Book Plunge: God’s Gravediggers Part 3

Does God deserve to die? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

As I keep going through this book, Bradley often looks less and less like an academic and more and more like that little fundamentalist boy who is on a rant. He starts off this chapter with a reference from H.L. Mencken on gods who were omnipotent, omniscient, and immortal, and all are dead now. You can see the list here.

It’s important to note that he says that they are theoretically the attributes I listed. In reality, they were not. That’s a big difference. Many of these gods were limited to one people group and were part of a polytheistic system and thus NOT the omni-qualities. Of course, we could replace the idea of gods with scientific theories and I could say “Look how many theories were believed by so many people in the past and today, they’re dead!” Would that be accepted? No, nor should it. What we have to ask is why these deities “died” and why the deities of religions like the big three monotheisms and various polytheisms live.

Bradley goes on to tell us that supernaturalism is dead. Outside of religious belief, it lives only in those who believe in ghosts, poltergeists, and the like. He refers to these people as credulous. Nothing like poisoning the well is there? Supernaturalism isn’t defined to which I refer the reader to my article on that term.

We can at least be relieved to see that he says that atheism is a term used to describe someone who does not believe in a god, any god. Unfortunately, he goes on from there to use the argument of religious believers being atheists with many gods. He just goes one god further.

“Ladies and gentlemen of the jury. You all believe there are many people in this courtroom who did not commit the murder. I just ask that you look at my client and go one person further!”

He also speaks of a god who tortures non-believers in the fires of Hell. Once again, this is a fundamentalist child on a rant. Most of us trying to take the text as it was intended do not speak of a fiery Hell but rather see that as language of judgment and of shame.

He does say naturalism can be shown to be false. What’s the way to do it? Picture a global apocalypse happening such as how Bradley sees the book of Revelation and that could be evidence. This tells us Bradley is not open to argument demonstrating that theism is true. He will only accept an experience, all the while giving a book of arguments hoping theists will change their mind. Isn’t it interesting? The theist is the one in Bradley’s world who is responsive to evidence and the atheist the one who is responsive to an experience. Who knew?

He asks that if a new problem shows up in the world such as a new virus, where do you put your money? Well, since that is a problem relating to matter specifically and the material world, yes, I look for a scientific solution. What about when it comes to the character of scientists and everyone else for that matter? I look for a theistic solution to that. I see no reason to think science itself has improved our moral character.

It’s not a shock that he brings up the myth of 38,000 denominations in Christianity. Unfortunately, he never really has studied the source for this. Even a Catholic apologist recognizes the problem with it as can be seen here. Bradley is still a fundamentalist who now blindly believes from the other side parallel claims he used to blindly believe as a Christian.

He also says the Bible is supposed to be God’s autobiography. I have no idea where that came from. Was this what he was actually taught?

He naturally talks about literalism and asks that if a passage was meant to be interpreted figuratively, why not put them in an innocuous allegory form in the first place. Yes. It would be absolutely awful to think you have to study the book and actually learn about it. These are the same people that accuse us of wanting easy answers and being anti-intellectual.

He tries to show that the stele referring to David is not what it is thought to be since there are no vowels in the Hebrew script so it might not refer to David, which is very much grasping at straws, and some archaeologists think it’s a forgery. If this is true, he does not tell us who they are. Of course, things get even better when we move to Jesus.

We have the usual questions. Why don’t we know exact dates of events of his life? (Despite us having very good ideas about those claims like we do for many people in the ancient world and of course, it’s ludicrous to think historians of the time would treat a supposedly failed Messiah the way they did the emperor on the throne.) Why didn’t anyone else mention the slaughter of the infants like Josephus? (Why should we think Josephus tells us everything Herod did and a slaughter of a dozen or so infants would be par for the course for Herod.) Why were tales of His life told decades after His death? (Like they were for most everyone else in the ancient world.) Why didn’t He write His own autobiography? (Which hardly anyone did. Most great teachers didn’t even write down their teachings but left it to their students.) Why didn’t any historians of the time write about this God-man? (See my article on why Jesus is not worth talking about here.) Why is He based on so many pagan myths of dying and rising gods? (Because He isn’t as even Bart Ehrman shows in his book Did Jesus Exist?)

He then says he has asked this to several and never got a satisfactory answer. Considering how Bradley acts though, I am not surprised. I consider Jesus Himself could come down from Heaven, smack Bradley in the face, tell him the answers, and Bradley would write it off as a delusion.

He assures us that he is not being eclectic in raising these questions. He then points to his supposed long line of mythicists. I am sure Strauss would be surprised to find himself in that company. He then refers to the prolific D.M. Armstrong Aka Acharya.

Seriously?

Then it ends with a long list of the supposed moral crimes of God in the Bible. If anyone goes through this, just search this blog and you can find many of these addressed. I am more convinced that Bradley does not spend any time really interacting with biblical scholarship. This is a problem. While points Bradley makes in other areas could be valid, I hesitate to trust him because of how shoddy his argumentation is with accepting the great myths of atheism. It should always be remembered that if you want to convince someone, you have to use evidence they will find persuasive and understand that they think their worldview is true. Failing to learn and understand it will only hurt your approach.

In Christ,
Nick Peters
(And I affirm the virgin birth)

Book Plunge: God’s Gravediggers Part 2

Do gods have to compete? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

We’re returning to God’s Gravediggers and looking at chapter 2 on the logical rivalry of the gods. Now Bradley’s main area is philosophy. You would hope that a professor of philosophy would give you something worthwhile. Sadly, that is not the case.

