Interviews with Apologetics Difference Makers

104254961Over the lifetime of my former podcast, Straight Thinking, I had the opportunity to interview a plethora of scholars and scientists. Topics of discussion included science-faith issues, Christian apologetics and theology, and Islam. Below is a partial list of the interviews housed in the Straight Thinking archives. I hope you find them helpful as evangelistic resources.

RTB has recently launched a new family of equipping podcasts, including my new one, Imago Dei, under the banner Apologia. You can check them out here.

 

Review of “A.D. The Bible Continues”

Photo from the episode

Photo from the episode “The Spirit Arrives” (Adam Levy as Peter and Babou Alieu Ceesay as John)

Sunday nights have become much more exciting in my home as my family has been following the adventures of the apostles and the early church. Based on the resurrection account of the Gospel of John and the book of Acts, A.D. The Bible Continues is in the middle of an 11-episode run on NBC. The series premiered on Easter Sunday and now that we’re about halfway through, I’d like to offer some thoughts.

I am a true fangirl of NBC’s original 1985 television mini-series A.D. In my view, that was the best cinematic adaptation of the Bible ever done. (Here is a link to the original with Italian subtitles.) So when I heard that a remake was in the works, I screamed with excitement like a schoolgirl.

My expectation soared even higher when I found out that the minds and money behind this latest version is the husband-wife team of Mark Burnett (executive producer behind The Voice, Survivor, The Apprentice, and Shark Tank) and Roma Downey (actress, Touched by an Angel). Both claim to be Christians and have done an impressive job of enrolling the support of Christian leaders ranging from Rick Warren to the pope. Downey self-identifies as a Roman Catholic and Burnett hasn’t disclosed a particular denominational affiliation.

One of the persistent gripes I have about Bible epics is that they don’t do enough to set the proper historical context. Viewers are typically shown snippets of dialogue and events stitched together in film adaptations. Filmmakers usually try to cover too much ground in too little time. This was part of my concern in the previous Burnett-Downey production, The Bible (see my reviews here and here). However, A.D. The Bible Continues, perhaps by focusing on only a small portion of the Bible narrative, greatly corrects this problem. The filmmakers actually have time to develop the characters, motivations, and cultural background behind the story of early Christianity. Viewers are drawn into the Jewish and Roman leaders’ attempts to suppress the spread of the news of Jesus’ resurrection and the burgeoning church.

Some viewers will be troubled by the writers’ decision to make the political conflict between Jewish leaders and the Romans the primary focus of the plot, rather than the biblical characters. I would respond to this concern by saying that biblical epics should not be confused with documentaries, nor are they visual depictions of the written word of Scripture.

A.D. The Bible Continues toggles between history, historical fiction, and imagination. This, of course, is part of any normal Hollywood film that is “based on a true story.” Some films aspire to be an extremely accurate portrayal of real life, while others aim to be compelling cinema. It’s rare for films to achieve both. For these reasons, the A.D. writers have transformed certain characters such as Caiaphas and Pontius Pilate, minor from a biblical perspective, into major ones. The writers incorporate historical sources and some informed speculation to provide the historical landscape to develop the story. The trade-off for all this is that the acts of the apostles and the expansion of the Gospel often get relegated to the B story.

Book-to-film adaptations offer their own set of challenges. Just ask any Tolkien fan about the faithfulness of Peter Jackson’s cinematic versions of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit and you’ll get a quick lesson on some of those challenges. Film is a fundamentally different genre than the written word. The translation between the two genres requires certain adjustments—and concessions.1

Like The Bible, A.D. The Bible Continues contains a fair amount of violence. People are stabbed, beheaded (often through throats being slit), and crucified. I even shut my eyes several times. Even so, the film does a decent job of accurately portraying the brutal nature of the ancient world, without getting excessive. This series would likely receive at least a PG-13 rating if released in theatres.

Overall, Burnett and Downey’s efforts in A.D. The Bible Continues have pushed Christian filmmaking to a new level. This is a noteworthy attempt to make a biblical story for mainstream network television. Christians historically have had only minimal influence in Hollywood. Consequently, Christian cinematic endeavors have been fairly uneven and often underfunded. It takes Hollywood insiders who really understand the business to produce filmic projects at this level. And the power couple of Burnett and Downey are definitely making new inroads.

For more discussion of A.D. The Bible Continues, listen to this recent podcast episode.

Endnotes

  1. For more about the impact of these differences when it comes to transferring Scripture to screen, see Neil Postman’s classic Amusing Ourselves to Death or Jacques Ellul’s The Humiliation of the Word.

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By Krista Bontrager

Krista Bontrager is the dean of online learning at Reasons to Believe. She is a teacher at heart and enjoys teaching the Bible to all ages. She has an MA in theology and another in Bible exposition from Talbot School of Theology.

Reflections on Prayer (Part 2)

Today RTB editor Maureen Moser and I conclude a discussion on prayer. (See part 1 here.)

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C. S. Lewis is credited with saying, “I don’t pray to change God’s mind; I pray to change my mind.” What would you say is the purpose of prayer in Christian life?

