January 21, 2015

Newsweek's Challenge: A Call for Greater Biblical Literacy

Last month, Newsweek published a commentary aimed at "God’s frauds, cafeteria Christians who pick and choose which Bible verses they heed with less care than they exercise in selecting side orders for lunch." The purpose of writing to this group? Kurt Eichenwald (the article's author) writes:
"Newsweek’s exploration here of the Bible’s history and meaning is not intended to advance a particular theology or debate the existence of God. Rather, it is designed to shine a light on a book that has been abused by people who claim to revere it but don’t read it, in the process creating misery for others. ...

 ...It is only through accepting where the Bible comes from— and who put it together—that anyone can comprehend what history’s most important book says and, just as important, what it does not say." (emphasis added)
Notice, according to Einchenwald, there is something the article is not meant to do; namely, it is not meant to "advance any particular theology." Yet, what it is meant to do is shed "light on a book" and "comprehend what history's most important book says and...what it does not say." Of course, by shedding light on a book that has been identified as abused is to correct errors, which is to advance a position, and to say what it says and does not say can't happen without advancing a particular theology. The point is not to catch Einchenwald in a trap of his own words--a "gottcha." The reason I point this out is simply to be clear what is actually happening, despite any claims to the contrary.

The theology advanced is one that wants to raise questions about the credibility of Scripture (e.g., "...what biblical scholars now know is that later versions of the books differ significantly from earlier ones—in fact, even copies from the same time periods differ from each other"), the nature of orthodoxy ("for hundreds of years after the death of Jesus, groups adopted radically conflicting writings about the details of his life and the meaning of his ministry, and murdered those who disagreed"), and the actual meaning of Scripture itself (e.g., "he word homosexual didn’t even exist until more than 1,800 years after when 1 Timothy was supposed to have been written. So how did it get into the New Testament? Simple: The editors of these modern Bibles just made it up."). These are just a taste of some of the claims.

What can be said?

The claims made in the article are at the very least very over-simplistic conclusions, if not entirely wrong at times. There is little apparent effort to present a balanced discussion or introduce any of the  complexity involved in a historical development of the cannon of Scripture, and as such, the history reviewed is a straw-man. Other than to say this directly about the claims, I would recommend several good resources and responses already available. For the most direct responses, read Dr. Michael Kruger's blog posts in direct response to Newsweeks' article (see here and here); even read the comments on those blog posts, where Eichenwald and Kruger have a few respectful exchanges. For indirect responses to these criticisms, I would recommend reading Dr. Michael J. Kruger's book, Cannon Revisited, and/or a shorter and more accessible book, How the Bible Came to Be, in dealing with questions about the textual critiques. I would recommend Kruger's book, Heresy of Orthodoxy in addressing the questions of various orthodoxy in the early church.

Beyond addressing the particular claims, I think there are two important and related points to make. First, the sum total of these critiques raise one central question: Is this really what God says?. It's the oldest tactic in the book (see Genesis 3:1), but classics never die. This is to say that an attack on Christianity will necessarily have to be an attack on Scripture, for it is where God reveals himself most explicitly.

As such, it might be easy, even reflexive, to entirely ignore such an article as a biased attack on Christianity, but let's not throw the baby out with the bathwater. There is something worthwhile and important to extract from this piece.

Throughout the claims made in the article runs the thread that those who claim to know the Bible don't really know it. This is fair to the extent that it is true, and in nearly the only piece of evidence used in the article, we see that Christians are widely unfamiliar with the Bible (and as such, hold some bad theology). 

My point is that if we claim to be servants of Christ and by extension to live by the Bible, then read it, study it, feed on it. Take it seriously--as the source of God's Word. The healthiest response to Eichenwald's article is reflect on the truth that it may reveal about ourselves--namely, how serious we take the Bible. If we claim to be servants of God, are we listening to him? How much do we know about the Bible? (Try this quiz).

There are a number of Bible reading plans available; use them. For any flaws or poor critiques in Newsweek's article, it is valuable in its call for greater familiarity with Scripture. We should answer the call.

January 12, 2015

My Best Reads of 2014

I spent a substantial portion of my reading time on apologetics books in 2014. This was both for my enjoyment, but also to prepare for the God Debate course I taught this past year. In this category, I would recommend R. C. Sproul's Defending the Faith, and a book that was particularly influential on me--Scott Oliphint's Covenantal Apologetics (see posts here, here, here, and here on this book). Indeed, these books were good, powerful, and occupied my thoughts, and they would have even if I hadn't been preparing to teach this course. Still, my top reads for 2014 don't include these books. I present my top-5 reads, which had all these qualities, but something more.

5. World War Z (Max Brooks): Sometimes a book is good because it surprises you. This is the case with World War Z. I picked up the book to find out what was the reason for all the hype about zombies. It seems to me that zombies were on the rise of popularity (e.g., I'm thinking about the popularity of the Walking Dead show). I'm still not sure that I get that, but what I found was that a hypothetical all-out war with the living dead provided some commentary on the nature of war itself and raised some moral dilemmas unique to such a situation. In short, what surprised me was that the book wasn't simply about scary creatures; there is something deeper that motivates people to write about, read about, and watch zombies, the "living-dead." Maybe they provide a context to comment on human nature or maybe they are a way to describe something about people that is difficult to express otherwise. I'm not sure what is. The book also stands out because it is written as a series of interviews of survivors of the zombie war, making the fiction feel more real--like a historical narrative. I "read" the audiobook. Max Brooks, the author of the book, plays the interviewer of the survivors. The audiobook format works extremely well for this style. The various voices round out the characters, and I'm not sure my shallow interest in zombies would have made the book as enjoyable otherwise.

