus does not depend on Genesis.

It’s also sad that in some sense, atheists are right when they say we have God of the gaps and science keeps filling in those gaps. The early scientists who were Christians did their science to see how God did something. It was not assumed that He had to do something a particular way and if He didn’t, then He didn’t exist.

Let’s take our own formation. We all believe thanks to Psalms that we are fearfully and wonderfully made and the Psalmist says we are knit together in our mother’s womb. At the same time, many of us do not balk at the idea that we are formed through a process of gestation that takes place in nine months and don’t think this means God micromanages our DNA. God can still form us and a natural process can be involved.

Why not with our original creation?

Also, the existence of God is not on scientific terms, since science can never prove or disprove something immaterial. It’s in the area of metaphysics and here the question goes deeper. It is the question of existence itself. What does it mean to be? It’s not just how the universe came into being, but how does the universe stay in being? What about goodness, truth, and beauty? Where do they come from?

These are questions that are not scientific necessarily, aside from perhaps how the universe came to be. The rest are philosophical questions and God is something that can be studied through philosophy. This is where the real battle lies.

Furthermore, I get concerned that we could be keeping up a stereotype of science vs. religion. This is a big problem I have with Dawkins’s book. At the end, he can describe things like starlings in flight or chameleons catching insects with their tongues or anything like that. I read it and think “How marvelous the way God’s creation works.” Why? Because God is largely in my background knowledge and I see no contradiction between evolution and God.

Thus, if God is in that knowledge and I have no problem with evolution, I, like many others, will interpret knowledge I gain through the lens of what I already hold on what I at least think are good grounds. There are plenty of people who will not think that way, but religion is a deeply important part of their lives.

For those who have science as their background and are atheistic, this will get them to think science and religion are opposed, but the problem is a number of religious people could think the same way. Dawkins could wind up driving people away from science.

The reality is if you pit these two against each other, people will gravitate towards the one that means the most to them. Jesus means a lot more to a lot more people than, say, knowing how far away the Crab Nebula is from us. They will accept science on basic things, but not on things that really challenge their thinking.

My philosophy now on it is to just stay out of it. I do not know the field well enough to debate it and I could make blunders that would undermine me in other areas. It also does not impact my position on Genesis or Christianity at all. Once again, if you know the science and you think you can give someone a door to Christianity, have at it. God bless you. If you are not a scientist though or someone who seriously studies it, be careful about debating such a topic.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Pulling Back The Green Curtain Part 6

What more is in Hall’s book? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Hall has Jesus appearing to the twelve disciples, but thankfully, Hall is there to point out an error no one noticed. There weren’t twelve! Judas had already killed himself! We should all appreciate Hall is here to give us his brilliant wisdom and point out something no one has ever noticed or written about.

The restaurant Five Guys was originally based on a husband and his four sons (His wife was there, but the guys were given prominence). A couple of years after that, a fifth son was born. Did anyone note the name being changed to Six Guys? Nope. If two of them died, would it be Four Guys? The name is still the same, just like the Big Ten Conference no longer has ten. The name, the Twelve, just came to refer to the circle of Jesus’s own direct apostles.

Hall also tells us that civilizations have been around for 14,000 years. Granting that, how is it that they thrived without Moses telling them murder was wrong? If that wasn’t the point, why the Ten Commandments?

Yes. This is apparently where popular atheistic thinking is today.

The Ten Commandments did not reveal new moral principles. They were already known. They were just founding wisdom for guiding a people, not necessarily on moral issues, though that would be included. These were a sort of agreement the people would live by. It wasn’t that the morality was new and even in the New Testament, such as in Romans 2, it’s known that you don’t need the Law to know right from wrong.

He uses Zechariah 14:12 to say any nation that attacks Jerusalem will face drought and its people will become zombies. It’s certainly a bizarre interpretation, but it doesn’t fit. It’s an apocalyptic message using rich symbolic imagery and it refers to a specific people at a specific time in a specific situation and not for all time.

He then has something to say about substitutionary atonement. This is the most immoral and wicked doctrine to think that someone else can pay for the sins of another. It’s more than just paying sins, but taking on the shame and facing the shame. It strikes me that if God did nothing, He would be condemned for not dealing with the problem. Now He deals with the problem, but it’s just not liked how He did it. How horrible that someone takes on a punishment for us so we don’t have to! Wicked!

Also, it’s said that God shouldn’t have waited 200,000 years. Apparently, Hall has this idea that the atonement only applies to people afterward. Again, this is how little Hall has really studied Christianity.

Hall also looks at the story in Ezekiel 23 of the two sisters. He knows it’s an allegory, but he thinks it’s a pretty disgusting story. Okay. And? Is the Bible supposed to meet Hall’s personal sensitivities? Saying you’re offended by a passage says nothing about if that passage should be there or not.

He says Lot’s daughters got him drunk so they could rape him and have sons. Yes. They did. And? The Bible records how depraved they were and how two of Israel’s future opponents came about. The point?

Hall says that miracles also ceased once the camera came around and yet they became more common when photoshop came about. No data is given to support this. No interaction is given with Keener’s work, especially since his miracles take place in areas where cameras and photoshop aren’t as common.