Family Saying Grace before Meal

Family Saying Grace before Meal

That’s a great comment by Lewis. The purpose of prayer is carrying on our relationship with the God who loves us. I can’t imagine not spending a good amount of time talking with my wife, both privately and publicly.

I think Lewis even said prayer is like breathing. It’s a natural thing. Sometimes it’s crying out to God. Other times it’s joyful thankfulness. There’s even a place for going through a grocery list of requests.

Prayer also has a role in the confession of our sins. This is a time of reflecting on the depth of our sin and embracing God’s grace. It’s easy to believe God loves you when you’re having a good week—but let’s say you have a very bad week. I know a lot of Christians who think God’s ticked off with them most of the time. Incorporating good principles of theology into our own view of ourselves is beneficial to prayer. It guides our confessions and helps us to believe that God is faithful and just to forgive us.

Do you think regularity in prayer or the time of day you pray matters at all?

Historically there’s been a time in the morning that Christians would pray. In the medieval period, the church would ring the bell at times of prayer and all the people of the community would gather together. I know many people, mainly in the Reformed tradition, who have a Sunday lunch followed by a time of prayer. That’s their routine.

Is there a right time and a wrong time? I don’t think so. Anytime is a good time for prayer, but I do think that patterns and regularity are helpful because when we develop habits we tend to stick with them. Whether we have regular prayer in the morning, noon, or evening, we should be consistent. To cite Lewis again, faith is acting on what you know to be true regardless of the mood you’re in. If we only prayed when we were in the mood, it probably wouldn’t happen very often.

In a quiet time, how would prayer balance out with Bible study?

Somebody once asked the great Presbyterian theological Benjamin Warfield, what’s more important prayer or Bible study and he replied, “Prayerful Bible study.” Bible study can be academic and it can be devotional. The latter might be a time of reading and praying.

There’s a long, strong tradition within Christianity that the reading of the Scripture is to be accompanied by prayer. Of course, the more we know and understand about the text (author, context, etc.) I think the greater the opportunity for us to pray in a more thoughtful and intelligent way. So prayer and reading the Bible definitely go together.

We’ve talked about all kinds of prayer—silent, private, public. Would journaling or writing down prayers have any place in that list?

Yes, I think that could be a helpful practice. Sometimes we are not cognizant of God answering our prayers. Writing down our requests and concerns could help us recognize when He has answered them. There are also times in prayer when we simply talk to God as we would to a caring friend. Writing can be helpful in this process, too.

I often see prayer mentioned in connection with meditation. What does Christian meditation look like and how does it differ from the New Age/Eastern mysticism image that we commonly see?

That is a concern for many people. When we bring up meditation, the image is often of devotees of Krishna Consciousness or transcendental meditation. But Eastern meditation and Christian meditation are very different from one another.

Eastern meditation can be blanking out the mind or it can be repeating a mantra over and over. The Krishna Consciousness, for example, encourages people to repeat Krishna’s name 1,000 times a day. It’s believed the repetition will engender more love on the part of the devotee.

Biblical revelation and historic doctrine inform Christian meditation. The Bible talks about meditating on God’s Word and His goodness. This includes reflecting on God’s glory, power, and provision. We can also ponder the life of Christ. Christian meditation involves thinking carefully, in a quiet and constructive way. But I think it also involves silence. Prayers can become very busy things, but meditation can still the busyness and help us listen.

What advice would you give to a Christian wanting to cultivate a richer prayer life?

Study prayer. Look at what the Bible says about it (Psalms is a good place to start) or pick a really good book that lays out a theological foundation of prayer.

Reading a collection of the great formal prayers is helpful, too. I often find that reading the liturgy helps me to realize how big God is. The Anglican Church’s The Book of Common Prayer is an excellent resource. I often read it because I want the best Christian theology and thought on prayer to shape my mind.

Of course, none of this should take away from your own spontaneity. God doesn’t care whether you read The Book of Common Prayer or not. He’ll be attentive to what you say no matter what.

What about when God doesn’t answer a prayer the way we had hoped, for example, healing of a loved one? What does that say about the power of prayer?

That’s a challenging question. I don’t mind telling God what I think or what I hope will happen, but I definitely frame my prayers by recognizing God’s sovereignty. My approach is to say, “Lord, I don’t know what your sovereign will is in all these circumstances, but I know what the need is and I know the feeling and the hurt. If it be in accordance with your will, please bring healing or provision.”

When people pray for something specific like healing and it doesn’t happen, it can be a time of struggle and difficulty. But it can also be a time of great spiritual growth. In 1 Thessalonians 5:16–18 Paul says we are to be joyful, prayerful, and thankful. You can be joyful when you’re not terribly happy. You can be prayerful at any time no matter what the circumstance may be. And then there’s gratitude. I think there are many people today writing about happiness being tied directly to gratitude (see here and here).

Perhaps, then, we should pray for God to reveal what purpose He has for us in our suffering. We can also pray to remind ourselves that we are confident that God can heal and provide even as we acknowledge that, if His will is otherwise, He still has something good for us along the way.

 

Reflections on Prayer (Part 1)

Prayer is an essential part of both the private Christian life and the church’s corporate worship. In this interview series, RTB editor Maureen Moser and I discuss the ins and outs of prayer.