Naturally, you have the whole idea that how can people just believe the religion they were born in happens to be the right one? Well, if a religion is right, then some people will be born into it, and yes, they will be born into the right one. However, you don’t see any interaction with anything like Muslims that are regularly having dreams and visions of Jesus and becoming Christians despite growing up and living in Middle Eastern countries.

There’s also the talk about religion being the cause of war when usually more often, religion becomes an excuse for war. Of course, religion can’t be as peaceful as atheism which never leads to destruction, unless you count Stalin, Mao, and Pol-Pot. I do not count Hitler as an atheist, but I also don’t think World War II was a religious war as in followers of one religion against another.

There is the mention of Pascal’s Wager which is badly misunderstood. It’s a shame that the wager seems to be about the only thing anyone remembers of Pascal. Pascal is giving an argument along the lines of the person who is sitting on the fence between atheism and Christianity. He’s suggesting you try to live out Christianity and see how it works out for you. He’s not talking about someone who is unsure if any religion is true and wants to investigate several of them.

Now after all of this, he does give an interesting lesson on logic and validity and soundness and other such matters. There is little if anything here that is objectionable. If anything, a number of atheists could be helped by getting a crash course in logic.

Unfortunately, then we get back and we get Hume with his Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding. I will quote the section that Bradley quotes in its totality:

“I may add as a fourth reason, which diminishes the authority of prodigies, that there is no testimony for any, even those which have not been expressly detected, that is not opposed by an infinite number of witnesses; so that not only the miracle destroys the credit of testimony, but the testimony destroys itself. To make this the better understood, let us consider, that, in matters of religion, whatever is different is contrary; and that it is impossible the religions of ancient Rome, of Turkey, of Siam, and of China should, all of them, be established on any solid foundation. Every miracle, therefore, pretended to have been wrought in any of these religions (and all of them abound in miracles), as its direct scope is to establish the particular system to which it is attributed; so has it the same force, though more indirectly, to overthrow every other system. In destroying a rival system, it likewise destroys the credit of those miracles, on which that system was established; so that all the prodigies of different religions are to be regarded as contrary facts, and the evidences of these prodigies, whether weak or strong, as opposite to each other. According to this method of reasoning, when we believe any miracle of Mahomet or his successors, we have for our warrant the testimony of a few barbarous Arabians: And on the other hand, we are to regard the authority of Titus Livius, Plutarch, Tacitus, and, in short, of all the authors and witnesses, Grecian, Chinese, and Roman Catholic, who have related any miracle in their particular religion; I say, we are to regard their testimony in the same light as if they had mentioned that Mahometan miracle, and had in express terms contradicted it, with the same certainty as they have for the miracle they relate. This argument may appear over subtile and refined; but is not in reality different from the reasoning of a judge, who supposes, that the credit of two witnesses, maintaining a crime against any one, is destroyed by the testimony of two others, who affirm him to have been two hundred leagues distant, at the same instant when the crime is said to have been committed.”

The whole of this is that every religion seems to have miracles and these miracles contradict one another and thus rule them all out. However, this is simply false. What if I said, “In studying biological evolution on the origin of life, every scientist has a different theory and all these theories are used to argue against the other theories and so no theory is true.” You can be a Christian who fully disbelieves in evolution and still see that as highly invalid.

“Gentlemen of the jury. We have seen many theories put forward today to explain the crime. All of them contradict one another, so there is no reason to believe that my client committed the crime.”

Not only that, but let’s look closer and especially at the big three, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Judaism would certainly want to deny some miracles of Jesus, like the resurrection, if not all miracles, and Islam does acknowledge the miracles of Jesus and many in Judaism, but not the resurrection and sees Muhammad as the final prophet, but Muhammad did no miracles. It is only in the hadiths years later that we have any miracles.

Meanwhile, Christians have no problems with the miracles in the Old Testament and since there are no miracles in Islam in the life of Muhammad, we really have no problem there. We just look at the evidence for Islam and problems in the Qur’an. We also still have the very positive case for the resurrection.

So thus far, color me unpersuaded by Hume’s observations.

Now it should be acknowledged that a general theism can be held by all the religions. In the Middle Ages, Jewish, Christian, and Muslim philosophers could all use arguments like Aristotelian ones to argue for the existence of a deity with such and such attributes. Knowing which deity it is would come down to personal revelation. Not a single one of the five ways of Aquinas establishes Christianity, but they do establish theism and thus refute atheism and they are consistent with Christianity, but also with Judaism and Islam. If one faults the argument for not proving Christianity, then one is faulting an argument for not proving what it was never meant to prove.

He then goes on to talk about the resurrection. Please do not be drinking anything as you read this:

“Did the Resurrection occur? Of course, the question itself rests on the presupposition that Jesus actually lived: he can’t have been resurrected unless he’d been alive beforehand. And some might question that. But suppose one grants this contentious presupposition. Then someone intent on exploring the credentials of this belief may be dismayed to find that the four Gospels provide different, and inconsistent, stories of the Resurrection; that those stories were unmentioned by, and apparently unknown to, early Church Fathers until well into the second century A.D.; that there are no independent and well-authenticated records of Jesus ever having lived, let alone having died and having risen from the grave; or, again, that many of the earliest Christians of whom we do have an authentic historical record, the so-called Docetists, whose views held sway from 70 C.E. to 170 C.E., regarded Jesus as having always been nothing but an apparition, a spirit without any physical body that could die or therefore be resurrected.”

Bradley, Raymond. God’s Gravediggers: Why no Deity Exists (pp. 69-70). Ockham Publishing. Kindle Edition.

