Humans are made to worship. You can see this played out everywhere there are people. We worship the sky, the sun, animals, statues…even each other. Even in this day, when our culture has largely lost the concept of worship, we still worship. Money, celebrities, classic cars…all these and more have the power to absorb our attention and affection. Carl Sagan, celebrated host of the original “Cosmos” series demonstrated a visceral awe at the created universe that has been called Pantheism. That’s worship. Even the Humanist movement, which is blatantly non-spiritual, worships the human. Have you seen “Interstellar”?
What the Bible shows us is that we don’t truly understand ourselves; truly find ourselves until we find the proper object of our worship. The Apostle Paul, in Acts 17 publicly spoke to the Athenians gathered at the Areopagus. They were professional worshipers, crafting idols to represent every conceivable deity under the sun and above it. They had even set up a shrine to “the unknown God”, just so they wouldn’t offend anyone by leaving them out. (Picture your grandmother at Christmas, trying to make sure all of the grandchildren have received equally valuable gifts.)
Referring to that shrine, Paul said “What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it…made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us.”
Yet he is actually not far from each one of us.
Worship is that the heart of who we are. We cannot deny the impulse to lose ourselves in awe and wonder. The promise of the gospel is that when we find the proper object of worship (or rather are found by him), we are complete. This is why in scripture we are warned so consistently against idolatry. Its like God is saying “I am actually not far from you. Don’t settle for that counterfeit!”
Not only does idolatry rob you and I of the fullness of life that comes when we find the proper object of worship, it grieves the heart of God. Picture a husband or wife cuddling up to a picture of their spouse instead of the living, breathing version. (This shouldn’t be too hard, since pornography creates the opportunity for that scenario). Doesn’t it strike you as absurd? The spouse who is left out may experience feelings of jealousy. This is God when we pour our affections out on something other than him: the jilted spouse.
That isn’t to say that there is no space in the Christian life for relationships, pursuits and interests other than Christ. The healthiest married couples do not live in a social vacuum: they enjoy other friendships, good books, and hobbies, all in their proper context. God made pleasure. He made us in such a way that we would enjoy a sunset over the mountains, but he intends for the awe that is generated to be channeled into worship for Him, not worship of the sun. God made us artistic beings, but we should not worship the art. He made food for us to enjoy, but we should not worship our stomachs. He invented sex, but it was intended to reflect the intimacy we might have with him; not replace it.
In short, “every good gift and every perfect gift is from above” (James 1:17). Much of our confusion, dysfunction and pain comes from worshiping the gift instead of the giver.
I heard an earth-shattering observation that concerns the two main approaches to life in Western society. According to the observer, religious communities generally raise children to believe that man is basically evil and the purpose of religion is for for man to battle the evil in his heart. Communities that raise their children in the absence of religion tend to emphasize the need for change in society rather than the need for personal change. The battle, according to this theory, is either within oneself, or without.
While we can grant that there are exceptions to this rule, it seems to be a great way to begin to explain many phenomena in American culture. Can you find religious groups that are interested in making an impact in society? Certainly. Are there non-religious folks who emphasize self-help? Of course. There will always be outliers, but the theory is a helpful tool in understanding competing worldviews in the mainstream.
Call me cynical, but each approach offers false hope. The child who was reared in religious circles often finds himself disillusioned with the church (or whatever tradition she was raised in). In spite of all his effort, he is no less sinful than he was last year, or the year before. Likewise, the social activist will often run out of steam when his ideals are rejected at the polling station…or when the ideals are implemented, but fail because of the human element.
Which philosophy is right? Is it the human heart that needs correction, or society? Where is the failure?
In short, both. While a multitude of societal ills would be cured if real heart change has occurred, Social Action is not necessarily a bad thing. It just seems to treat the symptom rather than the disease. But neither approach (self-improvement or social action) will work. If you have not been down one of these paths and found yourself exhausted and disillusioned, you need only look to history and see the legions of examples of folks who have failed to improve the individual or the group. Real change begins with the heart. If my own experience is any indication, the human heart resists change like water resists oil!