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How does Scripture define prayer?

ThinkstockPhotos-154184807I think the general answer to your broad question is that prayer is a line of communication between our Lord and us. Typically, communication should involve both listening and talking. He is the Shepherd and we are the sheep. He is the great King and we are the people who are dependent upon Him.

Yet there is a great variation in prayer style and substance. Sometimes prayer is a time of meditation or reflection. A lot of people enjoy reading Scripture and then pondering it. Many times, prayer involves being thankful and grateful. Then, of course, another part of the communication is supplication where we ask the Lord for our needs and for others’ needs.

What’s interesting is that Paul talks about praying without ceasing. That doesn’t mean spending 24/7 on our knees. It means that we live with an attitude of prayer. We live with a regular time of communicating with the Lord.

I sometimes wonder if it’s easy for people to develop a fixed idea of what prayer is supposed to “look like.” How important are things like fervency, tone of voice, vocabulary, and so on?

Scripture is very clear that the condition of a person’s heart is an important factor. You can have all the right words and a particular demeanor, but the Lord is looking for contrite hearts. He’s looking for hearts that are grateful, thankful, and joyful.

Now, having said all of that, I think Christian history has produced many formal prayers that believers have memorized, recited, and passed along from generation to generation. The Lord’s Prayer comes to mind. I would imagine most Christian churches have a place for the Lord’s Prayer either in service or incorporated into private time.

Some people have other regular prayers. I remember growing up reciting a particular prayer before meals that we had learned in the Catholic Church. And so, some groups give a greater place to formal prayer and the theological language that goes into it. Other groups, usually those that are more contemporary, are more spontaneous, conversational, and casual in prayer.

And certainly there are differences between public and private prayer. Personally, I like to read formal prayers. It helps me in my private life when I see how these prayers are structured and what they emphasize. It helps me when I’m alone to organize my own prayers. It helps me consider what to be thankful for and how to structure the concerns I have. But, then, I’m a bit formal; I like liturgy, I like formality. However, there is certainly a very powerful place for spontaneity.

At the end of the day, the condition of a person’s heart is the primary concern.

I grew up largely with casual prayers, but my husband and I recite the Lord’s Prayer with our daughter at nap and bedtimes. She can recite most of it herself and seems to like particular parts of the prayer. And yet because of my own childhood experience with prayer, I’ve struggled to adjust to recitation. As you said, you value the formal approach. What would you say are the pros and cons of both casual and formal prayer?

The pro of being casual is that people feel at home with God. They can talk with Him. He’s not only their Lord and Creator and Sovereign King, but also someone they can have a relationship of friendliness with, one that reflects personal connection. I think that’s very positive. There is the potential for some people to always have formal prayers to God, but to never talk to God from their heart.

The con might be that too casual a prayer style does not necessarily recognize the appropriate form of prayer. As I said, I like to read formal prayers. It helps me to think about what goes into a good prayer. Believers need to consider what kinds of things should be part of our prayer life, beyond just our own personal issues and needs. We need to also be praying in a broader way about things that are important to the church and to the Triune God.

I think formal prayer’s positive is that it often has a theological sophistication to it. There’s recognition of biblical categories. It can involve a doxology and various other structures. Of course, these shouldn’t be just other people’s words. They should be words that we embrace.

I think you can have all of it, the best of both worlds. There are times when I have very candid, private, casual discussions with God. There are other times I try to model prayer. For example, I like to encourage people to prayer to the Trinity: to the Father, in the name of the Son, and through the Holy Spirit. I hope that when I model that it encourages others to try doing the same in their own prayer time.

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Come back to Reflections next week for more thoughts and comments on prayer.

How Christianity Shaped Western Civilization

Today’s guest article was written by Dr. Andrew Stebbins.

ThinkstockPhotos-92834729If someone asked you to name the single most important influence in the formation of Western civilization, would Christianity come to mind? In the current cultural climate, Christianity’s positive contribution toward history is grossly underestimated or even ignored.1 The result is a populace disturbingly, and maybe even dangerously, ignorant of its own cultural heritage.

With this article and others to follow, my goal is to help correct this view by demonstrating Christianity’s incalculable value to the history of the West. This topic is enormously complex and can only be covered in limited fashion here. Nevertheless, over a short series of articles I hope to spark encourage you to delve deeper into this important field of research.

Ideas Matter

We begin with the initial premise that ideas matter; people act upon their beliefs, which are an outgrowth of the key assumptions forming the intellectual foundation for their worldview. According to W. Andrew Hoffecker, “One’s worldview gives coherence to how one thinks and lives, provides moral parameters, and directly motivates behavior.”2 People from different cultures see and respond to the world around them in different ways. For example, Americans view cheating on a test as categorically wrong (even if often done), but for the Chinese, refusing to do so for a friend might be viewed as immoral. The following section on monotheism highlights perhaps the most important of those key assumptions contributing to any given worldview: a culture’s understanding of the nature of divinity.