Sorry, but only on the internet is there really any contention that Jesus lived. I am sure Bradley would be horrified if I said about a scientific argument, “This assumes that evolution is true, but suppose one grants this contentious presupposition.” Unfortunately for him, that is the exact way mythicism sounds. Not only this, but he pays no attention to Paul in 1 Corinthians, where most scholars go to today to argue the resurrection, does not look at any Gospel scholarship for those who want to go that route, and gives no indication from the Church Fathers on the beliefs of early Christians that he claims.

He later asks why a resurrection proves that one is divine. Didn’t Lazarus rise in the Gospels and many when Jesus died in Matthew 27? Even accepting both of those for the sake of argument, no one ever said because someone rises from the dead, they are divine. It is first the nature of the resurrection of Jesus, as He rose to never die again, but also that His resurrection was based on the claims that He was making about Himself and who He said He was. The resurrection was God’s vindication of Jesus’s claims about His own identity. It would behoove Bradley to read some N.T. Wright. At least he could be better informed in his disagreement.

Bradley also uses an analogy of a horse race. Suppose you have reason to believe the race has been rigged so that the horse you are betting on will win. Unfortunately, everyone else has that same position and the majority disagree with you, so you’re probably wrong.

If Bradley thinks this is an effective argument, why is he an atheist? After all, the majority of people alive and who have ever lived have not been atheists and so it would seem the preponderance of the evidence is that atheism is false. In reality, we could say easily that most any position on most subjects is wrong. In the ancient world, the majority of people thought there was no problem with slavery. If Bradley traveled back in time to that era, should he just accept he is wrong if he disagrees?

Bradley then asserts that a diligent inquiry into matters will show that the evidence for a religious belief is not valid, but this just reeks of the Mormonism claim to pray the prayer to see if Christianity is true. I have done a diligent search and concluded Christianity is true. Yet by Bradley’s definition, he would say I must not have done that because I did not arrive at the conclusion he did. Now if I did become an atheist, well then, I searched diligently. Anyone who disagrees does not.

Yet Bradley gets even worse in this very section:

“He might go so far as to question, with Albert Schweitzer and others, whether there is good historical evidence for the existence of a Christ Jesus, and end up embracing merely the so-called “ethics” associated with the Jesus myth. He might even come think that there’s good reason to subscribe to the so-called “Mythicist” tradition of those who confidently assert that belief in Jesus has no more warrant than does belief in Santa or Sherlock Holmes.”

There is wiggle room here, but it looks like he’s asserting that Schweitzer was a mythicist. Obviously, there has been a lack of a “diligent inquiry.” Schweitzer was definitely not a mythicist. Mythicism is highly regarded as a joke position today. Unfortunately, Bradley does not know this.

In talking about laws of nature, he says that they are descriptive and not prescriptive. So far, so good. Then he says “Who made them? Who enforces them? How frequently are they broken?” He tells us that these questions do not arise from laws of nature, therefore, there is no reason or experience for thinking someone like a god is behind them.

Sorry, but many people still think that the question of where these laws comes from is a good question and just asserting your position is not a good argument in reply. He also says there is no warrant in reason or experience for thinking they have ever been broken. This is true, granted that you completely ignore the reasons people give and the experiences they do for thinking just that. Nope. No need to give an argument. They’re just wrong. He also says that even if science hasn’t brought about the way for how a phenomenon came about, we can be confident that it will.

Because?

He could be right, but upon what grounds? Even if he is right, how does that rule out theism? It doesn’t.

He then tells us that all miracles done in the name of God or religion have a foundation in illusion or self-delusion.

Isn’t it great to be an atheist and get to make sweeping grand claims without any evidence that people should just take on faith? God forbid he read any of Keener’s books on miracles!

But wait, he does give one! They are impossible because they violate the laws of nature which cannot be broken. Let me spell out the logic for you here.

The laws of nature have never been broken.
Therefore, miracles are impossible.
Miracles would be a breaking of a law of nature.
But a law of nature has never been broken.
Therefore, miracles are impossible.

The argument is entirely circular. It is only if you know the laws of nature have never been broken can you assert that it is impossible to break them. However, even if we granted they have never been broken, that doesn’t mean they never will be. Hume himself said that if you drop a stone and it falls 1,000 times, that does not prove it will fall the next time you drop it. Why should past experience of consistent laws in a universe that is an accident lead me to think that the future will be the same?

Whew! That’s a lot, and keep in mind this is only covering the highlights of the chapter! Next time we look at this book, we will cover chapter 3.

In Christ,
Nick Peters
(And I affirm the virgin birth)

Book Plunge: God’s Gravediggers Part 1

What do I think of Raymond Bradley’s book published by Ockham Publishers? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

I got this book seeing it on sale on Kindle and seeing praise from Graham Oppy for it. I thought this would then be a good and challenging read. Unfortunately, the more I go through this book, the more I see it is not that. Bradley holds to extreme fundamentalist views. Unfortunately, I can easily see why.

Bradley grew up in New Zealand in a situation that was hyper-fundamentalist. He talks about being at Bible camps and all manner of events constantly. At one, he talks about how a leader taught about masturbation and treated it essentially as if it was the unforgivable sin and identified it with blaspheming the Holy Spirit. Whether or not one agrees with masturbation or not, I don’t know anyone who thinks that’s what Jesus was talking about in the Gospels.

There was also the case that his parents when confronted with questions would tell him to have faith. Now I cannot prove any of these stories, but I am going to accept them on face value. I really have no reason to not do so.

So let’s say this at the start. Parents. If you think your faith is extremely important and that your child should believe the things you believe, don’t you think you should study those things and why you should believe them? If you have no reason to believe what you believe, why should your children?

