Worldviews, Worship, and Wineskins

The Gospel at Work in Every Context

Objections: Can the Bible Prove Itself?


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.


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:


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.


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:   (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.
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…
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.

Spawn of DaVinci Code (A Response to “Three Answers to Good and Evil That Were Cut From The Bible”)


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: More recently, Huffington published an article titled, “Three Answers to Good and Evil That Were Cut From the Bible” by Dr. Joel Hoffman.

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: 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?

Worldview summary (updated)


Updated worldview summary by Cameron Blair from FEVA. PDF version (3.5 MB)

View original post

Four ways to read Revelation



A diagram contrasting the four main ways of reading the book of Revelation, in terms of the timing of the events in relationship to the original and contemporary readers. Adapted from ‘The Unveiling’ studies by Phil Campbell ( PDF version (127 KB)

View original post

What’s Next?

Encounter. Encourage. Engage.

multiplicationThere’s only one way to do the thing that is set before us and there needs to be some intentional shifting in order for that to happen. I don’t necessarily believe we are off track as much as I believe we are ripe for a shift of focus from the current platform. The present and the past don’t need to be discounted or disparaged to step from here into the future. You don’t have to tear down to build up.

There is always dialogue, discussion and debate about the place of the “mega” church in the schematic of the Kingdom. Can this be the intention, where a large percentage of resources go to self-sustainment, staffing and mortgage payments? Can this be right, as super-star preachers are elevated to a place where pride is a constant threat? Are these big buildings really the end game?

The next step in that debate…

View original post 302 more words

The ISIS Crisis and the Myth of Progress

Speculating about the religious violence in Iraq from the comfort of my sheltered, suburban vantage point feels crass.  My children are not under threat of beheading.  My wife is not in danger of being raped and forced to marry a murderous terrorist.  There is little chance of me being nailed to a cross or hung. But there is an important point about what is going on that can’t be missed.  It has to do with the optimism of progressives and humanists, and why that optimism can’t be sustained.

One-hundred years ago last June, Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated in Sarajevo, precipitating the worst war the world had ever seen.  The zeitgeist of the age was summed up in the slogan, “better and better, every day.”  Hegel’s dialectic theory of history was a model that predicted each era improving on the previous.  Early in the war, an ancient poem by the Roman Horace was a rallying cry for supporters: Dulce Et Decorum Est.  How Sweet and Honorable it is to Die for One’s Country.  As casualties mounted and trench warfare plunged men and animals into depths of suffering not known since the middle ages, the poem was rewritten with an ironic and bitter tone, lamenting the monumental losses and “man’s inhumanity to man.” (Francis Schaeffer’s phrase).

One-hundred years later, I fear we are at the same place.  There is a widespread belief that the inhuman acts of yesteryear are gone, banished in the light of knowledge and progress.  How can progressives account for this week’s events in Iraq?  “Religion.”  They might say.  “Fundamentalism.”  But this is a fallacy which requires gross historical cherry-picking to sustain.  If progressives wish to attribute brutality to only religious movements, they have yet to account for explicitly anit-religious brutality that has occurred in the few decades since Franz Ferdinand became the first casualty of World War One.  Stalin, Mao Zedong, Pol-Pot and their dozens of henchmen murdered more people during the 20th Century than any religious movement in the history of mankind.  If we look back further, we see that the French Revolution, based on Enlightenment principles, also ended up in a bloodbath.

The point is that we can’t put faith in any system or human institution.  No political party, no philosophy, no religion or social program has the power to overcome the trump card of humankind’s evil.  Paris Reidhead called us “monsters of iniquity”, and rightly so.  Christians and our apathetic hypocrisy.  Muslims and their lust for domination.  Humanists and their deceitful arrogance.  Those who claim no flag and point the finger at everyone else.  We are all monsters of iniquity, each with the potential to sink to subhuman lows.  How else did ordinary Germans become cruel prison guards at Auschwitz?  Are the acts we are seeing today in Iraq subhuman, or simply human?  They are on par with human behavior in every period of our mottled past.  History shows us that humans in each generation are typically guilty of grotesque evil.  This is humanity: infinite potential for good, locked into an eternal struggle with our own evil.

What is the answer?  Not a political system.  Not more education.  Not more information or study.  All of these have proven their failure to redeem our brokenness.  The answer is not a policy, it’s a person.  The person of Jesus, who would have us to pray for our enemies in the Islamic State. What?  Yes, Jesus told us to pray for those who persecute you.  Today, I would prefer to be sniping them one at a time with a .308, or mowing them down with a minigun from a helicopter. Maybe that’s what needs to happen on one level.  But I don’t have that option.  So in the meantime, I’ll write and pray.  And urge you to pray with me.  Pray for the victims and terrorists alike.  And pray for our political leaders, flawed, evil and with feet of clay.  They need prayer as much as the rest of us.

Friday Night Mystics: David Brainerd


1718 – 1747

For his few, troubled years, David Brainerd’s life left an indellible mark on his generation.  In the intervening years, his reputation and life’s work have been somewhat underrated, perhaps overshadowed by his friend and associate, Jonathan Edwards.  Brainerd’s main contribution was in his pioneer missionary work to Native Americans, but he is most remembered today for his personal prayer journal.  This firebrand burned so brightly and hotly for the Lord that he worked himself to an early grave, spending his last weeks in the home of Edwards.  He finally succumbed to Tuberculosis and consumption on October 9, 1747.

David Brainerd’s diary was reproduced for posterity, to his relucant acceptance, only after much pleading on the part of Edwards.  Below are two exerpts:

“I thought the Spirit of God had quite left me; but still was not distressed: yet disconsolate, as if there was nothing in heaven or earth could make me happy.  Having been thus endeavouring to pray — though, as I thought, very stupid and senseless — for near half an hour, then, as I was walking in a dark thick grove, unspeakale glory seemed to open to the view and apprehension of my soul.  I do not mean any external brightness, for I saw no such thing; … but it was a new inward apprehension or view that I had of God, such as I never had before, nor any thing which had the least resemblence of it.  I stood still, wondered, and admired! …  My soul rejoiced with joy unspeakable, to see such a God, such a glorious Divine Being; and I was inwardly pleased and satisfied that he should be God over all for ever and ever.  My soul was so captivated and delighted with the excellency, loveliness, greatness, and other perfections of God, that I was even swallowed up in him; at least to that degree, that I had no thought (as I remember) at first about my own salvation, and scarce reflected there was such a creature as myself.”

“I knew not what to say to my God, but only lean on his bosom, as it were, and breathe out my desires after a perfect conformity to him in all things.  Thirsting desires, and insatiable longings, possessed my soul after perfect holiness.  God was so precious to my soul, that the world with all its enjoyments was infinitely vile.  I had no more value for the favour of men, than for pebbles.  The LORD was my ALL; and that he overruled all, greatly delighted me.”

Post Navigation