Monotheism

The idea that there is only one God “may well have been the single most important innovation in history.”3 For our purposes monotheism’s importance lies primarily in the fact that it is the only viable source of absolute truth. Only a single creator God can establish such truths. Monotheism also allowed for the formation of the rule of law, whereby God stands over and above His creation, and establishes immutable laws that are equally applicable to all people without exception.4 With no such conception of God and His law, individual people or cultures occupy God’s throne, dispensing justice as they see fit. Man-made laws are as changeable as the human mind and may not be applicable to the ruling power.

For example, God commanded people to not murder one another. This command may seem “self-evident” to most yet in many non-Western cultures female infanticide has long been a common and accepted practice. Only absolute truths based on an objective foundation (a single creator God) can help us determine if it is right or wrong to kill female infants.

As we’ll see moving forward, absolutes are fundamental to Western civilization. In this regard Judaism’s monotheistic worldview was the invaluable first step.

Equality, the Sanctity of Human Life, and Individualism

Closely related to rule of law are the notions of equality and the associated sanctity of individual human life. If all people are created in the image of God but fall short of His glory, and if Christ came to offer an incomprehensible sacrifice in order to bring the gift of salvation to all human beings, then all people are spiritually equal in the eyes of God.5 When this doctrine emerged, it represented a profound and critical realignment of cultural priorities. The same biblical reasoning applies to the dignity and value of individual human life.6 Modern Western culture perhaps takes it for granted that life is sacred and people are equal, but it did not have to be, nor has it normally been this way. In purely cultural terms, absent the monotheistic Christian worldview, such notions are counterintuitive (people obviously aren’t equal, and life is cheap).

Global penetration of these ideas fostered a historically unprecedented individualism that flouted traditional culture virtually everywhere and ultimately had profound cultural implications. Every human being mattered.

Interpersonal relations

Having established the significance of individual persons, Christianity also influenced civilization’s view of the individual in relation to other persons. Within the discipline of sociology lies a concept usually referred to as “chains of interdependence.”7 Generally this refers to interpersonal connections in society in which each person is in some sense dependent on all others. The concept includes the effects of changes in those interdependencies on the surrounding culture. Christianity, and especially Reformation Christianity, has had a deep and lasting impact in this area.

The notions of Christ as both God and personal Savior, with whom one can have a personal relationship, fostered a dramatic shift in cultural focus from interpersonal social ties to the relationship between a person and their God. The ramifications of this idea would prove significant.8

Conclusion

Any serious and unbiased observer of social development will acknowledge that “religion has played a leading role in directing the course of history.”9 Christianity was sociologically pivotal in the development of the West in the sense that it provided the forms of thought without which those institutions defining the West would likely never have come to fruition. Those institutions include rule of law, democracy, capitalism, science, education, and the family. The ensuing articles in this series will describe Christianity’s role in the emergence of each. While certainly not exhaustive, it is hoped that the ideas and institutions discussed will support the thesis that Christianity was the single greatest driving force in the development of Western civilization.

Endnotes

  1. Christopher Dawson, The Dynamics of World History (New York: Sheed and Ward, 1956), 151; Rodney Stark, For the Glory of God: How Monotheism Led to Reformations, Science, Witch-Hunts, and the End of Slavery (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2003), 2.
  2. Andrew Hoffecker, ed., Revolutions in Worldview: Understanding the Flow of Western Thought (Phillipsburg, NJ: P and R Publishing Company, 2007), x.
  3. Stark, For the Glory of God, 1.
  4. Alvin J. Schmidt, How Christianity Changed the World (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2001), 248–51.
  5. , 263, 289.
  6. Vishal Mangalwadi, The Book that Made Your World: How the Bible Created the Soul of Western Civilization (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2011), 59–60.
  7. John J. Mulloy, ed., The Dynamics of World History (New York: Sheed and Ward, Inc. 1956), 115.
  8. Hoffecker, ed., Revolutions in Worldview, x.
  9. Stark, For the Glory of God, 1–2.

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By Andrew Stebbins

Dr. Andrew Stebbins received his PhD in sociology from Murdoch University in Perth, Australia in 2009 and currently teaches at the Central Ohio Technical College in Newark, Ohio.

What Is Biblical Inerrancy? (Part 2)

Last week, we discussed the definition of biblical inerrancy and how this important doctrine works in areas of apparent disagreement between science and Scripture. Here, RTB editor Maureen Moser and I talk about rigidity and flexibility in inerrancy.

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133830103I came across an article by New Testament scholar Craig A. Evans in which he described an all-or-nothing approach to biblical interpretation. Christian fundamentalists, as Evans put it, tend to either say or imply that “Jesus spoke every word, performed every deed—and he did them in the locations and sequences described in the gospels.” What’s the problem with taking inerrancy to an all-or-nothing degree?

Remember when we talked about canonicity, we established that inspiration (from which canonicity and inerrancy flow) does not mean the Bible’s human authors went into zombie-like trances to take spiritual dictation. Rather, the Holy Spirit superintended and guided their writing.

Because the Holy Spirit is God and God cannot lie, we can trust Scripture to be authoritative and truthful in every area it addresses. However, I think what Evans was saying is that we have to be a little careful about adopting a wooden way of understanding Scripture. The biblical authors were, to some degree, editors.