I can think of no other area in your life where people would say have faith? Whether you are a conservative or a liberal, do you tell your child to just have faith your position is true. Do you tell them why you think they should support or oppose gun control instead? Do you tell them why they should or should not support minimum wage laws?

Bradley also early on talks about what could convince him of theism. On page 7, he tells how if the heavens opened tomorrow and God was revealed and kept sharing His desires and ended all injustice and human and animal suffering, he might consider revising his beliefs. When atheists make statements like this, it tells me they are not open to argumentation. They want an experience. (All the while, telling Christians to not go by their experiences.)

He also says that dates are given for people like Caesar in ancient history, but not for the Son of God. It’s hard to believe so many people think this is a serious objection. Now if everyone believed Jesus was the Son of God, of course, they would have written that, but hardly anyone did. Bradley compares the Caesar on the throne to what the rest of the world said was a crucified criminal and asks “Why was one recorded and not the other?”

He also goes on to say the prevailing view among Christians at the start was Docetism. Source for this? Good luck.

When he writes about the existence of Jesus, he says most scholars regard what was said in Josephus as interpolation possibly invented by Eusebius. Source for this? None. He also says Tacitus was at best just hearsay of what Christians were reporting. Source? The same. None. Most scholars think there is some interpolation to Josephus’s first reference to Jesus, but not the whole statement is interpolation. The second one is hard to regard as interpolation.

The reference to Tacitus is not hearsay as Tacitus did not care about hearsay and regularly checked every claim given, including by his best friend Pliny. He was a senator and a priest. If anyone had access to the information, it was Tacitus.

Bradley goes on to decide how his parents reacted to his questioning. This included physical beatings by his father that were so bad a neighbor threatened to call the police. It also involved some books he got being burned. This is actually a great example of how NOT to reach your children. His parents saw this coming for years. They sat him down with two experts, but never seemed to consider learning themselves.

At this, I can have some sympathies for Bradley as such abuse is never justified. However, it looks like Bradley has stayed at this state. He is still the fundamentalist that he was years ago as we will see.

We will continue next time on chapter 2.

In Christ,
Nick Peters
(And I affirm the virgin birth)

Book Plunge: Jesus’s Resurrection in Early Christian Memory

What do I think of David Graieg’s dissertation? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

As far as I know, this isn’t published yet nor is there an official name, but the title i have put is something found in the heading of the dissertation. I saw on Facebook that Graieg had done his dissertation on the resurrection from a perspective of memory and I asked if I could see it. He sent it to me and I did tell him I would write a review.

I have now finished it and for my thoughts, well, it’s certainly thorough. If you go through a dissertation, pretty much everything has to be backed, save for when you’re doing your conclusion on the matter, and the bibliography makes up about a third of the writing itself. This would be something for many of our atheist friends to keep in mind who think we just blindly believe matters about religion.

The emphasis in this paper is on the creed in 1 Corinthians 15 and the memory of Jesus’s resurrection event. As we know, the letter was written between 55-60 AD, but the creed comes much earlier. Most scholars will place it no more than five years after the event in question. Most place it at a very early timeframe. Some have placed it within a few months of the event.

Yet the earliest record we have of it is this letter. Perhaps somehow matters changed. Can we be sure that this is accurate? We have Paul’s word on it, but can we trust his memory stood the test of time? Doesn’t memory change? We’ve all experienced remembering something that didn’t happen or filling in details or telling a story and have it change based on the audience.

This is the basis of Graieg’s work. Early on, he has a look at the chapter as a whole exegeting it. I thought this was interesting, but if there was one part of the dissertation I didn’t see fitting in, it was this part. I could understand some parts like the idea of a spiritual body being worthy of discussion, but not the entirety of the chapter as a whole. It was unclear to me how this related to memory studies.

However, from there, nearly every question that can be asked about memory is asked. This includes how memories are shared and how they last and flashbulb memories and what kinds of memories fade. One concern of people who haven’t read this might be that this could be seen from an individual basis. Nope. Graieg spends time looking at the aspects of communal sharing and notes that this would be a communal memory that would be not just shared, but rather performed, several times.

Such factors even as Paul’s age is looked at. We don’t have a biography of Paul, but Graieg goes on the best information we have and he sees no reason to think that Paul would have his memory sufficiently altered to make the creed radically different from what it was originally. Like I said, it’s very in-depth.

This also includes look at how reliable testimony is. Hasn’t eyewitness testimony been called into question a few times? Graieg looks at the ways in which memory is reliable in these situations and in the ways in which it is more prone to error.

In the end, Graieg concludes that there is no reason to believe that there is an error in memory taking place sufficient to overcome that Paul really believed this event happened. That does not mean that it did, but it does mean critics of the resurrection need to be careful before making such an argument. They also need to contend with the evidence and realize perhaps Paul really remembers what happened because it really did happen.

If there was one other area though I would like to have seen covered, it would have been cognitive dissonance. This is a favorite magic word of skeptics who have never ever read anything on the topic, but it is thrown out to make it look like they know what they’re talking about. I consider it a weak objection, but I would have liked to have seen Graieg talk about it.

Keep an eye out for this author. If you’re interested in resurrection studies, this is worth it.

In Christ,
Nick Peters
(And I affirm the virgin birth)

Why Good Friday?

Why did this day happen? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

When I was married, my ex and I were watching the series on TV about Jesus that was made by Roma Downey and her husband. This one took some liberties with the text including a great line from Pilate upon the announcement that Jesus would be crucified. “He will be forgotten within a week.”