He asks if you could stop someone from raping someone, would you? If so, you are more moral than God. This is just the problem of evil. Does Hall want Jesus to be Johnny on the Spot stopping every single instance of evil whatsoever? Don’t expect Hall to again heed any philosophy on the problem of evil.

He says Rome did not allow the bodies of the crucified to be removed. This is true, except in Palestine. Why? Romans were sensitive to Jewish purity laws and that would include the treatment of the dead, even the crucified dead. He says only one crucified corpse has been found. Granted that, lo and behold, it was in the Palestine area. When peacetime was going on between Rome and Jerusalem, Jerusalem was allowed to observe its laws.

Hall tells us that Mark was the first one written and the others copied Mark after that and the resurrection was hearsay and the last twelve verses were added a century later. Again, Hall does not read scholarship. He only needed to consult the agnostic Bart Ehrman on this one. This is from Jesus Before The Gospels. Ehrman says this in the endnotes on 280, but the link is to p. 226.

It is sometimes said that Mark does not have a resurrection narrative since the final twelve verses (16:9–20) are lacking in our best and earliest manuscripts. It is true that Mark appears to have ended his Gospel with what is now 16:8, but that does not mean that he lacks an account of Jesus’s resurrection. Jesus is indeed raised from the dead in Mark’s Gospel, as the women visiting the tomb learn. What Mark lacks is any account of Jesus appearing to his disciples afterward; in this, it is quite different from the other three canonical Gospels.

He also says Jesus said He came to bring fire to the Earth in Luke 12 and how He wishes it was kindle. No doubt, Hall reads this as a literalist thinking Jesus wanted to have an actual flamethrower or nuke the planet. This is more likely speaking in terms of revolution and bringing about the Kingdom of God. There’s no reason to really think it’s about torching the planet.

He has a question about how many of the Biblical writers met Jesus face to face. The options are zero, 4, at least 12, or at least 40. His answer is in the notes to that question.

(A) Zero. Remember that cognitive dissonance I was talking about? Yeah, you’re probably feeling it right now. Time to fact-check me.

Yeah. It is, because Hall provides no source whatsoever for that one. How about talking to Richard Bauckham of Jesus and the Eyewitnesses? I personally went to Emory University once looking through commentaries on Mark. Most scholars agree that Mark is the testimony of Peter who, check me if I’m wrong, but I think Peter knew Jesus face to face. The author of John also likely was an eyewitness or used an eyewitness. Perhaps we could also ask how many people Plutarch wrote about did he meet face to face?

It’s interesting that the next item he gives is about how the writers were anonymous. So were the writings of Plutarch. The point? As E.P. Sanders says about it,

The authors probably wanted to eliminate interest in who wrote the story and to focus the reader on the subject. More important, the claim of an anonymous history was higher than that of a named work. In the ancient world an anonymous book, rather like an encyclopedia article today, implicitly claimed complete knowledge and reliability. It would have reduced the impact of the Gospel of Matthew had the author written ‘this is my version’ instead of ‘this is what Jesus said and did.’  – The Historical Figure of Jesus by E.P. Sanders page 66.

Don’t expect Hall to acknowledge this. It would have required he actually research something. He says the vast majority of scholars say Mark did not write Mark. My personal research disagreed. I would like very much to see what scholars he consulted since so far, his work indicates the number is likely zero.

He also gives a personal favorite of mine saying Jesus would return within a lifetime and He didn’t. The citation is in Matthew 24 with the this generation passage. Sorry Hall, but Jesus said nothing about a return. He was talking about His coming and He referenced Daniel. Daniel has the Son of Man approaching the Ancient of Days. He’s going up, not down. This is about Jesus’s coming meaning His coming to take His throne. The disciples would not have asked about His return since they had no concept of that. They didn’t think He was going to die in Jerusalem let alone rise again, leave, and then return. Jesus’s prophecy, which included the destruction of the temple, happened exactly as He said it would.

His next objection is

Religion is based on supernatural phenomena, beings, forces and miracles. The supernatural cannot be scientifically scrutinized because if science could detect it, it would cease to be supernatural and instead become natural. Unfortunately for science, religion can never be verified. Fortunately for theists, religion can never be falsified.

This is really an odd paragraph. For one thing, supernatural is never defined, which is another reason it’s a term I don’t use. He also has an implicit scientism here that unless something is scientific, it cannot be shown to be verifiable. This isn’t the case at all. Scientific truth is reached inductively. It goes by probabilities and the science we have today could be junk tomorrow. Some things are much more likely than others. One could say science can’t be falsified because for many claims, there are variables one could cite that explain why this just isn’t so.

Next he quotes Bart Ehrman to say Jesus is not mentioned in any Roman or Greek Non-Biblical source (I wasn’t aware there were Greek and Roman Biblical sources) until 80 years after His death.

“In the entire first Christian century, Jesus is not mentioned by a single Greek or Roman historian, religion scholar, politician, philosopher or poet. His name never occurs in a single inscription. It is never found in a single piece of private correspondence. Zero, Zip references.”

You really wish these guys would go to the original source. Prior to that, he tells us that there’s no doubt the historical Jesus is the most important person in the history of western civilization. There is no doubt of that at all in his opinion. Why does Hall leave this out?