Let’s take the Sermon on the Mount. Who knows how many times Jesus gave that sermon? He may have given it numerous times and, of course, if there were multiple sermons there could have been differing details in the different times it was delivered. It could be that the gospels are providing us with a summary of this talk. Similarly, the Gospel of Mark is probably a summary of the Apostle Peter’s “talking points,” as we might call them today. Meanwhile, Luke acted as a sort of investigative journalist, likely interviewing key people and then composing his gospel account.

So, we need to take the art of composition into account?

Yes. When the apostle first learned from Jesus, they learned orally. Years later, they wrote down the oral presentation. You can take the Gospel of Mark, which was written in Koine Greek, and you can translate it back into the language of Jesus (Aramaic) and you can see the way in which Jesus made memorable presentations of the gospel message so that the apostles could hear and easily memorize them.

Jesus likely spoke those things many different times. The apostles probably figured one gospel could never get Jesus in his fullness, so there are four of them. Matthew seems more for the Jews. Luke is for the Gentiles. Mark is fast paced, then this happened and then that happened. Then John is the old man who lives late into the first century and has been thinking about who Jesus was.

This diversity provides some breadth to the story of Jesus’ life, ministry, death, and resurrection, but it does not lend itself to the all-or-nothing approach that Evans described.

Evans mentioned that back in the days of the apostles, scribes and students were taught how to pass on the correct teachings, but to do so in a way that allowed for a certain amount of creativity in how they ordered the events, how they told the stories, and what details they included. This put me in mind of the genealogies of Genesis, which young-earth creationists have used to calculate the age of the earth, but which RTB argues likely have gaps in them.

That’s a good example. Such gaps and reordering of events run counter to our current ideas of how to record history and biography. But these authors were not of our culture and time period. That doesn’t make them wrong or in error. They just had different priorities than we do.

Take the gaps you mention. The priority of the genealogies was likely to record the most important figures of the family lineage. In ancient Hebrew, “father” can mean grandfather and so forth and “son” can mean grandson and so on. So adding up the genealogies, doing some quick mathematical formulation and arriving at 4004 BC as the date for creation is, I think, to misunderstand the role of genealogies in the Old Testament.

I think a good point is that if you have an overly literalistic or rigid view of how the Bible came to be, you’re probably going to run into problems. People like Evans and others are illustrating that maybe the more we know about the ancient world and the more we know about Jewish and Christian writing practices, the better we will understand the Bible’s composition history and its teachings.

I’ve heard people like Evans also emphasize that we have to take genre and metaphoric or poetic intent into account. For example, the conquest narratives in Joshua use strong, possibly hyperbolic, language because that was the literary style of time.

Yes, I interviewed Christian philosopher Paul Copan about this (here and here). He says something similar about the destruction of the Canaanites. In fact, he recently coauthored a book about this one issue entitled Did God Really Command Genocide?

One thought I have about all of that is, I think that Christian theology and apologetics has to be done within a community. No one can know enough; you can’t be a specialist in so many fields. You have to rely on others. You need New Testament scholars, historians of the ancient world, systematic theologians, and scientists. It does seem that for Christianity to be shown to be credible it takes a community. That means a lot of cooperation, a lot of teamwork. That’s what we call the church.

What Is Biblical Inerrancy? (Part 1)

Last month, I discussed canonicity and how we got the Protestant Bible (see part 1, part 2, and part 3). This week, RTB editor Maureen Moser rejoins me for a conversation about biblical inerrancy—a topic of much debate and importance in the present age of strong skepticism.

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133830103Ken, let’s start by defining inerrancy. I might assume that it simply means the Bible doesn’t include any mistakes, but something tells me the inerrancy doctrine is more nuanced than that.

That’s right. Just as we saw that canonicity is an implication of the Bible’s inspiration, inerrancy is also an implication of inspiration. In fact, here is the Chicago statement on biblical inerrancy. This came out in the 1970s; this is a conservative Protestant position about the Bible’s inerrancy, signed by people from many denominations (present people would be Norman Geisler and R. C. Sproul):

Holy Scripture, being God’s own Word, written by men prepared and superintended by His Spirit, is of infallible divine authority in all matters upon which it touches: It is to be believed, as God’s instruction, in all that it affirms; obeyed, as God’s command, in all that it requires; embraced, as God’s pledge, in all that it promises…. Being wholly and verbally God-given, Scripture is without error or fault in all its teaching, no less in what it states about God’s acts in creation, about the events of world history, and about its own literary origins under God, than in its witness to God’s saving grace in individual lives.

Inerrancy is an awkward word, but it essentially means that the Bible is fully and completely inspired by the Holy Spirit and since the Holy Spirit (being God) is perfect, then God’s word could not be found to be in error.

Whenever the Scripture speaks, it speaks infallibly, correctly, and truthfully about what it says about the natural world, about what it says about the salvation of human beings. And, so, if we interpret Scripture correctly, it’s never going to be in conflict with itself and it’s never going to be found to be in error.

And yet it sometimes seems that the Bible and science clash. How do we deal with that?