And you thought two weeks to flatten the curve were a long two weeks.

Here it is 2,000 years later and the world has been totally transformed by Jesus. Many of us do not notice the impact Christianity has on our lives. Art, literature, science, medicine, morality, philosophy, music, etc. All of these have been influenced by Jesus. More books have been written about Jesus than anyone else and more art and music has been done about Him than anyone else.

All of this started though that fateful day when Jesus was crucified, so what brought about that day? It’s beyond dispute that Jesus died by crucifixion. (No. I’m not at all going to treat those Jesus mythicists seriously.) The question to ask at this point is, “Why?”

Now a Christian could respond and say, “Well, Nick. Haven’t you been to church to hear? Jesus was crucified for the sins of the world.” Yes. That is why God allowed it, but is that the same as why it happened? No. Pilate was not standing there saying “This guy is innocent, but we have to crucify Him for the sins of the world.” The chief priests and Pharisees weren’t saying, “Jesus is a pretty good guy, but remember, we have to crucify Him. God needs it done to save the world.”

The question is simple, and yet it is not. Jesus is crucified. We all know that. How did He get up on that cross anyway? Perhaps an example will explain. In Five Views on the Historical Jesus, John Dominic Crossan writes on how Jesus saw John the Baptist get beheaded for having an apocalyptic message, so Jesus shifted course. He was more into such talk as the love of God and the brotherhood of men then. That sounds all good and well until you ask a simple question. “Why was He crucified then?”

A Jesus going around and teaching just about the love of God is not going to get crucified. This Jesus is not a threat to anyone. This is like calling Barney the Dinosaur or Mr. Rogers a threat. This Jesus is harmless and note that Jesus is not just killed, He is crucified, a treatment designed to shame and humiliate, not just kill.

As a Christian, my answer is that Jesus was teaching about His rule in the Kingdom of God and what it would be like and taking power away from those who had it and challenging their right to dictate the way of God to men. Jesus was a threat because He kept humiliating His opponents in conflict over and over and He was doing so many miracles and wonders that the hand of God was undeniable on His life. Crucifixion would be a way of silencing everything as surely that would be the end of it all and no one would want to follow a crucified failure.

But yet, He wasn’t.

All that is being asked here is about a basic fact in history. Jesus was crucified. Why? What was He doing with His life that was so dangerous He had to be crucified? It is common for those of us who are Christians to press skeptics on the evidence for the resurrection. We should do the same with the crucifixion.

Today, we will celebrate that God did take this evil event and use it for the greatest good possible. I also hope we will think some on why this happened. Anything that helps us understand the life of Jesus better will help us live the life of Jesus today.

In Christ,
Nick Peters
(And I affirm the virgin birth)

Book Plunge: 7 Things I Wish Christians Knew About The Bible

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

I have to say that every time I read something about Michael Bird, I get a treat. Michael Bird is an author with keen insights and a pastoral heart as well, but he also has a great touch of humor and will say so many statements that make you laugh all throughout the book. I would be thrilled to see him team up with Andy Bannister to write a book.

This is a book written for Christians, though I think it can be helpful for non-Christians as well. In it, he gives seven different statements that many of us might think are old hat, but in reality, there are people who treat the Bible this way even if they know it’s not literally so. For instance, the first one is that the Bible didn’t fall out of the sky.

Really, even if we don’t know how the Bible came about, somehow, we all know that it didn’t. In reality though, we do often treat it that way. The Bible is a divine book to be sure, but it is also a very human book. That’s actually the second, This gives us more of how the Bible was written by people and has their own personality styles in the text.

Third is that the Bible is normative and not negotiable. In this, he wants us to realize that Scripture is the place of authority. We don’t just pick and choose. Too many “churches” today have the idea that the Bible is authoritative when it speaks properly, which by the way, happens to be the times that it agrees with them. Amazing!

Next is that the Bible is for our time, but it’s not about our time. This is especially the case with modern prophecy experts who think everything going on is talked about in Scripture, they are shown to be wrong, but then a year or two later, the exact things happen again. I am not just talking about so-called prophecy experts. I am also talking about laypeople who read the Bible this way. (Sometimes, they sadly commit the unpardonable sin of calling the final book “Revelations.”)

The fifth is that the Bible should always be taken seriously, but not literally. Somehow, we live in a time that thinks that literal interpretation is the best way to read the Bible every time. The early church really enjoyed allegory, for example. Too many atheists also make a big deal about literal interpretation.

The sixth is that the purpose of the book is to give us faith, hope, and love. Now here, I would have liked to have seen Bird say something about the fake view of faith as belief without evidence or something similar. Still, Bird’s point is entirely valid. As much as an academic like myself wants to gain a lot of knowledge and as much as some people might go to the Bible wanting to get personal advice on how to live, and neither of those are bad in themselves, the main goal is to produce the character of faith, hope, and love.

Finally, Christ is the center of it all. However, saying that, he wants us to be careful to not forget the Father or the Spirit. He also wants us to make sure we don’t just read Christ into everything without first understanding what the text says in itself. Also, he thinks we should be able to teach Jesus as Messiah from the Old Testament, which I agree with.

Bird’s given us a great gift in this one. I highly encourage you to go and read this one. You’ll laugh a few times and you’ll learn something.

In Christ,
Nick Peters
(And I affirm the virgin birth)

 

The Incarnation and Evil

Why talk about the vet and the problem of evil? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

So I wrote about Shiro this week because it does leave me thinking about the problem of evil. One story I thought of was a story about a farmer who wasn’t a believer and his family went to church one Christmas. He saw some birds outside in the cold and thought they would die so he would try to get them in his barn.