He gives us Justin Martyr’s idea of diabolical mimicry wanting the reader to ask if the devil reading the prophecies about Jesus and attempting to fulfill them in false religions is a reliable argument. No. It’s not. The irony though is that Justin is not trying to explain away similarities. He’s doing the opposite! He’s trying to point them out and say to his audience, “We don’t believe shameful things because you believe similar.” Why are they similar? Because of the attempt by the devil to mimic. Again, not persuasive, but it’s not said for the reasons Hall thinks.

He then tells us about how vast the universe is and asks “Do you really think it was done with your insignificant self in mind?” Well, no. I think it was done with the glory of God in mind. We still needed a place to live in it. Whether it’s necessary or not scientifically, I leave that to the scientists. Again though, I suspect we have a case where Hall would claim victory in anything. If we had a universe teeming with life, the argument would be “See? There’s life everywhere. We’re not special.” Since we have the opposite as far as we know it is “See? We’re it. That argues against theism.” It’s a bad argument when you could make a case either way for you to win.

He brings up Jesus saying His disciples didn’t wash their hands. Couldn’t Jesus have mentioned basic sanitation? Um, Hall, The water likely back then wasn’t really pure and pristine. They didn’t have our soap and dishwashing detergent like we do today. Why should Jesus bring up something like this that would only apply thousands of years in the future?

He cites 2 John 9-11 to say you are not allowed to invite atheists into your house. Again, Hall does no study. The passage then is about a house church and how you shouldn’t allow a non-believer to be given a teaching position in your house church. It says nothing about having friends come over who are non-believers.

He cites Leviticus 21 saying handicapped people aren’t allowed in the assembly of the Lord. This is about the temple. Also, no non-Levites were allowed to enter and only the High Priest could enter the Holy of Holies and only once a year. Why? Because this was supposed to image Jesus, the perfect lamb of God. Those with disabilities could freely eat of the offerings given though. This means they, like all others, can partake of the blessings of God.

He goes to Deuteronomy 22:23-29 about a woman marrying her rapist. Even another atheist has taken this one to task. Again, don’t expect Hall to have studied the text. That requires too much work. Outrage works so much better.

We’ll continue another time.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Should The Word Of God Be Clear?

Should the Bible always be easy to understand? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

There are two people that are exactly opposite in their outlooks. These will be your usual run of the mill atheist who thinks everything in the Bible is a bunch of nonsense. On the opposite side is your average fundamentalist Christian who thinks everything in the Bible is true. These two have something in common normally.

They both think that if the Bible is the Word of God, it will be clear.

And clear, what does that mean? Well, it means that they as a modern Western 21st century reader should understand the text. One difference might be the latter group thinks all you need is the Holy Spirit and you can understand the text.

Sadly, this idea is never really questioned. An interesting point about this is that this is not a historical objection to Christianity. It’s a theological objection. Yes. Even an atheist has a theology. If you have some ideas about what God should be like if He exists, you have a theology.

Why should this be true? Isn’t it rather arrogant of us to think that the God of the universe should write a book thousands of years ago that would be geared directly towards our time? Shouldn’t it be understandable more by the people of the very time reading it?

But isn’t God supposed to transcend cultures? Isn’t His truth for all people?

Yes. Of course. However, not all cultures are identical nor will they be. All cultures have a different idea of what clear is. What is clear to us might not be clear to a 16th century Japanese person.

If we look at the Bible, even Jesus speaking in His own time was not clear to His contemporaries. In 1 Peter, we’re told that angels longed to understand what was being prophesied in the Bible. The prophets themselves did not know for certain what it was that they were saying would happen. They were just the messengers.

Why would God do things this way? Why would He not make it easy?

Maybe because easy isn’t the goal. God doesn’t want us to treat Him like an answer to a trivia game. God wants us to treat Him as a person that is worth knowing. Consider you’re walking down the street as a single person and you think you see the most awesome person of the opposite sex. If you really want that person, you know what you will do? You will work to pursue them and win their heart and it might not be easy, but if you want the prize, you will do it.

Job speaks about wisdom and when it does, it starts with talking about a place where precious metals like silver are mined. If you want those metals, you have to work hard for them. Most anything we really want in life we have to work for. If you want to be physically fit, you have to work out at a gym. If you want to be a scholar, you have to work to get a Ph.D. If you want to be even good at a video game, you have to work really hard at it.

If something is easy to come by, it’s nothing really worthwhile for the most part. Even in marriage, if a man wants to have a “lucky” evening with his wife, he knows he has to put forward effort on his part, which might be washing the dishes or cleaning a toilet or anything else. If he values the prize, he will do the work.

Often, it’s as if atheists think God just wants to convince them of His existence, but that’s treating Him like a trivia game. If that’s not His goal, it’s not a surprise that He doesn’t just suddenly appear before people. I think He’s much more like many of us who want to be wanted. We want someone to want us because of who we are. No one likes to feel used.

If we want to understand Scripture then, we might just have to work on it. That’s not the case for everything in Scripture. Some messages I think are simple. Not all are. Many of them have several complexities to them that we don’t immediately grasp. If we care about truth, we will do the work.