Yes, inerrancy doesn’t mean there might not be problems with interpretation. Maybe science is saying this but the Scriptures seem to be saying that. Well, as Hugh Ross often points out (and correctly so), science is an interpretation of the natural world; it’s not the natural world itself. Likewise hermeneutics and exegesis are attempts at interpretation, but the interpretations are not, themselves, Scripture. When science and the Bible seem to clash, it could be that there’s a faulty interpretation at play.

Consider the big bang theory. To my understanding, before the twentieth century, no one had good reason to believe from the book of nature that the universe had a singular beginning. The long-held Aristotelian view posited that the cosmos had always existed. Then along came Georges Lemaître, Albert Einstein, Edwin Hubble, and others who formulated and proved big bang cosmology.

We live at an incredible time. The discovery of the big bang and the universe’s singular beginning is so on par with creation ex nihilo, as taught by the Bible. So, for a long time, Christians believed from the Bible that the universe had a beginning, but they had no empirical evidence to support it until recently.

When I first heard about Reasons to Believe, I surprised to learn that the big bang was such excellent evidence for Scripture’s inerrancy. It was an exciting revelation. But it isn’t always science that has the wrong interpretation, is it?

True, sometimes it might be both science and theology that need reevaluation. Take the case of geocentrism. Copernicus, Galileo, and others corrected both scientific misunderstanding and faulty biblical interpretation that had stemmed from that misunderstanding.

Couldn’t some people argue that biblical interpretation needs to accommodate biological evolution? Perhaps the Bible’s account of human origins is really mythological or a concession by God to the ignorance of the ancients?

Those are great questions. I think a fair reading of the New Testament shows that Jesus and Paul thought that Adam and Eve were historical persons. I find it very difficult to claim any form of biblical authority and inspiration and, therefore, inerrancy, if Jesus and Paul could be factually wrong on central things concerning the origin of human beings. How could Jesus being wrong and Paul being wrong and Adam and Eve actually being mythical, how could that ever uphold the Bible’s truthfulness?

One of the things you have to agree to be a member the Evangelical Theological Society is biblical inerrancy. You have to believe the Bible is truthful in every area in which it speaks. To say that maybe Paul and Jesus’ knowledge of science was limited to that of the first century or that God would accommodate the scientific ignorance of Moses’ time is not a sufficient answer. I just can’t accept that statement.

To the degree that I understand the scientific nuances of the discussion about common descent vs. common design (as Fuz Rana would suggest), it seems very fluid. Some people may give up biblical inerrancy only in the future to discover that Scripture was right.

I don’t want to cavalier in any way and I believe God is the author of both Scripture and nature. However, I think Christians sometimes need to step back and say if we’re secure that Scripture teaches A while science is teaching B, then it could be that we’re just going to have to hold our position on Scripture and live in that tension of (hopefully) temporary conflict.

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Join us next week when we wrap up with a discussion of rigidity and flexibility in the Christian understanding of inerrancy.

World Religions: The Buddha and the Christ

Among the world’s great religious leaders, only two had such a profound impact that contemporaries inquired as to the very nature of their being.1 People wondered whether Siddhartha Gautama (the Buddha) and Jesus of Nazareth (the Christ) were more than mere human beings. While both are known as great teachers and profound souls, the identity, mission, and message of these two men couldn’t be more different.

The Buddha

Like Christianity, the religion of Buddhism is traced to a single individual. That person is Siddhartha Gautama (c. 563–480 BC). While mixtures of myth and legend make it impossible to completely reconstruct the life of the Buddha, there is a historical core of information known about him.2

Siddhartha was born into the Indian Sakyas clan in the sixth century BC in Nepal, near its border with India. Siddhartha’s father was the feudal lord of the Sakyas people and created a life of luxury for his son. Siddhartha is said to have had three palaces with 40,000 dancing girls at his disposal. He received a cultured education that included studies in the arts, warfare (martial arts), and philosophy. He later married a neighboring princess and they had a son together.

Siddhartha gradually grew discontented with his life of affluence and hedonism. Upon taking a chariot ride into the city he encountered the “Four Passing Sights” (an old man, a diseased man, a dead man, and a monk). These sights represent Siddhartha’s first glimpse of human misery and they profoundly impacted him. For the first time he began to reflect upon the problem of suffering. At age 29, he renounced the pleasures of the princely life, left his family and privileged position behind, and became a truth-seeker. He wanted to uncover the causes and cure of the universal problem of human suffering.

Siddhartha’s search for enlightenment lasted six years and moved through three distinctive phases. First, he studied Hindu philosophy and meditation from the Indian Yogis. Second, he encountered some Jain monks (an offshoot of Hinduism) and adopted their extreme form of asceticism (self-denial). Nearly starving himself to death, he found asceticism no more revealing than his former life of affluence. Third, now fatigued and desperate for genuine enlightenment, he sat in the lotus position before the Bodhi tree in meditation. He decided that he would remain in this “immovable spot” until he was enlightened or dead of starvation. On the forty-ninth day, Siddhartha Gautama experienced the ultimate transformation of consciousness (“Nirvana”) and became “the Buddha”—the “enlightened one” or “awakened one.”