Historically, how can one change the human heart? The Bible says that we are born into sin, powerless to change the evil inclinations that are part of the fabric of human souls. We are cursed. The only hope is for something more powerful than evil to work its power from within. This isn’t possible by imposing an ethical code! Good preaching cannot change the heart! Good education and social reform have proven powerless in the battle against evil–just look at crime rates in communities with lots of social programs.
What must we do? Jesus was sent to defeat the works of the devil (1 John 3:8). He once told a prominent wise man that the only way to see the Kingdom of God is to be born again (John 3). The only agent of change in the human heart is its creator. How is this different from battling the evil in our own hearts? Self-improvement is a scam. God’s improvement comes with the promise of power, renewal and love. And when individuals are transformed by God’s power, societies tend to change as well.
Dr. Morse delivers a talk based on her book “Smart Sex” at Harvard University.
The MP3 file is here. (21 Mb)
52 minutes of lecture, 33 minutes of Q&A from the Harvard students. The Q&A is worth listening to – the first question is from a gay…
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Michael Denton, in highly technical terms, questions the explanatory power of evolution for speciation…as far as i can tell. He explains that while microevolution, which is an observable process, is a scientific certainty, the transitional forms which would provide supporting evidence for macroevolution are absent. He also appeals to several examples of complex biological processes and abstract biological features which provide no survival benefit, bringing into question the possibility that they developed in response to survival pressures. This is the first in a three part series.
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:
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:
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.
Contemporary Bible critics are generating heaps of online and other discussion with their claims: Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene The early church doctored the Canon because of political pressures. The Canon was really information control; a cover-up. The central figure of Christianity was a fabricated myth, based on repeating themes in Pagan religions. The problem with these claims is that most of them are exaggerated, misrepresentations of actual history or complete fabrications. They often rely heavily on the genetic fallacy, dismissing conservative scholarship on the topic simply because it was authored by conservatives. Bart Ehrman, himself a former Christian, discusses part of this issue in his 2012 article in the Huffington Post, which you can find here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/bart-d-ehrman/did-jesus-exist_b_1349544.html More recently, Huffington published an article titled, “Three Answers to Good and Evil That Were Cut From the Bible” by Dr. Joel Hoffman. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dr-joel-hoffman/three-answers-to-good-and_b_5748286.html
Hoffman’s work falls neatly into the category of sensational “click-bait misinformation described above. Like Dan Brown’s “DaVinci Code”, the piece presumes from the start that the Bible is flawed. The difference between Hoffman’s work and Brown’s is that Hoffman’s pretends to be scholarly commentary, while Brown doesn’t hide the fact that he writes fiction. Dr. Hoffman’s article is academically and theologically disappointing for three reasons.
First, he demonstrates either a willful obscuring or a fundamental ignorance of the meaning of Deuteronomy. Hoffman attempts to portray the Pentateuchal sermon as a meta narrative explanation on suffering, while it is obviously a legal “suzerainty” covenant, similar to others in its day. The covenant agreement in Deuteronomy applied to the ancient Hebrews, whom God had chosen for himself and delivered from Egypt. It wasn’t a set of universal axioms, as Hoffman claims. Simply put, Deuteronomy was a set of promises between two parties (the Israelites and God) and those two parties alone.
Second, Hoffman doesn’t even attempt to address the conservative position on Canon, but presents his case as though any ancient writing that one might fancy has an equal footing with the traditional Canon. This is a typical maneuver for skeptical religious scholars of late, as well as many in the New Atheist school: they either ignore, insult or mischaracterize conservative scholarship without actually addressing it. Admittedly, Hoffman’s tone is not at all caustic toward conventional Christian thinking, except in the fact that he assumes from the start that we have been wrong all along, and never shows us why. It’s an arrogant assumption, which essentially says, Conventional Christian thinking on the Canon is wrong. Why? I don’t have to explain, it just is.
