Worldviews, Worship, and Wineskins

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Archive for the category “Apologetics”

Objections: Can the Bible Prove Itself?

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Part 1: “Unity in Diversity”

It’s as if he were saying, “I’m speaking to you on every available frequency.  Are you listening?”

The last post briefly surveyed the evidence that the Bible we read today is essentially the same as it was when it was written. That makes it a collection of Reliable texts.  But that doesn’t necessarily mean that the events reported in the original manuscripts were real.  Is it possible that the Bible we have today is an entirely accurate reproduction of ancient fraudulent documents?  Could the events reported in the Bible have been fabricated?  If so, Christianity is the greatest hoax ever to have been perpetrated against humanity!  If not, the implications are far reaching…

Are there reasons to believe that the Bible is not only faithful to the original documents, but a truthful account of ancient events?  In this post, we’ll have a look at the evidence within the Bible itself, as opposed to historical and current evidence from outside the Bible.  We would say these are “internal” and “external” evidence for the truth of Scripture.

Internal Evidence  Does it make sense to use the Bible to show that the Bible is true?  What if I were to rent an office, buy a lab-coat, selling my services as a physician?  People might ask, “Why should I believe you are a doctor?”  If I respond, “Because I say I am a doctor”, there isn’t a good reason to trust my medical opinion.

Isn’t that the same thing as using the Bible to show that the Bible is true?  Not really.  The Bible isn’t actually one book, but a corpus of writings.  It is like an entire library of “peer reviewed” material.  The Protestant Bible is composed of 66 individual books, in a variety of genres, written by 40 different people from every walk of life, in 3 different languages, on 3 different continents, over a period of roughly 1500 years.  The amazing thing is they all talk about the same person.  No other religion has this type of authentication or pedigree.

Just for fun, imagine that there was a supernatural being who created everything in existence.  Let’s also suppose that this being wants to be known by humans and have a relationship with them.  How would he make himself known to us?  In the event that there is a creator who wants us to know him and have a relationship with him, the Biblical books (and God’s recorded activities therein) are entirely consistent with the types and consistency of messages he would give.  In other words, God might reasonably be expected to use every available means of communication, and each would say the same thing.  Unity within diversity.

The Protestant Bible is composed of 66 individual books, in a variety of genres, written by 40 different people from every walk of life, in 3 different languages, on 3 different continents, over a period of roughly 1500 years.

What does that mean?  Think about ideas and beliefs for a moment.  The ideas that people have are constantly changing.  We have ideas about the meaning of life.  Ideas about families.  Ideas about government.  About music.  About God.  Fifty years ago, popular opinion on each of these topics was radically different from what it is today!  If the Bible were written based on popular opinion about God and life, the “truth” would shift dramatically in the space of 1500 years.  Yet, the Biblical record shows us the same picture of God throughout centuries.  This is what the term “unity of scripture” means.

“Diversity” indicates the nature of Biblical texts to reflect cultural influences of their time.  For instance: the first 5 books of the Bible are written by Moses, who was raised in the Egyptian Royal Court.  He would have been familiar with the language known as “Akkadian”, and we would expect to see the influence of that language in his writing (if we were familiar with ancient near eastern languages).  Is that what scholars see?  Yes.  Another example?  Okay, in the “exilic” books (written when the Jews were deported to Babylon) we would expect to see the influence of the Chaldean (Babylonian) language, which is the case.  Each book reflects unique stylistic traits of its human author (divinely inspired), yet maintains the same, ancient ideas about its divine author.

Not only are the themes of Biblical books consistent throughout, they come in multiple literary genres (poetry, historical narrative, personal correspondence, etc.) and contain accounts of miracles performed by God and others, for the purpose of vindicating his message.  It’s as if he were saying, “I’m speaking to you on every available frequency.  Are you listening?”

One type of miracle in particular is used multiple times in the Bible: prophecy.  Predictive prophecy is especially effective at demonstrating that the Bible should be taken at face value.  The next post will give a basic introduction to predictive prophecy as internal evidence for the truth of the Bible.

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Objections: The Bride Has a Black Eye

Hypocrisy, greed, immorality and corruption all serve to keep the eye of Christ’s Bride perpetually blackened in the public opinion of America.

It’s trite and it’s cliché.  It’s so very mainstream in Christian circles.  But the Church in America is losing ground.  She is under attack.  Statistics show us a very clear, very disheartening picture.  Kids that grow up in church are leaving Church the minute they have the choice.

There are a number of reasons for this, and the intention here isn’t to list all of them, but to highlight one and offer one *partial* response.  It’s obvious that the climate of our culture has become hostile, aggressive, angry and caustic toward Christians.  Some of the anger is warranted: pedophilia in the Church is outrageous and good reason for an emotional response.  Hypocrisy, greed, immorality and corruption all serve to keep the eye of Christ’s Bride perpetually blackened in the public opinion of America.  But the critical thinkers among us (Christian or not) must admit that the behavior of someone’s children doesn’t necessarily reflect on the quality of the parents.  Some parents have rotten children.  Including God.  This shouldn’t be a barrier for people to get to know Him.  Our message (and lifestyle!) needs to be able to cut through the noise and present Biblical truth beyond the context of 21st Century Evangelicalism.