4. Pilgrim's Progress (John Bunyan): Pilgrim's Progress was another surprise. I thought I would feel a sense of accomplishment having read it; I thought I would be able to check this classic off my reading list. I got much more. Indeed, I certainly didn't think I would have a desire to pick it up and read it again. But, I do. Read my review of the book here.

3. Taking God at His Word (Kevin DeYoung): Kevin DeYoung is an excellent writer. Period. Indeed, his works holds two spots on my list. In this work, DeYoung calls his readers to love God's Word. He opens with a reflection on Psalm 119, a love-poem of sorts about The Law--i.e., Scripture. DeYoung wants his reader to 'Amen!' this Psalm by the end of the book. He goes about this by explaining the clarity, sufficiency, and necessity of Scripture, with a chapter dedicated to each attribute. This is not a technical apologetics book about which books were selected or other similar topics. These are important aspects, but it's not DeYoung's goal. This is a book about the doctrine of Scripture, and in DeYoung's easy-to-read, engaging, and relatable style, this stodgy-sounding topic is insightful and intriguing; it rings true; it builds confidence in God's Word; and it does inspire an 'Amen' to Psalm 119.

2. Get Real: Sharing Your Everyday Faith Every Day (John Leonard):Do you want to obey the great commission (Matthew 28:18-20)? Do you feel weird about 'doing evangelism'? Read this book. I plan to write a more extensive review of this book later.

1. The Hole in Our Holiness (Kevin DeYoung):DeYoung helps us to understand one of the reasons why God saved you. Spoiler alert: To be holy. Again, I plan to write a little more extensive review, so I'll leave this teaser here for now.

January 2, 2015

Price War

Here's an explanation for why we are experiencing lower gas prices. The video below is a quick and easy-to-understand summary.

When the state goes to war, everyone loses--death and destruction, not to mention the psychological and moral toil. When businesses go to war (and yes, in a global market), there are lower prices and greater production. In short, we all win. Price wars are good.

January 1, 2015

Happy New Year

"Whatever the events of this year, let divine grace be sufficient for me, to enable me to accommodate myself to the will of God in them; and then nothing can come amiss" 
--Matthew Henry

Defense of the Faith Fundamentals (Principles 8-10)

Last semester, I co-taught a course on the existence of God called "The God Debate." This course also led to a public discussion between me and my co-professor, Dr. Matt Sayers.

Leading up to the debate, I reviewed the first seven of ten principles of the covenantal apologetics method (see my review of principles #s1-4, #s5-6, and #7). These are described in Scott Oliphint's great book, Covenental Apologetics. In this post, I will finish this series by briefly reviewing principles #8-10 from this book.

Principle #8: "Suppression of the truth, like the depravity of sin, is total but not absolute. Thus, every unbelieving position will necessarily have within it ideas, concepts, notions, and the like that it has taken and wrenched from their true, Christian context."  (Kindle ed., p. 52)."

Suppression of the truth can only go so far. One cannot, even in suppressing the most fundamental truth--the existence of God and one's covenantal obligations to Him--deny reality fully. "Thus, there will be aspects of the truth of the knowledge of God that surfaces in those who are in Adam" (Kindle ed., p. 52).

This principle can remind the apologist to not dismiss all aspects of the nonbeliever's worldview . This doesn't mean that we operate on some neutral ground, though. They still deny the underlying or most fundamental aspect of reality, and "[t]hose who die in Adam will be held responsible for every fact... that they took from God's world, even as they refused to acknowledge the facts to be God's facts in the first place" (Kindle ed., p. 52).

 Principle #9: "The true, covenantal knowledge of God in man, together with God's universal mercy, allows for persuasion in apologetics."  (Kindle ed., p. 52)."
"Some might want to argue that if tenet 7 above is correct, then there is no use discussing, debating, or arguing about the truth of Christianity, since man is either in one 'world' or in the other. If there is such a divide, it might be asked, how can we even reach those who live in a world of their own making? The answer is twofold. First, because people always and everywhere know the true God, whenever we speak God's truth to them, it 'gets through' and 'connects' to that knowledge that God is continually giving to them. Second, because God's universal mercy restrains their sin in various ways, the depravity that might otherwise hinder our conversation is also restrained" (Kindle ed., pp. 52-53).
One of the unique aspects about the covenantal apologetics approach is the idea of persuasion. It does not dismiss the power and necessity of arguments and logic, but it places a great emphasis on honing one's skill at identifying and using those accurate aspects of the unbelievers' worldview (see Principle #8) to point them to the underlying truth. Paul's use of secular poets to point his audience to the one true God serves as an example of  using truths in the unbelievers' worldview to point them to the Ultimate Truth. It may also come in the form of showing the unbeliever that there worldview cannot sustain or account for that particular truth, but that the Christian worldview can.

Principle #10: "Every fact and experience is what it is by virtue of the covenantal, all-controlling plan and purpose of God."  (Kindle ed., p. 53)."

This principle reminds the apologist that everyone--those in Adam and those in Christ--live and breathe in God's world and live and breathe because of Him. "So in order for someone to understand one fact properly, that fact needs to be seen in the context of God's plan and purposes" (Kindle ed., p. 53). The apologist's job is to hold that fact up to the unbeliever, to show him this fact: one can only make sense of reality by understanding God and one's covenantal relationship to Him.