Nirvana is the supreme goal of Buddhism for it breaks the cycling of rebirths (reincarnation). The word “Nirvana” literally means “blowing out” the flame of passion (desire is eliminated). Understood as extinguishing the self (nothingness, the Void), some define Nirvana as continuation of consciousness in a mystical state.

This enlightened state allowed Buddha to understand the causes of, and solution to, the human cycle of suffering. The Buddha’s teaching core consisted of the Four Noble Truths.

Four Noble Truths

  1. Dukkha: The true nature of existence is suffering (sickness, pain, fear, death).
  2. Trishna: Misery is rooted in ignorant craving (Tanha: desire for attachment to the illusory world).
  3. Cessation: Eliminating the desire for attachment can abolish suffering (stop the desiring and the suffering stops).
  4. The Eightfold Path: Stop the desiring through concentrated effort (preparation for Nirvana). The Eightfold path consists of moral, intellectual, and spiritual development leading to enlightenment (transformed consciousness).

The Buddha subsequently conducted a 45-year missionary career of converting people to his religion of mystical enlightenment. He died around 80 years of age.

The Buddha and the Christ

The title “Buddha” means one who has awakened from an illusory state of consciousness. The title “Christ” is Greek for the Hebrew word “Messiah,” meaning the “anointed one”—the special one who would do God’s bidding.

Eight Ways Buddha and Christ Differ

  • History: While the life of the Buddha is wrapped in legend and evolving speculation, Christ is a historical figure whose life, death, and resurrection are rooted in facts of history.
  • Nature: Though the Buddha held an awakened state of consciousness, he was merely a human being, whereas the Christ reveals himself to be both God and man (a single person with both a divine and human nature).
  • Character: The Buddha, even with an enlightened consciousness, had moral weaknesses and limitations. Christ, on the other hand, was morally perfect.
  • Mission: The Buddha’s mission was to help others achieve Nirvana. Christ’s mission was to rescue sinners by providing a sacrifice for sin.
  • Role: The Buddha himself is not crucial to the essence of Buddhism (the Four Noble Truths are the heart of the Buddhist philosophy). On the other hand, historic Christianity is all about Christ (emphasizing his person, nature, life, death, and resurrection).
  • Suffering: The Buddha sought to eliminate suffering through resignation. Christ suffered with and for sinners in order to reconcile them to God.
  • Life: Buddha’s message is life denying. Christ’s message is life affirming.
  • Future: The Buddha offers many lives of suffering with the only hope being extinction (Nirvana). The Christ offers resurrection for the dead and eternal life with God.

Jesus Christ presents a vision of life and reality that is far superior to that of the Buddha. For the historic Christian world-and-life view is uniquely reasonable, testable, viable, workable, livable, and hopeful.

Some Major Tenets
Buddhism Christianity
Problem: Karma (attachment) Problem: Sin
Need: Emptiness Need: God-shaped hole
Solution: Resignation Solution: Faith and Repentance
Ultimate: Nirvana Ultimate: Personal Redemption
Assurance: No Assurance: Yes
Deity: Atheism, Polytheism Deity: Trinitarian Monotheism
Worldview Orientation
Buddhism Christianity
Worldview: Monism Worldview: Theism
Cosmos: No beginning/Endless Cosmos: Creation ex nihilo
Humans: No soul (anatman) Humans: Imago Dei
Knowledge: Mysticism Knowledge: Revelation
History: Cyclical History: Linear

Endnotes

  1. Huston Smith, The World’s Religions (San Francisco: Harper, 1991), 82.
  2. Winfried Corduan, Neighboring Faiths (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1998).

 

God Incarnate: Jesus Christ’s Unique Identity

ThinkstockPhotos-486000355There’s no denying that Jesus Christ ranks high among the most controversial figures in human history. Orthodox Christians believe that Jesus Christ is both true God (the second Person of the Trinity) and true man (the Incarnate Son of God). But that claim has not sat well with others. During His own earthly ministry people debated His identity (Mark 8:27–30). The apostles and early church fathers countered many heresies that questioned Jesus’ divinity or humanity.

Today, we frequently see books and documentaries claiming to uncover Christ’s true identity. Some claim Jesus was no different than other religious teachers. As I’ve been at work on my own book comparing Jesus to other religious figures, it is abundantly obvious that Christ stands as unique. C. S. Lewis critiques such claims in his book Mere Christianity.

A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic—on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.

What did Jesus Himself claim to be? To help answer this question, I offer links to RTB resources on Jesus’ identity claims, plus book recommendations.

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RTB Resources

Jesus: Man, Myth, Madman?” (podcast)

Did Jesus Really Consider Himself to Be God?” (article)

Who Was the Real Jesus?” (article)

‘Jesus, Our Emmanuel’” (article)

Jesus and the Gospels” (article by guest writer Dennis Ingolfsland)

The Great Claims of Jesus” (list compiled by Hugh Ross)

Reading Recommendations

Jesus: A Very Short Introduction by Richard Bauckham (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011)

Fabricating Jesus: How Modern Scholars Distort the Gospels by Craig A. Evans (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2006)

Who Is This Jesus? by Michael Green (Vancouver: Regent College Publishing, 1992)

Jesus, Divine Messiah by Robert. L. Reymond (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1990)

The Resurrection: Christianity’s Most Dangerous Idea

Originally published in Reasons to Believe’s ezine, New Reasons to Believe, vol. 2, no. 3 (2010)

“Who said anything about safe? ’Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”1

175683200This line—from my favorite book in C. S. Lewis’s remarkable children’s series—makes it clear that Aslan, the Christ figure of Narnia, is no tame lion. But his being dangerous does not rule out his profound benevolence.