This is why Worldviews, Worship and Wineskins will feature an apologetics series called “Objections”.  Each post will focus on a major mainstream objection to the Christian worldview and offer a Biblically based response.  Some people that might find this helpful are those who have never really questioned their faith and are encountering difficult questions at work or school, those who have grown up in a Church environment and are experiencing real doubt, or those with loved ones who are facing doubt.

Difficult questions can be a good thing.  Though they are usually painful, a season of doubt can end up strengthening someone’s faith.  God is not threatened by difficult questions.  In Isaiah 1.18, He offers this appeal to Israel: “Come, let us reason together.”  The book named after Job features that man’s extended questioning of God’s methodology and motives.  In the end, Job was vindicated as having done no wrong.  The minor prophet Habakkuk was also confused about God’s methods, and makes his discomfort openly known to the Lord!  Questions are good.  There are no new questions.  People have been asking the same questions for thousands of years, and there are many good answers.  Does the Bible have all of the answers?  No.  God restored Job’s wealth and cured Job’s disease.  But He didn’t answer Job’s questions.  Sometimes God leaves questions unanswered for unknown reasons, probably so we will exercise trust in that area.   The Bible doesn’t have all the answers.  But it has the right answers to the most important questions.  “Objections” might be able to point you or someone you know toward the right answers that believers have found for thousands of years.

“but honor the Messiah as Lord in your hearts.  Always be ready to give a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.”

One word of caution: we mustn’t kid ourselves into thinking that the right answers alone will effectively convert the unbeliever.  1 Peter 3.15 gives us God’s foundation for apologetics: “but honor the Messiah as Lord in your hearts.  Always be ready to give a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.”  Those are instructions: what to do.  Verse 16 tells us how and why: “However, do this with gentleness and respect, keeping your conscience clear, so that when you are accused, those who denounce your Christian life will be put to shame.”  Peter understood that good reasons won’t always convince hard hearts.  Jesus expressed it another way in Luke 16.31: “If they don’t listen to Moses and the prophets, they will not be persuaded if someone rises from the dead.”

In fact, many people don’t even really care if the central claims of the Bible are true.  For most of us in the “first world” today, Jesus represents the cure to a disease that we don’t have.  Jesus offers forgiveness of sin before death and eternal life afterward, along with fellowship with God on both sides of the grave.  Sin is an archaic, draconian concept, to be dealt with by using guilt management techniques.  Eternal life and fellowship with God are irrelevant because our material comforts have blinded us to our glaringly obvious spiritual needs.  So the conversations swirling around faith can have little meaningful impact if the Holy Spirit has not done the work of preparing hearts for the gospel message.

Why, then, should we bother?  If the anti-Christian world will not be persuaded to follow Jesus with good reasons, what is the point of providing good reasons to follow Jesus?  Let’s circle back around to 1 Peter 3.15–“so that when you are accused, those who denounce your Christian life will be put to shame.”  Not only are we commanded to have good reasons, we are commanded to conduct ourselves in such a manner that our aggressors will seem shameful to themselves and others.  For those who come armed with examples of corruption and hypocrisy in the church, our respectful response needs to include sound Biblical reasons to be faithful in spite of the behavior of others, and a Godly example that counteracts the shameful lifestyles of others.  This may serve to bolster the faith of others whose faith might otherwise be withering under the hostility of a world that hates God.

When that happens; when followers of Jesus can face, with grace and poise (sometimes by saying “I don’t know), the objections of seekers and scornful alike, we become one small voice in a growing chorus.  We say, together, “I don’t have all the answers.  But I have enough.  And I know the One who can fill in the rest.  Would you like to meet him?”

 

Objections: Hasn’t the Bible Been Changed Over Thousands of Years?

The Christian faith is based on the Bible.  The Bible is our ultimate authority, because in it, God has specifically uncovered His plan for mankind.  A lot rests on the Bible.  If it is untrue in its fundamental claims or otherwise, we who follow it are “of all people, most to be pitied.” 1 Corinthians 15:19.  This leads many people, both Christian and otherwise to ask a crucial question regarding the Bible: is it true?

Let’s look at three important questions that relate to whether the Bible is true:

Hasn’t the Bible changed over time?

The popular illustration of the telephone game serves to discredit the reliability of the Bible.  But is that actually how the Bible came to us today?

One of the first rules of translating ancient documents is to use the oldest sources possible.  The reason for this is that the older a document is, the closer to the original document it is.  Later copies have potential to have copying errors, modifications by editors and such.  In this sense, the “telephone” illustration is correct.  For this reason, translators are forever evaluating source documents.

Not only do they ask “how old it it?” and “How close to the original?”, they are concerned about two other criteria.  How many copies are there?  A higher number can demonstrates that the piece was widely accepted and in high demand.  Lastly, how much variation is there between copies?  This is where the “telephone” principle comes in.  Lots of variation gives us room for doubt about the content of the original, little variation gives translators a higher degree of certainty about what the original work contained.

To summarize, older, more numerous and consistent works give us a greater degree of certainty about what the original documents contained.