He goes out and tries to motion them to come in the barn lest they die, but he doesn’t have any luck. He then thinks about how much easier it would be if he could become a bird himself and then show the birds the rest of the way to come into the barn. It’s at that point he hears the church bells ring for Christmas and understands the incarnation.

It’s a good story, but is it accurate. Paul tells us to imitate him as he imitates Christ, but when we see Christ coming, we don’t see Him talking as if the reason He came was this. He showed us how to be good, but He doesn’t seem to say that’s why He came. He came to bring the kingdom.

When Christ comes, He really says very little about the problem of evil. I can only think of two times specifically. The first is in Luke where some people talk to him about the people whom Pilate mixed their own blood with their sacrifices. Jesus also brings up the Tower of Siloam falling on eighteen people and killing them and telling the people none of these people were worse sinners than anyone else in the city, but they need to repent lest they perish.

The second is in John 9 when the disciples and Jesus meet the man born blind. He is asked who sinned that this man was born blind. Jesus says that it wasn’t because anyone in particular sinned, but so that God’s glory might be displayed in his life. The whole chapter and story then revolves around God healing the man and how the religious elite responded.

Absent from any of this is an explanation for the evil in the first place. Jesus never even begins to move in that direction. Jesus doesn’t tend to get into the why of the suffering when it happens. He just deals with the problem.

So as I thought about taking Shiro to the vet, I thought also about if only I could speak kitty for the time and tell Shiro why this is happening. However, after awhile, it occurred to me that that might not be any good. Does a cat have the capacity to understand human thinking like that? I am pretty much saying that I want my cat to become a human and cease to be a cat.

Kind of defeats the purpose.

Is our wishing to understand evil this side of eternity that much different? God could explain things to me hypothetically about the suffering in my own life, but would I really understand it. Could the answer be so complex that it would be beyond me?

There’s a Woody Allen skit in a play or a movie where he and his wife are discussing their son who is coming for a visit and is an atheist and the wife says she wants Woody to explain the Nazis to him. He says something along the lines of “Explain the Nazis? I don’t even understand the microwave!” It’s funny, but it’s accurate. We can all think of some area in this life that makes no sense to us.

But we’ve convinced ourselves that we would understand the answer. Why else do we ask for one? Could it be we aren’t given one not because there isn’t one or God doesn’t care, or could it be that we wouldn’t understand it. If the distance between me and a cat is this great, how much greater between us and an infinite God?

Maybe the goal is not to understand evil. Maybe it’s just to trust in the evil. Right now, my cat is on good terms with me again. Last night I came home and all was back to normal. Now if I pick him up again and start carrying him outside of my room, he’ll know what’s going on again and resist it, but eventually, he will just choose to trust again. After all, if he lives in fear of me forever, what does he gain? If we live thinking God is out to get us everyday, what do we gain? After all, if He really is, we’re not changing anything by that. We can’t stop Him.

Ultimately, I’ve never really found evil to be a convincing argument against God, but I know some have. My suggestion here is that perhaps the wrong answer is being looked for. I encourage people to look at the positive evidences for the existing of God and for the resurrection. If those are true, there is an explanation for evil. You don’t have to know it. Maybe you couldn’t.

In Christ,
Nick Peters
(And I affirm the virgin birth)

The Peace of Jesus

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

I’m really wrestling with this one right now, but while at the movies with a friend yesterday, to which we saw the Ten Rings movie which I thought was excellent, I was thinking about this. I have said I am on a journey as a fellow traveler walking through the pain of divorce and even if I am just one step ahead of a traveler on the journey, that’s one step I can help him through. It’s worth it.

Sometimes, I can have a hard time sleeping at night. I am very prone to anxiety. I often wonder if my marriage had anything to do with it. Imagine what goes through a person when they have to speed down the highway near their home because they think their wife could be killing themselves at any minute. Welcome to what was my world.

As an Aspie also, I have a constant fear as well of doing the wrong thing even in minor areas. Taking a risk can be very difficult for me. Yesterday, I also went to a psychiatrist and got put on the minimum dosage of an anti-anxiety and anti-depressant medication. I don’t want to say which because inevitably, someone will give me a horror story.

Sometimes when I get this anxious, I think of the story of Jesus on the boat calming the storms. Yes. We know. Jesus calms the storms in our lives. Isn’t that wonderful? Well, yes, but that’s not the point I think about when I think of this story.

I think that Jesus is asleep in the story.

That’s the part that really astounds me the most. It’s easy to understand how a man who is also fully God can stop a storm. Not a problem there. What blows my mind is that this guy could with a dozen men in a ship that is rocking and reeling from a storm and just sleeping. When He is woken up by His disciples, there is really no sense of urgency in His life. He seems puzzled that His disciples were ever panic-stricken to begin with.

In some ways, as I go through this, it’s making me look at Jesus through fresh eyes. You know how we can sometimes worry what other people think about us and wonder? You never see Jesus doing that. Jesus is the one person who never changes who He is to try to please the people around Him. Jesus is never in an identity crisis that we know of. Jesus knows who He is and He lives it out.

This means that what people thought of Jesus didn’t even bother Him that way. His identity was never based on it. Even when He is crucified, one can think that even if you don’t believe in the Gospels, it’s evident that the Jesus in the Gospels is in control the whole time.

Look at what happens when the crowds come to arrest Him. In John, Jesus speaks forcibly, the soldiers fall back, and He tells the people to take Him and let the others go. Jesus is being arrested and yet He is giving the orders and being the real threat. Now some could say this account is made up, but honestly, if someone made up this person, I want to know who this person is who made Him up. I find it hard to imagine someone like this. You can call that an argument from incredulity if you want, but it is something striking about Jesus.