If an atheist thinks that God should be clear, it’s up to them to back that. God never encourages laziness in Scripture. It’s up to them to show why He would outside of Scripture.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Contextualizing Inerrancy

What’s the new resource at Deeper Waters? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

What is inerrancy? It’s a question that normally if you ask ten evangelicals you’ll get eleven opinions. An even more controversial question would be what counts as going against inerrancy? There’s also the problem that today, the inerrancy of Scripture is often equated with the inerrancy of interpretation.

In a new resource available just recently, my ministry partner, J.P. Holding of Tektonics.org, and I look at the question of inerrancy. The book is called Contextualizing Inerrancy and you can find it here. The goal of the book is to go further than our Defining Inerrancy and include some real scholarly interaction.

What we do in this work is not just look at the topic of inerrancy, but see what some scholars say by reviewing their work on the topic. There are many people that don’t just disagree with someone’s interpretation on a particular text, but contend that by taking on that interpretation, that person has denied inerrancy. Most notably is the case of Norman Geisler going after Mike Licona. (And for those who don’t know, possible bias on my part is that Mike is my father-in-law.)

Those of us who are contextualizers do not believe that the text can be fully divorced from the context. This includes not just the Biblical context, but the social context. There are a number of remarks I could say to my wife that would grant her and me instant laughter. Most everyone else would not understand them. Why? Because there is a background knowledge known between the two of us that explains the context.

We hold that the Biblical writers also lived in a culture where they did not have to explain the culture. We do not live in that culture and we have to do the work to find out about it. While this includes studying the original languages, it goes beyond that. It looks at archaeology and other writings of the time to find out what life was like. We use all of this to inform our interpretation. How can study of the Biblical text be damaged by studying the world of the Bible?

With this, we look at evangelical scholars today and the work that they’re doing to see how that helps with the question. Our goal is to help Christians have a more refined look at Scripture and in the end, we hope you’ll walk away with a greater appreciation for the Bible. After all, anyone can pick up a book and find something about it to criticize, and many people are doing just that, but few will sadly bother to take the time to actually really study and see if their criticisms are accurate.

I really hope you’ll go and partake of this resource and share it with a friend as well. Christmas is here and this could be a great gift for someone as well. We appreciate every copy that you buy and we also hope that you’ll leave a positive review.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

 

Book Plunge: The Battle for the Bible

What do I think of Harold Lindsell’s book published by Zondervan? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

While this book is about 40 years old, it still has an impact today. Many inerrantists point to it to see the dangers of denying inerrancy. While I do see myself as an inerrantist, I do not hold the position dogmatically. I certainly don’t put all my eggs in that basket. If I am wrong on inerrancy, then I am wrong. It does not change Christianity.

The sad fact is that many inerrantists seeking to defend inerrancy are actually damaging inerrancy. Lindsell says in the book that he does not know of anyone abandoning their faith over inerrancy nor anyone who says that if there is one error in the Bible, we can’t trust any of it. Perhaps this was true in his day, but it no longer is. I see comments like this regularly from atheists. I meet many who think that if they refute inerrancy, they refute Christianity. Take David McAfee’s Disproving Christianity as an example. The whole book for the most part is just listing Bible contradictions as if this does the job. The resurrection of Jesus is nowhere dealt with.

This is not to say that you should not be an inerrantist. It’s to say that you need to have all your beliefs lined up properly so you know the foundation. Many would seem to want to argue that the Bible is inerrant and therefore Jesus rose from the dead. I would prefer to start with the foundation being that Jesus rose from the dead and then try to argue from His case if anything that the Bible is inerrant. The case won’t be reached with deductive certainty, but I find it a lot stronger.

Lindsell in the book goes through much of the history. This could be all valid. I do not know nor am I concerned about that. Lindsell does want to say that when one denies inerrancy, the other pillars of the faith come tumbling down. Unfortunately, it looks like future generations will have to establish that. Do some walk away? Yes. However, some can hold to inerrancy and still deny essentials of the faith. Jehovah’s Witnesses come to mind as an example. Do we think every heretic of the past was denying inerrancy?

There are times statements will show up in the book as if they are awful, and yet I want to see the greater context. Lindsell also seems to combine dispensationalism and/or futurism with inerrancy, which I find to be a problematic position and one reason I have a problem with ICBI as I see the deck stacked there in favor of dispensationalism.

There is also just the whole problem about replying to higher Biblical criticism and scholarship. If we can’t answer it, then maybe instead of just buckling our heels together and saying the text is inerrant, we need to do our own research. It’s almost as if people like Lindsell don’t think the Bible really can stand up to this scrutiny so we need to say that it’s inerrant. That won’t answer the questions. Hard questions need to be answered.

If we really believe the Bible, then we need to see that you can apply to it the same tests you’d apply to any other ancient document and see if it upholds. If inerrancy cannot stand up to scrutiny, then ditch it. Of course, I say this knowing that just because an immediate answer isn’t present doesn’t mean it never will be, but it would be fair to say of a claimed contradiction, “This is a tough problem and I guess we have to do more research.”

The problem for our age today is inerrancy has become a code word, a shibboleth of sorts that must be adhered to or else here come out the hounds of heresy. At the same time, many young people have married their faith to inerrancy. If there is one contradiction in the Bible, then throw it out. The same has happened with young-earth creationism. This isn’t to say that either of those positions is false, but it is to say we need to see what Christianity really relies on.