The graphic below is a handy chart showing what sources translators have used over time:

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Notice that more recent translations don’t rely on previous translation work to build newer translations, as the “telephone” analogy would lead us to believe.  Rather, modern translations go to the oldest sources possible, in order to preserve the original sense of the Biblical texts.

How reliable are the sources?  How do Biblical manuscripts compare with other ancient works?  When you use the 3 main criteria (age, number and internal consistency), the New testament is hundreds of percent more accurate than other ancient documents!  Check out the graphic below:

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As you can see, the New Testament is in a category all alone in terms of its reliability.  No other ancient document comes close to this degree of reliability.  This should put the “Telephone game” analogy soundly to bed.

 

Reading Leviticus and Old Testament Law: the Problems of Relevance and Human Rights

This post is specifically for my church family as we read through the Bible together this fall.  Sometimes it has felt as though we are drinking water through a fire hydrant!  Reading at this pace is a challenge and it often feels impossible to stop and meditate.  But one advantage is to be able to see recurring themes and points of connection more clearly.  If you see a prophecy in Deuteronomy, and its fulfillment comes at the end of 2 Samuel, you will recognize it more easily if the readings are only days or weeks apart rather than months or years! The first five books of the Bible are sometimes known as the “Books of the Law.”  Depending on your point of view, law can be tedious and boring in modern and ancient literature alike.  Leviticus is a challenging book!  The pace of the narration grinds to a halt as God continues his dictation of laws to his covenant people, gathered at the foot of Mount Sinai.  If you aren’t bored to tears by the slowed pace, you may be shocked by the seemingly harsh judgments against those who might break God’s law.  I wanted to post this note in hopes that it would remind us of truths that God has revealed in other parts of the Bible. That way we are practicing good interpretation; we will use scripture to interpret scripture and let the Bible speak for itself. IsaacsacrificeDOMENICHINO16