This Jesus is never panicked about what’s going on in the world. He openly goes through an area where Caesar has power and tells the people that the Kingdom of God has come. Herod wants to kill Him? Well, go tell that old fox….

This is a guy who is a peasant talking about the king who can put Him to death and He refers to that king as an old fox.

There’s something amazing about that.

This Jesus doesn’t mince words. Want to know what He thinks of the Pharisees? He just comes right out and says it. It’s never “I didn’t want to tell you Pharisees this, but….” My favorite example of this is Luke 11. In it, Jesus is going after the Pharisees and the teachers of the law say “Excuse me, but do you realize you are insulting us when you say this?”

There is no indication Jesus turns apologetic. Quite the opposite. He turns and gives the teachers of the law the exact same treatment. You can picture those guys walking away at the end of this and one of them saying to the one who spoke up, “Nice going. You got Him on our case also.”

It really shows that Jesus is the most amazing figure more and more who ever lived.

And so what about His peace? We keep thinking often about the peace that Jesus can give us. I think before we think about that, we need to think about why Jesus had peace to begin with. The answer i come up with is He had total confidence that whatever happened, God was in charge. We know He knew some things about His destiny, but that doesn’t mean He had to know everything that was going to happen to Him as He walked this Earth. When Jesus asks the father of a boy with a demon in Mark 9 how long this has been going on, I don’t see any theological depth to the question. I think Jesus is just seeking information. Jesus had to learn and grow like the rest of us.

Yet no matter what happens, He is in charge. Even when He prays passionately in the garden out of sorrow, He is still in charge. He scolds His disciples and is not caught off-guard by the arrest. There is no begging for mercy from Him on the cross. At the same time, it’s not really pride we see in Him. It’s more just confidence. It’s His confidence in God.

Now here’s where it gets scary.

If I am to walk as Jesus walked, I am to have that much confidence in God too. Whatever happens, He is in charge of the story. If I was one of the Hebrew boys in Daniel, could I say “Our God is able to save us from the furnace you have, BUT EVEN IF HE DOESN’T, we will not bow to your idol.” Think about that. They had no certainty. They had no guarantee. They could have died that day and they didn’t even have a promise of resurrection! I would like to say I’d have that courage as well, but I can’t guarantee that I would.

For me, this is all about getting a better picture of who Jesus is. We can talk about Him with His love for us, but usually when we think about Jesus, it’s about what He does for us. We never think about what He did for Himself or how He managed His own life, but we should. We talk about how Jesus helps us in sadness, but never how He dealt with His own. We also talk about how Jesus gives us peace, but perhaps we should do the same with that. We should ask how Jesus had peace first and go beyond the pat “He’s God” answer. It’s true, but if we follow that consistently, we are left with no reason to emulate His life since we know we can’t do it for that reason. No. In His humanity, we are to fully emulate Him.

Am I good at this yet? No. Not really. I still stress out and have to call my friends. I still worry about pleasing other people at times. I still panic about doing the wrong thing. I still have a hard time being confident that God is in charge of the story.

But you know, knowing is half the battle. I should at least give thanks that I know these things so I know what to work on. It is better to know my faults and that I need to work on them than to go in the world believing a myth that I am a pretty good guy doing alright.

I hope you will join me on this journey, fellow travelers. In some ways, it’s actually fun to see Jesus in this new light.

In Christ,
Nick Peters
(And I affirm the virgin birth)

Book Plunge: The Gospel Precisely

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

I want to thank Matthew Bates for his friendship as I was one of the people he contacted in order to promote his new book. It’s an honor to be in that circle. I find Matthew Bates to be a highly informed scholar, but I am super thankful that he is not just staying in an ivory tower, but is taking advanced New Testament studies and breaking them down for the layman to understand the gospel in a whole new way.

Too often, our idea of the gospel is way too shortsighted, which is a tragedy because what we have is really good already and yet we miss that there’s so much more. We are more content with making mudpies when a day at the beach awaits us. We are pleased with what we understand of the gospel, and we should be, but we miss that there is a lot more.

So let’s start with what is the gospel. Most of the time, we make the gospel about ourselves. This is what God is doing to forgive us. With that, we are ultimately the subjects of the gospel. It is about us. The gospel is not about us. It is about Jesus. We are the ones that are being used for the glory of God. God is not to be used for the glory of us.

One aspect that we miss is the gospel is Jesus becoming king. I remember hearing once that John Dominic Crossan said about Mark 1:1 that talked about the beginning of the good news of Jesus, the Messiah, the Son of God. It’s a short little verse, but Crossan said it could be translated as “In your face, Caesar.”

If he said that, he’s not wrong.

Jesus is coming and declaring Himself to be the king who will rule on God’s behalf. This is part of the gospel. This is one of the reasons He was crucified. You don’t get crucified for just teaching good ethics and sharing parables. Jesus was a majorly political figure as well as a religious one.

Why does this matter? Because we were created to be the rulers of this world on God’s behalf. Unfortunately with sin, we all failed at that one. Jesus was meant to be fully human and fully God so that He could rule and reflect God perfectly but also be a man ruling like God intended. Part of the good news is also that not only are we forgiven, but we are to be rulers of the new creation with Jesus Christ. God saves us so we can serve.

This is however also good for non-Christians for the time being. The world is meant to be a better place with the coming of Christianity and where Christians aren’t being what they were supposed to be. Most people, Christians or not, do support the life and ethics of Jesus. I still remember a non-Christian friend saying on my Facebook wall that life would be a lot better if we all tried to live like Christ.