Also, Lindsell does sad at times dealing with the contradiction claims. Some of them are quite simplistic and they don’t require much, but the really problematic one is about how many times Peter denies Jesus before the cock crows. In the end, Lindsell has Peter denying Jesus six times. Fanciful interpretations like this do no service to inerrancy.

In conclusion, Lindsell does get a battle starting, but could this battle have far more casualties than intended? Instead of pointing to the dangers one sees if a position is denied, how about going more and more to show the best way to approach scholarship and how to do research? Such a work forty years ago would have done much more good than what we have here.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Does Evolution Destroy Christianity?

If evolution is true, is Christianity in trouble? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

As readers know, I am a layman in the sciences. Much of the material is fascinating and I like the history and the philosophy, but I do not discuss how it is done. I am not trained in that area and I respect the field too much to speak about it where I don’t know.

This is also why when it comes to evolution, I do not say yea or nay either way. I am not a scientist so who am I to speak? For this, I actually owe the new atheists some thanks. When I saw how badly they botched areas that they hadn’t bothered to really understand, it got me to realize I needed to make sure I don’t do the same thing to be consistent.

I also got much of this doing some research in seminary on the relationship between science and Christianity. I found that many of the theistic arguments we use today are dependent on science, yet people were making strong theistic arguments before the rise of science. Could it possibly be a danger to marry an argument for theism or an interpretation of Scripture to a particular scientific viewpoint? What happens if that science changes? Besides, is this the way the ancients read it?

Genesis had been something I had a hard time understanding. If this isn’t a scientific account, how should it be understood? You see, I think in our modern age we are so scientific that we read science into everything. John Walton was the one who cleared away the chaos for me and allowed me to see it in a whole new light.

I have thought about this for years now and arrived at the position I am at. I can still hold to inerrancy, though I do not see it as an essential, and still hold to a historical Adam and Eve, though I question them being the only humans alive at the time, and still hold to all the essentials of Christianity. It’s not a big deal to me then. I can go to an atheist and grant them evolution and ask them then to tell me their real arguments against theism or Christianity. The Thomistic arguments had become the best arguments for my theism and those do not rely on modern science at all.

I have said that if I woke up tomorrow and saw a headline that said, “National Academy of Sciences Now Convinced Evolution is Pseudo-Science” I would say “Cool” and move on. On the other hand, if I saw one that said “Southern Baptist Convention Now Convinced Evolution Must Be Accepted As Fact” I would say “Cool” and move on. I really mean it. The resurrection and theism are still the same.

Imagine then my delight in seeing someone post in the Unbelievable? forum on Facebook that evolution destroys the Adam and Eve myth and thus invalidates Christianity. There is so much wrong with this that it’s hard to know where to begin. This is something that is the case of two fundamentalisms arguing against one another.

Two fundamentalisms? How is that so? Simple. A fundamentalist Christian and a fundamentalist atheist. Let’s look at how both of them have approached the text and the issue.

Believe that it must be either evolution or creation and not somehow both? Check.

Believe that the text must be interpreted literalistically? Check.

Believe that the text is best understood by what a modern individual reader in the West would think today about the text? Check.

Believe that Genesis must be a scientific account? Check.

Believe that Adam and Eve must absolutely be historical? Check.

Believe that even if they are, they must absolutely be the only human beings alive? Check.

Believe that Christianity has to necessarily have inerrancy? Check.

Believe that one problem in a text invalidates all of it? Check.

Believe that somehow the resurrection of Jesus is called into question if there is a problem with Adam and Eve? Check.

Believe that there’s no need to read any scholarship on the Bible to better understand it? Check.

The only difference between these two is really their conclusion. It’s not their methodology.

I have a problem also with a theology also that says that the only way God can be God is if He creates by divine fiat. This is often God-of-the-gaps. If another way is found, then somehow God is out of a job, as if God’s only role is to create. It’s almost as if you’d think that the Bible has nothing to say about God having a sustaining role in the universe in constantly holding all things together by His power.

Let’s use another Biblical example. Conception and birth. The Bible says that I am fearfully and wonderfully made. The ancients knew as well as we do that sex makes babies. This is not in dispute. They knew the basics, but there’s no doubt we know a whole lot more about the process and what goes on inside the womb than they ever did. If you hold to a traducian concept as well, then you hold that the soul of the child comes from the parents as well somehow. This means that you can have a birth take place without God directly intervening at any step of the process.

Does that mean that we are not fearfully and wonderfully made? Not at all. It just means the way we thought we were fearfully and wonderfully made might have been inaccurate at one point.

Let’s also consider that the case for the resurrection does not depend on Adam and Eve. You still have all this data for the resurrection of Jesus that you have to explain. You might have to change your interpretation of passages like Romans 5 some, but it’s not a defeater.

I have met some who say that if there is no Adam and Eve, then there is no original sin. If no original sin, no need for the atonement. If no need for the atonement, no need for Jesus’s death. If no need for Jesus’s death, then Christianity is false.

Well, let’s suppose that there was no Adam and Eve. I don’t agree, but let’s go for the sake of argument. I don’t need them to know the reality of sin. I just need to turn on the evening news. Unless you can convince me that humanity is living in a world where everyone acts perfectly, my argument still stands. This is not a defeater.