Types of laws: Throughout the first five books of the Bible, God gives three general types of laws: Civil, Moral and Ceremonial.  You can see examples of each in Leviticus.  For an example of a civil law, see chapters 13 and 14 which outline laws of hygiene.  You can find an example of moral law in chapters 18 and 19.  Some of the ceremonial laws are given in 23 and 24.  Why is this part of the Christian Bible?  Why should we read it?
2 Timothy 3:16-17 says “All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”  In light of this New Testament declaration (which concerns the Old Testament and New Testament alike), we know that God would have us to gain something from Leviticus.  But what??  What does the grain offering prescribed to the ancient Hebrews at the foot of Mount Sinai have to do with Jesus’ church after the cross??  Aren’t we free from the law?
Yes, we are free from the Law.  The entire book of Galatians, Hebrews and long portions of Romans are dedicated to describing, at great length, how and why we are freed from the Old Testament law.  But there are universal truths behind each law that are useful to understand.  Some are easier than others to discern.  What do we gain from reading them?  A deeper understanding of God’s relationship with his covenant people and his design for human flourishing.  For example, the theme of the entire book of Leviticus is “holiness”.  The word “holy” is used in Leviticus 76 times in 27 chapters. (A quick comparison with the other Books of the law: in Genesis, the word “holy” is used 1 time.  Exodus: 46 times, Numbers: 35 times, Deuteronomy: 11 times.)  We aren’t bound by the laws in Leviticus, but we can see that the universal principle of “holiness” is terribly important to God.
This becomes apparent when we consider the nature of the sacrifices.  Many types of sacrifices for different occasions are outlined.  How many of them have something to do with atoning for sin or ceremonial cleansing?  All except for one: the fellowship offering described in chapter 3.  What can we learn from this?  For thousands of years God has been in the business of making a way for us to have fellowship with him!  There is even a sacrifice prescribed for unintentional sin!  God is so holy and pure he cannot dismiss sin with a wink, yet he still desired relationship with his morally bankrupt people.  The sacrifices and some of the rituals clearly foreshadow Jesus’ final sacrifice at the cross as well.
What about the human rights problems in Leviticus?  Capital punishment is an activity that some people today find disgusting. Most people today are sickened by slavery and many actively fight against human trafficking.  How come we see these two activities condoned in Leviticus?  Isn’t this problematic for the Christian faith?
Yes.  Enemies of the Christian and Jewish faiths, many of them under the umbrella of “progressivism” use passages such as Leviticus 18 and 19 as leverage for their anti-religion agenda.  How can we take the Bible seriously when it condones slavery? Can we really believe that the God who allowed people to sell their children and execute people by stoning and burning is the same God who sent his son Jesus to teach love and forgiveness?  Haven’t we as the human race moved past such draconian, stone-age practices?
Paul Copan, in his Book “Is God a Moral Monster?: Making Sense of the Old Testament God” answers these and other difficult questions with scholarly expertise.  You can purchase it by following this link: http://www.amazon.com/God-Moral-Monster-Making-Testament/dp/0801072751/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1412456629&sr=1-1&keywords=paul+copan+is+god+a+moral+monster   (I also have a Kindle version if you wish to borrow it.)  If you don’t find enough depth in this post, I highly recommend Copan’s work.
For now, let’s go back to what we already know about what God has said in scripture:
1. God created everything. (Genesis 1:1).  As such, he is the creator of absolute truth, morality and humankind.  He is the author of right and wrong, which stands independent of the changing winds of cultural taste.  He is the sole owner of every human being, and apparently feels within his rights to destroy every last one of us if he so chooses (remember the flood! Genesis 6 – 9).  By contrast, our cultural preferences and legal systems are man-made, temporary and subject to change with the new moon.
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2. The form of slavery in the Old Testament was not the same type of slavery we normally think of in our culture today.  With the abolition of slavery less than 200 years behind us, we naturally revert back to a despicable form of slavery, which was permanent, degrading and hopeless.  By contrast, Hebrew slavery was temporary, compassionate and hopeful, as seen in Exodus 21:2 and Leviticus 25:39-46.  What about the foreigners that they enslaved?  They were likewise to be treated with compassion, as seen in Exodus 21:5, where slaves had a legal option to stay with their masters if they chose.  Slaves were allowed to own their own property, and potentially to purchase their own freedom.
Does that make sense of Exodus 21:20-21?  Apparently slave-owners could beat their slaves savagely and be free of legal wrongdoing.  If you are like me, you will find it hard to have a warm fuzzy about that law.  But consider again that we are judging from within our own cultural context into a culture that had only just been freed from hundreds of years of slavery in Egypt.  Beatings were commonplace.  Moses, their leader chosen by God himself had personally killed a man with his own hands!  The ultimate resolution of this problem is that it is God’s word that prevails…not our personal preference.  
Does that mean that we should re-institute slavery as a modern civil structure?  No way!  As New Testament followers of Jesus, there are no second class citizens, as we see in Ephesians 2:11-22 and Galatians 3:28.  Paul also encouraged slaves to purchase their freedom if they were able (1 Corinthians 7:21).
3. What about Capital Punishment?  Sexual deviants, blasphemers, and witches were equally condemned to public execution, usually by stoning, sometimes by burning.  What are we to make of this?  Can God still be good and order the death of an adulterer?  By today’s standards, perhaps half of our population would be condemned!
In order to gain some perspective and clarity, let’s look at three priorities that God has clearly demonstrated: His own reputation, the moral hygiene of his covenant people, and the natural order.
Priority #1: God’s reputation!  As owner of all of humanity, God is concerned that his people know Him as He is.  Knowing who God is and what He is like is an essential part of human flourishing.  As such, when his name and reputation are slandered, or anything that lessens his greatness in the eyes of his people was subject to swift and decisive correction! (Leviticus 10:1-3 and 24:10-23).  Ouch!  Can we reconcile this with the God we see in the New Testament?  Check out Acts 5:1-10.  Ananias and his wife Sapphira lied to God and were instantly killed by the Holy Spirit.  Can you see the parallel?  In each case, a covenant had only just recently begun.  In each case, someone tested the author of the covenant; God.  His reputation was at stake!  These were precedent setting events.  God had the obligation to maintain his reputation, even at the cost of human life (which he owns anyway.)
Priority #2: the Moral Hygiene of God’s People!  Many of the laws we see in the Old Testament seem puzzling: Exodus 34:26–don’t boil a young goat in its mother’s milk.  Leviticus 19:27–don’t trim your hair or beard.  What can we make of these strange commands?  Look at the bigger picture: God was removing Israel from Egypt (a pagan nation) and bringing them to the land of Canaan (a pagan territory).  The surrounding cultures were rife with all types of witchcraft, demon worship, child-sacrifice, ritual prostitution and nature worship.  God’s priority of keeping his people separate from those influences comes out in many of his laws.  Why?  It goes back to God’s reputation (which the pagan worldviews undercut) and human flourishing (which pagan practices stunt).  God was so concerned about the cultural purity of his people that he sometimes used capital punishment as a deterrent.  Is there a modern-day application for that universal principle?  You tell me…
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Priority #3: Rebellion Against the Natural Order!  Leviticus 18:21, You are not to make any of your children pass through the fire to Molech. Do not profane the name of your God.; I am Yahweh.” Leviticus 18:22, “You are not to sleep with a man as with a woman; it is detestable.”  Leviticus 18:23, “You are not to have sexual intercourse with any animal, defiling yourself with it.”  A few of the Old Testament Laws prohibit activities that may have been pagan in practice, but also go completely opposite of natural design.  As such, they are a rebellion against the one who designed them.  Again, God is concerned about His reputation, and the moral hygiene of His people.  The category of sin in those verses bleeds into the other priorities already mentioned, as we see in the verses which follow: “Do not defile yourselves by any of these practices, for the nations I am driving out before you have defiled themselves by all these things…I am Yahweh your God.” (Leviticus 18:24, 30).
*A quick word on homosexuality and the church today*  This is a front-line culture war issue.  The church has a bad reputation in the world’s eyes because many denominations have maintained a biblical stance on homosexuality, which stands in contrast to mainstream culture.  Open Door Church will stand on the Bible, in spite of cultural pressures.  However, we will strive to keep homosexuality in perspective: it is not the only sin.  It is not the worst sin.  We are committed to being truthful about sin of all types, and learning to love sinners of all types.  Expect us to do both less than perfectly.