Like Lewis’ ferocious feline, ideas, including those of belief systems, can also be dangerous. And if Christianity encompasses ideas that are “not safe,” then is it not therefore a risky and hazardous religion?

One of my longtime friends, an atheist, agrees that historic Christianity includes dangerous ideas. However, from his point of view, the Christian faith affirms irrational and superstitious ideas that are not just unsafe, but harmful. He believes these ideas are injurious both for those who believe them as well as for those who are affected by them.

Alternatively, I believe Christianity’s distinctive and essential ideas (or doctrinal truths) are rational and in fact do correspond to reality. Though these Christian truth-claims are “dangerous” in the sense that they often challenge accepted consensus (especially in modern and postmodern eras), I would argue that they’re still good.

“Dangerous ideas” in such disciplines as philosophy, theology, and science often challenge the standard paradigm (accepted model) of the day. These so-called unsafe ideas have radical implications for how people view reality, truth, rationality, goodness, value, and beauty, and can sometimes contravene what many people believe. Not only do such revolutionary ideas threaten accepted beliefs, but they also contain explosive world-and-life view implications for all humanity.

Historic Christianity contains numerous beliefs that are theologically and philosophically volatile (in the best sense of the term). The Christian faith contains powerful truth-claims that have transformed the church and even turned the world upside down.

I’ve written a book titled 7 Truths That Changed the World that explores seven of historic Christianity’s dangerous ideas, and this article briefly examines what I consider to be the Christian faith’s most dangerous idea.

Not All Dead Men Stay Dead—the Resurrection of Jesus Christ

Naturalists (nature is the exclusive reality) believe that death is the final end of one’s life and existence and there is no escape from this inevitable consequence. In other words, the Grim Reaper doesn’t play favorites. Not only does everyone die but everyone also stays dead forever. There are no exceptions to this certain naturalistic fate.

From this perspective, any belief system that affirms life after death is sheer wishful thinking. Death is the great equalizer—it comes for everyone. This life is all there is so make the most of it. There is, then, no meaning to life other than what people can hope to create for themselves. Yet this bleak predicament fills men’s hearts with legitimate angst and dread. Everything that a person builds in this life is broken down completely and permanently by death.

In stark contrast to the naturalistic worldview’s melancholy and hopeless dilemma, historic Christianity’s most dangerous idea is that one man—Jesus Christ—died but didn’t remain dead. Following his public crucifixion, he rose from the dead on the first Easter morning. Therefore at the center of Christianity’s earliest preaching and teaching (kerygma) is the solemn proclamation that Jesus Christ lived on Earth, conquered death, and thus remains the living Savior and Lord.

Several strands of formidable evidence back Jesus’ historic bodily resurrection from the grave. These interwoven elements include the empty tomb, Jesus’ post-crucifixion appearances, the transformation of the apostles, the conversion of Saul of Tarsus, the change in the day of worship from the Sabbath to the Lord’s Day, and finally the emergence of the historic Christian church itself.

The implications of this perilous proposition are staggering and life-changing. Jesus Christ has accomplished what the collective testimony of humanity says is not possible—he rose bodily from the dead!

Here are two promising consequences of the resurrection for those who know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.

First, Christ’s resurrection is the answer to mankind’s greatest existential predicament—death. The resurrection provides hope, purpose, meaning, and confidence in the presence of death (John 11:25–26; Romans 14:7–8).

Second, Christ’s resurrection is the pledge and paradigm for the future bodily resurrection of all believers (1 Corinthians 6:14; 15:20, 2 Corinthians 9:14; Philippians 3:21; Colossians 1:18; 1 Thessalonians 4:14). Because he rose, believers will also rise.

Unfortunately, many Christians do not genuinely appreciate just how shocking and dangerous the idea of Jesus’ resurrection really is. Christian philosopher Stephen T. Davis explains: “Christians today do not seem to be astonished at the idea of resurrection (after nearly two thousand Easters, we seem to have gotten used to the idea), but we ought to be.”2

If, as a Christian, this most dangerous of all ideas doesn’t rock your world-and-life view, then maybe your faith has become too safe. And if you’re not a Christian, welcome to Christianity’s dangerous ideas. Prepare for a venture into a historic faith that reveals even more incredibly explosive truths.

Our Bodies Compared

Earthly Body Resurrection Body
Mortal Immortal
Dishonorable Glorious
Weak Powerful
Natural Spiritual

Endnotes

  1. C. S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (New York: Harper Collins, 1994), 80.
  2. Stephen T. Davis, Risen Indeed: Making Sense of the Resurrection (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993), 168.