As for Genesis, part of the reality of learning to interpret a text is to realize that your first natural reading might not be the proper one. It could be, but you need to establish that. This is especially so with a text from another culture, time, place, and language.

Let’s also remember that there are several devout Christians out there that accept evolution and are thoroughly orthodox and sincerely love Jesus. In this debate within Christianity often, one’s orthodoxy and commitment to Christ and Scripture should not be called into question without cause. A different interpretation does not mean you are a better Christian than someone else.

As I said at the start, I am not saying at all that evolution is true. I am just saying it doesn’t matter to me. If you are a Christian and you want to argue against evolution, God bless you, but I give this advice. Make your argument a thoroughly scientific one. If evolution falls, let it fall because it is shown to be bad science. If you’re someone who doesn’t know how to do something like work out a Punnett Square, you really have no basis arguing against evolution. If you make it the Bible vs. science, you will not convince anyone unless they are already convinced the Bible is reliable. You won’t find atheists like that.

None of this is to say Genesis or any part of the Bible is unimportant, but remember the foundation of Christianity is in new creation. It’s the resurrection of Jesus. Go there to establish Christianity.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: The Jesus Crisis

What do I think of David Farnell and Robert Thomas’s book published by Kregel Academic? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

In The Jesus Crisis, we have a look at a book oft-cited in the Inerrancy debates. I had heard a lot of negative statements about this book, but I decided to go in with an open mind. Some things starting off aren’t so bad. There is some serious questioning of the two-source hypothesis and since I’m skeptical of Q as a source, I have no problem with this. I do agree with the authors that when we look at the authorship and writing of the Gospels, we do need to take the church fathers seriously. Certainly, they’re not infallible, but we don’t need to ignore them.

I was also surprised to see David Farnell’s style of arguing in this. In many of his writings, he has often looked as one in a hysterical panic. This was a side that was much more reasonable and measured and the kind that I would have preferred to have seen more often.

Ultimately, insofar as we’re talking about the origins of the Gospels and looking at various forms of criticism, I could agree with some matters. I wonder what the editors would think of Richard Bauckham talking about the death of form criticism. That being said, the further one gets in the book, the more there are areas of concern.

The problem often is that Inerrancy is taken as the starting presupposition and while the writers make an effort to knock down historical methodologies of today, which is fine if they want to do that, they give nothing in the place of how history should be done. The only way seems to be with starting off with the idea that the Bible is the Word of God. Of course, while from a confessional statement I would agree with that, I do not start that way. After all, why start with that book instead of the Qur’an or the Book of Mormon?

There is also a fixation on what Michael Bird would call the American Inerrancy Tradition. (AIT) This goes with the perspicuity of Scripture in that everything should be plain. The question is why should we think this? Peter wrote in 2 Peter (If you think he wrote it) that there were many things in Paul’s letters which were hard to understand. This shouldn’t surprise us. Not everything in Scripture is clear.

Also, the writers insist that we have to have the exact words of Jesus. Why should we? It’s possible that Jesus spoke Greek, but it could be less likely that the common populace spoke Greek and if they did, then one wonders why Matthew would write out a form of Matthew in Aramaic. If he wrote a Gospel in Aramaic and one in Greek, he obviously had to translate some words. One could say some things could have been said on multiple occasions. It is doubtful that Jesus only gave a great parable one time.

However, some things were only said one time. What did Jesus say when He was on trial and when He was on the cross? How many times did Jesus give the Great Commission? If Matthew wrote a Gospel with both of these, one text at best would have the exact words. The other would have a translation. Also, paraphrase would not be a problem since even in the Old Testament, Deuteronomy 5 gives a paraphrase of the Ten Commandments which were said to be written by the finger of God.

The writers may think it puts us in a panic state to not have Jesus’s exact words, but it really doesn’t. I also don’t think historical scholarship is in fact destroying the testimony of Scripture. I would contend the more we are doing good historiography, the more we are affirming Scripture. If one is scared to put sound historical methodology to use for Scripture, could it be one is scared of the outcome?

The saying has been that you treat Scripture like every other book to show that it is like no other book. I am not scared of applying the methodology of history to Scripture. If one wants to show a method is invalid, they need to show it and do so without question begging.

Ultimately, had we just had something like say the first half, this book could have been fine, but the more one gets into the text, the more one sees the panic button being pushed. What if? What if? What if? If one is worried that research of some kind could disprove Scripture, it says little about the Scriptures. It says a lot about them.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

Is The Bible Literally True?

Should we take the Bible literally? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Someone sent me an article from the Huffington Post recently on if the Bible is literally true. The article is by a Steve McSwain who is described as a speaker, author, counselor to congregations, Ambassador to the Councilor on the Parliament for World’s Religions, and Spiritual Teacher. No academic credentials are listed. He does also describe Christianity as his faith so he claims at some level to be a Christian.

He does say at the start that while he values the Bible, he doesn’t believe it to be divinely dictated or a sacred text without error. I don’t know any evangelical today who really holds to the dictation theory. No doubt, there are some in the rank and file who do, but not the majority.

He goes on to say that if you are a Biblical literalist, that this bothers you. You believe that everything must be literal and it must be error-free. At this, I have a problem. What is meant by literal? It’s a term that’s often used and yet few people really define it. Most people do not think Jesus is literally a door or a vine when He uses that language.