Jesus and the Book of Eli (part 2). OR, Four reasons Jesus is Way Better Than Whatever Else You Could Worship

“Jesus Christ stands alone, unique and supreme, self-validating, and the Holy Ghost declares Him to be God’s eternal Son. Let all the presidents and all the kings and queens, the senators and the lords and ladies of the world, along with the great athletes and great actors–let them kneel at His feet and cry, ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty!'”

  1. A. W. Tozer

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The first installment of this post (found here: https://worldviewsworshipwineskins.wordpress.com/2014/02/22/jesus-and-the-book-of-eli-part-1/) discussed the Post-Apocalyptic film, “The Book of Eli” and explored the implied meaning of the film.  My argument is that the interpretation of the film is left to the viewer, to an extent.  However, the final scene shows a newly copied King James Bible placed on a shelf alongside the Q’uran and the Torah, which strongly suggests religious pluralism: the idea that every religion is valid.  The goal of this post is to demonstrate the uniqueness of Jesus, and more.  Not only is Jesus unique (aren’t we all, really?) he is superior to every person who ever lived and makes curious truth claims with serious implications.  If Jesus is who he claimed to be, what then?  How should we approach other religions with contrasting truth claims?

In what sense is Jesus unique?  Many people throughout history have laid claim to profound wisdom, insights which might lead us to the fulfillment of our ultimate spiritual purposes.  These include eastern mystics such as Gautama the Buddha, Muhammed the founder of Islam and more recently Joseph Smith, who claimed to add on to the Christian faith.  In one sense, we can learn all that we need to know about a religion, philosophy or worldview by examining the lives and values of it’s founder or founders.  Without going into detail on anyone else, I believe we can learn all we need to know about true religion by learning the Person of Jesus.

Jesus is unique.  One-of-a-kind.  A human singularity.  There was never anyone like him before, and no one will ever be like him again.  Here are four specific reasons why:  1. Jesus is sinless.  2. Jesus is Divine.  3. Jesus embodied fulfiflled prophecy. 4. Jesus is alive.

(1) Jesus is sinless. Not only does scripture tell us that Jesus never broke the moral law, (Hebrews 4.15), but the illegal court that convicted him and sentenced him to death had a contrived charge because none of the witnesses against him could describe a time when he transgressed! Can you imagine anyone else on trial for their life, against whom no charge could be brought?  Joseph Smith?  No.  Gautama?  No.  Muhammed?  No.  Mother Theresa?  No.  Jesus is the only person that ever lived who never violated the timeless moral code.

(2) Jesus is Divine. The New Testament indicates Jesus’ divine nature many times over. Here are three compelling passages that show us not only that the eyewitness authors believed he was divine, but Jesus himself believed he was divine.  In Mark 2.1-12, Jesus meets a paralyzed man in a crowded room.  Before the crowd, Jesus forgave the man’s sins.  Verses 6 through 12 speak for themselves:

But some of the scribes were sitting there thinking to themselves: “Why does He speak like this?  He’s blaspheming!  Who can forgive sins but God alone?”  Right away Jesus understood in His spirit that they were thinking like this within themselves and said to them, “Why are you thinking these things in your hearts?  Which is easier: to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, pick up your mat, and walk’?  But so you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins,” He told the paralytic, “I tell you: get up, pick up your mat, and go home.”  Immediately he got up, picked up the mat, and went out in front of everyone. 

In John 8.58, Jesus reveals two important pieces of his identity: he existed before Abraham, and he applied the title that God used of Himself with Moses at the burning bush: I AM.

After Jesus’ resurrection, he appeared many times to his disciples, giving them a deep conviction that he had literally defeated death.  On one occasion (recorded in John 20.28), he appeared to Thomas, who had previously doubted.  When Jesus showed Thomas the scars in His hands and side, Thomas responded in worship: “My Lord and my God!”  For any self-respecting Jew to utter these words to a mere human would have been blasphemy!  Yet Jesus did not correct Thomas, but accepted his worship as though it were appropriate.

Very few people in history have claimed to be God: a handful of kings and emporers, and a handful of crackpots.  None of them had the power to prove their deity and none have made the impact on history that Jesus has, in spite of their enormous political power.

(3) Jesus miraculously fulfilled Old Testament prophecy.  The following is a short list of prophecies concerning the Jewish Messiah that were written hundreds of years before his birth.  Jesus fits the bill for all of them, and more!

From the tribe of Judah: Genesis 49.10, Luke 3.23, 33.

From the family line of David: 2 Samuel 7.12, Matthew 1.1.

Born in Bethlehem: Micah 5.2, Matthew 2.1.

Preceded by a messenger: Isaiah 40.3, Matthew 3.1-2.

Rejected by His people: Psalm 118.22, 1 Peter 2.7.

His death would be roughly 483 years after 444 B.C: Daniel 9.24.

Specific details of his crucifixion predicted in Psalm 22, His resurrection predicted in Psalm 16.10.

All told, there are over 200 Messianic prophecies in the Jewish Old Testament, all of which are fulfilled in the person of Jesus!  What are the odds?  Beyond the realm of possibility.