Oh. Let me explain something with that. When we speak of Christ, we shouldn’t treat Christ as just a name. Some people actually think that he was the son of Mr. and Mrs. Christ. I wish I was joking. I can still remember years ago someone asking “Why would a Jewish guy have a Greek last name?”

The closest idea we have to Messiah is King. In our country, that’s something that seems foreign to us, but we might not be too far from us. A friend of mine thinks we might naturally move as a society towards monarchy. Every four years, we are having “The most important election of our lifetime” which should show that we place way too much emphasis on the president, no matter who he is.

Of course, if we’re servants of God, we need to know who this God is. The Trinity is not just an add-on. If Jesus is not fully God and fully man, the Gospel is completely changed. Christians need to learn how to understand to some extent the Trinity and how to defend it.

I’m only giving snapshots here because honestly, i want you to read the book yourself. Some of you might be concerned with reading a whole book on this. Good news. The book is only about 100 pages. You could easily read it in a day or two, and it would be a day or two well-spent.

Finally, how do we share the gospel? This is where it might get difficult as Bates lists ten items that he thinks we need to remember and share. Those complaining about this might want to think about what they have memorized about sports teams, TV shows, music, or video games.

So final opinion? Get this book. It’s a great one to understand the gospel and will show you how much you are missing. It has five chapters and while I said you could read it in a day, if you wanted to read one chapter a day, you could do so easily and read it in a week and you would be blessed for doing so.

Matthew Bates is a gift to the church that keeps on giving and thanks to him for his work and being considered part of his team to help share his material. It’s material worth sharing and it’s an honor to be a part of it. And oh yes, there is one part where he does show that he does believe Jesus was born of a virgin so he does affirm the virgin birth, which I do affirm, the obvious important sign of anyone wanting to share the gospel.

In Christ,
Nick Peters
(And I affirm the virgin birth)

 

More on the Sadness of Jesus

Why do we not talk about the sadness of Jesus? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Within the past month, I have written about the sadness of Christ. I was pleased to see that article linked to on a popular apologetics website. However, after seeing that, I started to ponder. I have written many blogs including on the historical Jesus. Why this one?

Could it be that this one resonated? This one did hit something and it at first doesn’t even seem to be something related to apologetics, but I think it is. Could it be that maybe we talk so much about the joy of Christ that we don’t know about His sorrow as well? Could it be that we ourselves don’t really know much about sorrow either?

Now that last one might be a surprising statement. After all, look at how many people in our country struggle with depression. Look at how many self-help books we have out there. Our people have experience with sorrow so surely they know a lot about it.

It’s not hard to figure out the error in this statement. Our people also debate politics and economics regularly, but most of us think that our fellow Americans are clueless about both of them. This is especially so since you can find quite sincere people and quite intelligent people on both sides of any debate. We have had the sexual revolution going on, but I contend that our culture is one that knows very little about sex.

One of our problems with sorrow and depression is we really don’t know how to handle it. We often act like we’re not supposed to have any depression or sadness at all. Sadly, the church is one of the worst at this. We often pay lip service to the idea of mourning with those who mourn and Jesus weeping in the garden,

For us, if you have depression or anxiety, then there is something wrong with you. Christians are supposed to be people of joy and so if you have depression or anxiety, there is something wrong with you. This can lead to being depressed about being depressed or anxious about being anxious.

Being a fully functional human being means experiencing the full gamut of human emotions and sometimes you will have anxiety or sadness. That is okay. If you start saying you shouldn’t, then what are we to mourn for?

This also leads to a false pollyanna world that skeptics don’t believe in. They don’t want us to act like life is always great. They want to see how we will handle it when life is hard. Will we be realistic or will we be living a life of total denial?

I also don’t believe in that world.

We also then treat suffering like it is something foreign to us. The suffering that we cannot bear often times would be nothing to our ancestors of the past. These were people who were willing to go to the death for their faith. They also didn’t only exist back then. They exist in the world today where real persecution is going on.

Why do we not talk about it with Jesus? Maybe because it doesn’t seem to give us something to aspire to. It’s easy to want to live like Jesus when He is being gracious to His enemies or outwitting them in debate or showing outstanding love. However, to aspire to be like Jesus in His sorrow will mean experiecing that sorrow as well, and we don’t want that.

But that is part of pollyanna thinking. The sorrow will come. We treat pain and suffering like they are something foreign to us. In reality, they have been promised to us.

The question is not then will suffering come, but how will we handle it? We are not to act like it is all good and wonderful. Sure, we are to count all things joy, but that does not mean that you always put on a happy face since Jesus didn’t do that. We can need help on the journey, and that’s okay. That’s why there are friends and therapists and yes, even medications.

Sorrow in Jesus I think resonates with us because deep down, many of us know that it is a reality and we want something in our lives. Yet still, the only book I found on a general search on Amazon on this topic was about 500 years old. Who is writing about this today? If any New Testament scholar is reading this, consider this a challenge to write a book on the sadness of Christ. To any pastor, consider preaching a sermon on Jesus being sad. It would be refreshing in some way. If anything, that could help many in your audience who do struggle with depression and anxiety. They could actually really resonate with Jesus.

I continue to think on this and learn about the topic. If we want to know Jesus as He is, we have to know all sides of Him. We have to have a Jesus who is not just fully God, but also fully human. That includes not just being hungry, thirsty, and tired, but also, sad.

Nothing short of a real Jesus will do.

In Christ,
Nick Peters
(And I affirm the virgin birth)