Sadly, McSwain is probably accurate when some people think that if they risk undermining the text or questioning it, they could undermine all of it. Everything goes out the window then. This is the all-or-nothing thinking that many Christians do have and amusingly, many skeptics have that as well. I recall one person on Unbelievable? asking a guest on the show that if the Bible doesn’t agree with how Judas died, then how can we trust that Jesus was crucified?

McSwain goes to the flood accounts and says that they obviously contradict. He points to the differences between verses 2 and 15 of chapter 7. Let’s go and look at what they say.

Verse 2: Take with you seven pairs of every kind of clean animal, a male and its mate, and one pair of every kind of unclean animal, a male and its mate

Verse 15: Pairs of all creatures that have the breath of life in them came to Noah and entered the ark.

Look. I know that there are possible claims of contradictions and such, but this is not a good one. All that is said in verse 15 is pairs came. It doesn’t specify how many and how many of each kind came. In that case, give the benefit of the doubt to the author instead.

He goes on to say that,

The real Moses never wielded a staff with supernatural powers, the tip of which, when dipped into the Nile, turned the river into a cesspool of blood. Or, when dipped into the Red Sea, caused it to part so Israelites could pass to the other side on dry, not muddy, ground.

None of these Biblical stories, including the ones where Jesus is depicted as defying the laws of nature and performing miracles… as in, walking on water or giving sight to the blind or, most amazingly, raising dead people back to life were recorded as factual, or literal, eyewitness accounts. And, even if they were, they cannot be depicted as such today, if you want any of it to be believed… to be respected… or, to be read with any seriousness.

For the sake of argument, this could be true, but the problem is McSwain gives us no reason to believe any of this. I also have to wonder what kind of Christian he is if he denies any miracles at all. Again, McSwain’s case could hypothetically be right, but he has given us no reason to think so, that is, unless you just come out and agree that miracles don’t happen, but that is the very thing under question.

As for the idea of eyewitness accounts, it would be nice to see some interaction with scholarship, such as Richard Bauckham, but we can suspect that won’t happen. Statements of faith are problematic no matter who says it. Unfortunately, mayn people will read McSwain and believe it because, well he’s in the Huffington Post, and do so without any real reason why they should believe it.

What matters to McSwain is how the stories have shaped the lives of those who hear its message. This can sound good, but while it’s great that people have their lives changed, do we want to enforce the Noble Lie? If Christianity is not true, then there is truly no resurrection, no heaven beyond this world, no hell to shun, no forgiveness of sins, no real love of God.

It’s hard to believe that the early church was really excited about that.

McSwain has a watered down faith. Note I have not said he has to embrace inerrancy, but he seems to have just embraced that Christianity is all about being a good person and the truth of the Bible does not matter. If anything, the truth of the Bible matters abundantly. If it is true that God lived among us and that Jesus died and rose again and there is real forgiveness and a heaven to gain and a hell to avoid and eternal life in resurrected bodies, I should think we would want to know it. If it is not true, then who really cares? But if it is true, it matters greatly. As has been said, if Christianity is not true, it is of no importance. If it is true, it is of the utmost importance.

Book Plunge: Five Views on Biblical Inerrancy

What do I think of this book edited by J. Merrick, Stephen Garrett, Stanley Gundry, and published by Zondervan? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

I have been no stranger to the Inerrancy debates and when this book went on sale I decided to get a copy. I like that the book features so much on ICBI (International Council on Biblical Inerrancy) and the CSBI (Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy) that came from it. The authors are all Christians and have different viewpoints.

All are also supposed to write on three problems for Inerrancy. The first is the conquest of Jericho. The second is the different accounts of the conversion of Paul. The third is the God of peace in the NT versus the God of the conquest in the OT.

Albert Mohler has the first essay. I am convinced that easily this was the worst of the lot. Mohler treats the CSBI as if it was sent down from heaven above. His argument style is highly fundamentalist. One key example of this is at location 772 in the Kindle version where he says the following:

Archaeologists will disagree among themselves. I am not an archaeologist, and I am not qualified to render any adequate archaeological argument. The point is that I do not allow any line of evidence from outside the Bible to nullify to the slightest degree the truthfulness of any text in all that the text asserts and claims. That statement may appear radical to some readers, but it is the only position that is fully true and trustworthy. Any theological or hermeneutical method that allows extrabiblical sources of knowledge to nullify the truthfulness of any biblical text assumes, a priori, that the Bible is something less than the oracular Word of God.

This shouldn’t surprise us. In going after Mike Licona for what he said about the resurrection of the saints in Matthew 27, Al Mohler said the following:

What could one possibly find in the Greco-Roman literature that would either validate or invalidate the status of this report as historical fact?

This is one of the things that’s quite wrong with much of our Christian mindset today. We have isolated ourselves off from the outside world and we have read our culture into the text. Mohler is one who has used Inerrancy as a weapon, something Michael Bird has something to say about in his chapter. I agree with Mohler’s conclusion on the truth of Inerrancy, though I do so with the full openness that I could be wrong, but I see no real argument for it.