(4) Jesus is alive! The resurrection of Jesus is the fulcrum of all history. He provided the most convincing proof of his unique, divine and perfect nature by doing what none had ever done: coming back from the dead.  The resurrection made such an impact, that the people who were best suited to evaluate its implications immediately changed the course of their entire lives to follow this man-God.  For the next century, the message of Jesus and his work at the cross, followed by his resurrection spread across the known world like wildfire.  Not only is the resurrection well attested (Biblically and extra-Biblically), it is the only logical explanation for the existence of the church.  Without the resurrection, the church is an effect without a cause.  

Think about it for a moment: if you were one of the disciples who had followed Jesus and seen him crucified, what possible incentive would you have for spreading a fabricated story about his resurrection?  The early Christians (and many still today) faced persecution and death for their witness to Jesus’ resurrection.  They had every reason in the world to NOT embrace Christianity, and no reason in the world to follow a dead Jesus.  Which leaves the early church with no motive whatsoever to fake the resurrection.  A crime with no motive?  I don’t think they exist.

Which brings us back to the newly printed King James Bible on the shelf at Alcatraz.  Perfect.  Divine.  His life prophesied for generations preceding with stunning accuracy.  Resurrected from the dead.  And we didn’t even get into the fact that he could control the weather…Could Jesus have been simply another sage with good, moral advice, to be shelved next to the works of other great religious thinkers?  Could he have been simply an itinerant preacher with commanding presence who stole the attention of the 1st Century Mediterranian world?  Was he a crackpot whose life has been obscured and embellished?  C. S. Lewis is credited with claiming that there are only three real options for what to think of Jesus: either he was a liar, a lunatic or He is Lord.  All things considered, we can rule out the first two options.  And if Jesus is who He said He is, the idea that he is one among a variety of competing options is false.

Of course, all of this is contingent on whether the documents that comprise the Bible can be taken at face value!  Which is a topic for another day.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yzqTFNfeDnE&sns=em

*Among others, I found Norman Geisler and Peter Bocchino’s “Unshakable Foundations” a useful resource for this post, especially their list of Old Testament messianic prophecies.

Why Christians Shouldn’t Take the Bible Literally

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Maybe you’ve heard this comment or something like it before:

“The Bible is a good book, but you just can’t take it literally.”

Many Christians protest.  “We take the Bible literally!”  We say.  Then passages such as Numbers 22 with Balaam and the talking donkey, or the book of Jonah and his dramatic experience inside the fish are commonly used as ammunition to discredit the reliability of the Bible.  Can any rational person be expected to believe these tales?  Aren’t they just metaphors with moral underpinnings?

Yes.  Rational people CAN (and do) take these accounts at face value.  If we accept the existence of God (which most people do), there is no reason to reject the historical accuracy of miraculous accounts, as long as they are contained in otherwise historically accurate writings.  BUT…we shouldn’t take the Bible literally.

Before you stop reading and label me an apostate, let me explain.  Let’s dig through some basic rules of human communication and grow in our understanding of how to understand and explain the natural way to interpret the Bible.

First and foremost, no one interprets the Bible literally.  As in the WHOLE Bible.  The protestant Bible is made up of 66 books written in 3 different languages on 3 different continents over thousands of years by dozens of authors from every walk of life.  Remarkably, all of that material points to the same person who inspired it (the God of the ancient Hebrews), but it is NOT all literal!  Take, for instance, these lines that Solomon wrote about his bride:

“Your eyes are doves behind your veil.  Your hair is like a flock of goats leaping down the slopes of Gilead.  Your teeth are like a flock of shorn ewes that have come up from the washing, all of which bear twins, and not one among them has lost its young.”  

This passage is obviously poetic and contains figures of speech: metaphors and similes.  If we were to stand on our claim that the Bible should be taken literally, we would have to say that Solomon’s bride had birds for eyes!  Obviously that isn’t what he meant.  Which is what we, as readers of the Bible are looking for: what did the author mean to say?

If the author is writing historical narrative (like the gospels or the first eighteen books of the Old Testament), it’s safe to say he meant for us to interpret his material literally.  Jesus himself interpreted miraculous accounts literally: “For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” (Matt 12.40).  If the passage is poetic, it contains an overwhelming majority of figurative language.  If it is prophetic, the prophet generally lets the reader know whether he is using symbolism and figures of speech.

Here are three of rules of thumb that will never steer you wrong:

1: Context is king!  The author of the text usually gives you pretty clear indications of his intentions.  Let the text speak for itself, don’t take small passages out of their literary context. Jesus is called the “Lamb of God” in several new Testament books.  Do we believe that he was literally a juvenile farm animal?  No, that would be a pretty violent interpretive maneuver.  We understand that we shouldn’t read modern newspapers as though they were poetry.  We know that modern love ballads contain hyperbole.  Figures of speech are common tools in human communication, we have to interpret them the way they were meant to be interpreted.  If there is confusion about the author’s intended meaning in a specific passage, back up a few verses or a couple of chapters and pick up his train of thought.  The surrounding context will generally clear up the meaning of most of the individual verses in the Bible!

2. Ask yourself, “What is the author trying to convey?”  Ultimately, the author controls the meaning of the text, NOT the reader.  What would Steven Spielberg say if someone wrote a review of “Saving Private Ryan” that claimed it was an extended allegory about politics in the 1990s?  My guess is he would say something like “No, you doofus.  That’s not what the film means.”  If we let the text speak for itself, a large majority of interpretation is simple.  Yes, some passages are difficult, but even if we were to exclude them *gasp!* the Gospel message is clear.