Perhaps Hoffman would resort to the genetic fallacy? The Canon is wrong because the early Church had a hand in its formation. Well, he doesn’t explicitly state that, so it becomes difficult to follow his reasoning without reading between the lines. Like this one, concerning the Book of Enoch: “Written before the Book of Daniel and quoted in the Book of Jude, Enoch was amongst the most beloved and popular writings in antiquity, but it was whitewashed from mainstream religion in the first millennium AD.” That sentence is a prime example of the subtle undermining of two hundred or more years of conservative scholarship on the Canon. Let’s briefly dissect three different items:
One. “Written before the Book of Daniel…” Is there a consensus on the dating of Enoch? What about Daniel? What Hoffman is not telling his readers is that the entire premise of liberal vs. conservative scholarship hinges on the dates when the books were authored. Earlier dates have been the official position of the church since the church fathers, some of whom personally knew the authors, first wrote about scripture. Their position was only questioned during the time of the enlightenment: nearly two millenia after the books were actually written. How does it stand to reason that the enlightenment thinkers (who would categorically deny the possibility of a miracle, and thus had a vested interest in explaining the existence of scripture in a non-miraculous light) were in a better position to evaluate the authenticity of ancient documents than the people who wrote about them, essentially before the ink was dry on the page? (C.S. Lewis wrote a great essay on that topic here: http://orthodox-web.tripod.com/papers/fern_seed.html) Hoffman’s tone of finality and lack of explanation on these points is intellectually dishonest and inappropriate for a popular platform such as Huffpo.
Two. “…whitewashed from mainstream religion…” In so many words, Hoffman accuses the church of mishandling the Canon. What were their criteria for Canonization? What books would have qualified if Hoffman had his say-so? Which, if any, would be excluded, and why? Again, **crickets**
Three. “…whitewashed from mainstream religion in the first millennium AD.” What? As an historical statement this is so broad and vague that it hardly means anything. Of course, it is a popular piece, but still…Who did the whitewashing? How was it done? Did they tell people to have the book burnt? Did they stop producing more copies? Did they ban its sale? Did they just not endorse it?
The first two disappointments covered in this post (misrepresentation of Deuteronomy and silence on central Canon issues) are really nothing compared to the third. Hoffman’s characterization of orthodox Christian teaching on suffering is sadly incomplete. The irony is that his premise accuses the orthodox position of the same thing, viz. the title: “Three Answers to Good and Evil that Were Cut From The Bible”. Astonishingly, Hoffman’s version of the Biblical teaching on suffering includes no mention of the Messiah.
Why is the Messiah a fundamental in the Biblical meta-narrative on good, evil and suffering? He is the central character in Bible. He is mentioned in nearly every Canonical book. One of his stated purposes is to “defeat the works of the devil.” In the battle for the soul of humanity, no one person figures more prominently.
Of all the reasons that the Messiah is relevant, nay, central to this conversation, the most important reason is the Messiah’s answer to suffering: the Messianic ministry of presence. The ministry of presence essentially works like this: I, the eternally pre-existent, all-powerful, all-knowing, omnipresent Messiah will be with you. Many Messianic predictions in the Old Testament concern his suffering. Many also concern his proximity to the brokenness of mankind. One of His best nicknames is “Immanuel, God with us.” Daniel chapter 3 demonstrates this principle perfectly: He didn’t rescue Nebuchadnezzar’s victims from the fire, but he joined them.
It might be said that he Bible doesn’t clearly answer the “why” of suffering, although there are some clues. What it does is offer the more important answer of “whom?” To whom shall I turn when the world is caving in on itself? The God-man who knows all about suffering because He’s traveled the road to hell and back on my behalf. The one who has all my tears in a bottle and knows the number of hairs on my head. The one who has promised ultimate justice in response to temporal injustice. Delayed gratification for the faithful, rest for the weary, forgiveness for the guilty and rescue for the prisoner. The Messiah is the ultimate answer to the condition of man. To my knowledge, no other major religion has this central feature: a deity who loves us and identifies with us.
Hoffman portrays a neutered and gutted version of the Biblical answer to suffering. His straw-man version has dissonant, disjointed voices that either offer moral platitudes or lamentations over the dismal state of the world. In reality, the Orthodox Canon recognizes the fallen nature of the world and promises a remedy in the form of a rider on a white horse who has already begun His work of restoration in the hearts of his people and will finish it by re-creating the Heavens and the Earth, complete and without suffering.
Dr. Hoffman doubtless generated some conversation, probably sold a few copies of his book. Huffington Post has probably benefited from his material by selling advertising embedded in his article. But has the truth been told, or is it buried beneath the layers of DaVinci Code-styled click-bait?