Next is Peter Enns where I see the exact opposite. Peter Enns has abandoned Inerrancy and sees it as a problem. There is much that he says that is important for us to consider. The difference with Enns is that I like that he actually argued his case. I just don’t agree with his case and thus I reject the conclusion, but I can at least say he put forward an argument.

Michael Bird comes next. Bird writes with a more international perspective where he critiques what he calls the American Inerrancy Tradition. (AIT) Bird reminds us that there are plenty of Christians all over the world who uphold Inerrancy and have never heard of ICBI or CSBI. He also says that it’s amusing that America seeks to tell evangelicals all over the world how to handle the text right while we also produce people like Joel Osteen and Joyce Meyer and the Left Behind novels.

Bird’s essay I found to be one of the best. Bird wants Americans to realize that there is a world outside of the U.S. and we can learn from them. We need to stop reading American thinking into the text. ICBI was hardly an international conference since few if any representatives were there from even certain continents to give their perspective.

Kevin Vanhoozer came next with another great essay. Vanhoozer writes about how to try to get the meaning from the text and recommends we take off our cultural blinders. I really didn’t notice too much of a distinction between Vanhoozer and Bird.

Finally, there’s John Franke. I still don’t know what to think of his essay because it’s really hard to tell what he’s arguing for. He seems to hold to a more coherence view of truth and thus it’s hard to tell what Inerrancy is for him.

The back and forth as always is quite helpful in this. Those who like Bird’s writing style will also be pleased to see he has brought his razor-sharp wit to this one as well. It is my hope that more will follow his and Vanhoozer’s route and get away from AIT. It would be good to see also a new ICBI and have this one be truly international and have certified scholars make up the board entirely. Time will tell if this will happen.

For those interested in the Inerrancy debates, get a copy of this one.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Can Your Christianity Be Disproven?

Are you open to the possibility of being wrong? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Let me state it right at the start. I am not doubting Christianity. I am not writing from a position of doubt. I am convinced that God exists and that Jesus rose from the dead. Despite that, I should always be open to being wrong. This hit home again for me reading Zondervan’s Five Views On Biblical Inerrancy.

Al Mohler has the first chapter and in it, he pretty much equates inerrancy with the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, or CSBI. For Mohler, it seems difficult to imagine inerrancy that does not conform to this statement and if Jesus and Paul or anyone else is an inerrantist, then they would have signed on entirely with the CSBI. That is too much of an assumption I think to make, but a major problem came when I read his response to problem passages that Zondervan asked each person to write on.

In the Kindle version at location 772, I read the following:

Archaeologists will disagree among themselves. I am not an archaeologist, and I am not qualified to render any adequate archaeological argument. The point is that I do not allow any line of evidence from outside the Bible to nullify to the slightest degree the truthfulness of any text in all that the text asserts and claims. That statement may appear radical to some readers, but it is the only position that is fully true and trustworthy. Any theological or hermeneutical method that allows extrabiblical sources of knowledge to nullify the truthfulness of any biblical text assumes, a priori, that the Bible is something less than the oracular Word of God.

Well, yes. This position is very radical. Naturally, if the Bible is inerrant and is true in all it claims and teaches, then if it says X, then X is true. Yet at the same time, if God is the God of reality and has written two books as it were with nature and Scripture, then we should expect that nothing outside of Scripture will contradict Scripture.

The problem is that this is the very claim under question. How do we know the Bible is inerrant? Do we start with that as a presupposition or do we reach it as a conclusion? If we say the former, why do this with the Bible and not the Koran or the Book of Mormon?

Let’s picture Al Mohler in a discussion with a Mormon. This Mormon holds to the position on the Book of Mormon that Mohler holds to on the Bible. Mohler goes and points out many archaeological difficulties with the Book of Mormon. The Mormon does not change his position. Why? Because he says he won’t allow any line of evidence from outside the Book of Mormon to conflict with the Book of Mormon.

Now Mohler goes to a Muslim. The Muslim is convinced that the Koran says that Jesus did not get crucified or die on a cross. Mohler goes to several lines of evidence to show that Jesus was crucified, but the Muslim is unconvinced. After all, no line of evidence outside of the Koran is allowed to contradict the Koran.

Are the Muslim and Mormon being unreasonable here? Yep. The sad thing is, so is Mohler. What is being said is a way of saying the double-theory of truth is true. By this, something could be true in the world outside of the Bible and something else contradictory true in the Bible. May it never be!

This is also one reason why I don’t say something like “Show me the bones of Jesus and I’ll abandon Christianity.” If we were to hypothetically say that Jesus never rose from the dead, it seems strange to think that not only would His bones be here, but that we could tell they were His bones. I instead ask people to give me a better explanation for the rise of the early church than the one that the church itself gave that explains the data agreed to by critical scholars.

If we want to evangelize people, it is disingenuous for us to tell them that they must be ready to abandon their worldview and accept ours upon conflicting evidence, but we are not doing the same. Some might think that that is a risk. It is only a risk if you think that Christianity could be false. If you are convinced you are right, it is not a risk. Even if you turned out to be wrong, you should be thankful. After all, who wants to believe something that is false?

I cannot go with the position of Mohler. I am convinced it is a blind faith and it makes inerrancy the central doctrine when the resurrection is. I believe in the Bible because I believe in the resurrection. I do not believe in the resurrection because I believe in the Bible.

In Christ,
Nick Peters