3.  “I take the Bible at face value.  It is what it appears to be.  It means what it says.”  These phrase can be very helpful in conversations with those who toss out the “L” word (literally).  We can agree with them and say “No, you’re right.  I don’t take the Bible literally either.  At least not the whole thing.”  This is a good way to find common ground with people who might have never considered normal rules of human communication apply…even to the Bible.

Science and Metaphysics (a reaction to “Science Vs. Religion: Beyond The Western Traditions”)

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Today I read an interesting article on NPR concerning conversation about science and faith.  You can read it here: http://www.npr.org/blogs/13.7/2014/07/13/329759036/science-vs-religion-beyond-the-western-traditions?utm_source=facebook.com&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=npr&utm_term=nprnews&utm_content=20140713

The main idea of the article seems to be that in the U.S., these conversations mainly occur between people with a non-supernatural (or “materialistic”) framework (atheists, agnostics, skeptics etc.) and those from the Abrahamic religions.  Adam Frank, who authored the piece, correctly points out that this approach excludes eastern and mystical worldviews and religions, including Sikhism, Buddhism and Hinduism.  He effectively challenges the reader to broaden the scope of the discussion and exercise some contextualization and to educate oneself on the wider array of perspectives than the one we come to the table with.

I disagree with the author on one major point, however.  First and foremost, he seems to be advocating religious pluralism: “Note that none of this implies that one perspective has to be superior to the others in discussions of science and religion.”  This is a classic postmodern approach to truth: appealing to a multiplicity of perspectives and implying that none (or all) are correct.  Does that work in logical terms?  It would never work in a chemistry lab.  H2S04 is always sulfuric acid, even if there are conflicting viewpoints on the fact.  Likewise, either the materialistic-anti-religious movement is correct in saying that there is no God, or theists are correct.  One perspective or the other is superior, they can never be factual equals.  Mr. Frank is suffering under the illusion that to disagree with someone’s perspective is to disrespect their person.  As Ravi Zacharias has said, “People are equal.  Ideas are not.”

More importantly, Mr. Frank (who works in the field of theoretical physics) failed to address the inadequacy of inductive reasoning (popularly known as “science”) as a tool for assessing metaphysical truth claims.  Plain english: science isn’t able to measure non-scientific things.  Frank places all the world’s religions on one end of the table; each presenting their own metanarrative with mutually exclusive truth claims.  At the other end of the table is empiricism, strangely silent in Frank’s appeal to pluralism.

What are we to interpret by his silence?  It’s hard to speak for Mr. Frank, but many of the science vs. faith (which is a false dichotomy) conversations I have witnessed have gone much like this: 

Skeptical person: “I reject a religious metanarrative in favor of materialism.  If the scientific process can’t provide me with evidence that a particular religion is true, I reject that religion.  I’m just following the evidence.”

Then the religious person (usually a Christian) says something well-intentioned but not very helpful such as “you just have to have faith.”  Or “I don’t believe in evolution because it’s just a theory.”

The Christian metanarrative is ultimately evidence-based and not incompatible with scientific inquiry, as many people try to portray it. Christians who want to engage in those conversations need to at least get a base of knowledge beyond the youtube commandos.  Anti-theists spend copious amounts of their effort and energy learning arguments against theism.  While this doesn’t make their position correct, their vocabluary and tone can often be intimidating to Christians who don’t really have their feet under them in terms of thinking about science and faith.  (If you are a Christian and find yourself unable to answer the challenges of skeptics, don’t lose heart!  Find some good apologetics resources and get equipped!)

Probably the biggest challenge to the conversation is the oft’ uncorrected assumption that science is the appropriate tool to apply to metaphysical questions, such as “does God exist” (or “is there a transcendant reality” in the case of eastern religions).  Clearly metaphysics lies beyond the scope of the scientific process.*  Is that reasonable grounds to assume that no metaphysical reality exists?  If you build a tool for detecting “X”, and you can’t find any “Y” with your “X” detector, you would be silly to proclaim to have proven that anti-Y-ism is the best idea around!  Furthermore, (and this only applies to theistic religions) what logical grounds are there to assume that a deity would be obligated to provide evidence of his/her/its existence?

Let’s simplify the argument of many internet atheism communities:

Every premise must be supported with empirical evidence.  (Ok, that’s not too bad, except that metaphysical realities such as numbers can’t be proven with the scientific process.)

The premise “God Exists” has no empirical evidence to support it. (I happen to disagree with this also, and believe it can be shown to be false.  But I digress.)

 Therefore God does not exist. 

So, we all know that it’s impossible to prove the non-existence of a thing.  Every well-read atheist will remember Bertrand Russell’s infamous parable of the celestial tea-pot.  But there is another flaw in this argument which makes it self-defeating: it assumes that such a deity would be obligated to provide the type of empirical evidence we are asking of it.  Such a premise (God is obligated to give us scientific evidence of his existence) has zero empirical evidence.

The person who is dogmatic in his stance against the supernatural is working off of a self-defeating philosophy, and calling it science.  (This is very common in the movement known as “secular humanism”.  They have co-opted the word “science” for their own anti-religious agenda, and often stretch its meaning or change it completely to something more like materialistic naturalism, which is a philosphy, not science.  This is a logical fallacy known as “equivocation”, or “four term fallacy”.)  If they won’t follow the rules of logic in their own arguments, there isn’t much point in having a conversation.  They have decided that the scientific metanarrative (which seems to add up to nihilism) can replace any other metanarrative by default, on the basis of the merits of science in the natural world.  Unfortunately, science is not equipped to answer metaphysical questions.

So if I could have a cup of coffee with Mr. Frank, I think I would ask him why science even has a place at the table in the conversation about metanarrative.  Science is good at answering questions of physical process, not questions of meaning.  Science can give us “How?”  We look to metaphysics, religion and philosophy for “Why?”  The fact that there is a variety of conflicting answers to “Why?” does not somehow qualify the tools of science to answer.

*We can’t prove the existence of numbers using the scientific process.  Their existence, which is unchallenged, is a question of metaphysics.  One can’t place a “7” into a test tube, or determine the weight of all the prime numbers between one and a million.  In that sense, the existence of numbers is not demonstrable using the tools of modern science.  I use this illustration to show that metaphyiscs is a necessary part of everyone’s apparatus for belief.  We need metaphysics, whether we know it by that name or not.  Ultimately, to require empirical, laboratory evidence for belief in something is not consistent with the way anyone thinks about reality.  As another example, consider loyalty.  Does anyone question the existence of loyalty?  No.  Yet we can’t measure it with the tools of science.  The same is true for hatred, forgiveness and jealousy.  Simply put, science is very useful for making observations and predictions about the physical world.  That’s it.

 

 

Resurrection: legend or fact?

Without the resurrection, the Church is an effect with no cause.

When it comes to determining the historical truth of the resurrection of Christ, many skeptics would be correct by claiming, “the resurrection can’t be scientifically proven.”  This is because historical events aren’t assessed scientifically.  They can’t be scrutinized by the scientific process, reduced to elements controlled in a laboratory and repeated numerous times.  Historical events are assessed with forensics.  We approach the resurrection with the same criteria with which we would approach events such as the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, the Battle of the Bulge or the coronation of Queen Elizabeth.  Since none of those events are repeatable in a lab, we have to assess source materials relevant to the events.  Who saw it?  What did they say?  Is the source an eyewitness, or speaking secondhand?

In the case of the resurrection, the source materials (both New Testament documents and extra-biblical sources) all corroborate the claim the Jesus was crucified, died, was burried and on the third day was raised from the tomb.  In fact, no 1st or 2nd Century document (that I’m aware of) even questions the fact that this event took place!

One more nail in the coffin (what a poor idiom for a blog-post on the resurrection!) for counterclaims of skeptics is the fact that without the resurrection, there is no clear explanation for the birth of the church.  Were the disciples and early believers trying to propagate a known myth?  They why would they die rather than recant?  The fact is, that until Emporer Constantine legalized Christianity in the 4th Century, Christians had all the reason in the world to abandon their new, controversial faith.  There was no incentive on this side of the grave that could possibly account for their stubborn adherence to a fake Messiah.  However, if they knew that the grave was not the end…

Three ways that the resurrection has power in the lives of Christians today: 1. We don’t have to fear death, because Jesus has already been down that road and beat the monsters at the end.  2. We don’t have to worry about temporary injustices and inconveniences because “the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” (Romans 8:18)  and 3. We are ruined for the world.  With an eternal focus, our priorities, the ways we spend our time and money and the affections of our hearts will be turned upside-down.

Have you been revolutionized by the scandal of the resurrection?

Five Reasons Why The Blood Moon Prophecy is Just Bad Math

Sean Holloway

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There are some very fascinating astronomical things happening in our solar system that started today. Last night, the full moon entered the shadow of the earth and created a cool looking and unique appearance that is different from the typical appearance of the moon. While the color of the moon during this eclipse is not always the same, and depends on different factors, last night’s was the more expected red colored “blood moon.” A blood moon is when there is a lunar eclipse at the same time as a full moon in the lunar cycle. But there is something more unusual about this particular occurrence. It is the first of four consecutive similar lunar events. There will be four more blood moons in the next 18 months. This sequence is called a tetrad. These four eclipses will occur on April 15th, 2014 (today), Oct 8th, 2014, April 4th, 2015, and…

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The British Humanist Association Part 1 – “How do we know what is true?”

aRemonstrant'sRamblings

The British Humanist Association this week launched four short videos on the internet to help better explain what Humanism is and what Humanists stand for. Each of them is narrated very professionally by the actor Stephen Fry. Since they touch on discussions common to philosophy, theology and ethics I would like to suggest some responses one could make to them from a theistic perspective.

Take a good look at the final portrait:

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I’m reminded of a scene in the film, Donnie Darko, where Donnie’s teacher insists he pick a view from the two available options. Donnie tries to explain to the teacher that life is not as straightforward as she is suggesting and that he cannot accept the dichotomy she is attempting to force on him. This picture ends up looking something like that. Over on the right we have superstition and religion (bad – “Boooo!”) and on the left…

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