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.

More Deaths in the Name of God—or No Gods?

Originally published in Reasons to Believe’s ezine, New Reasons to Believe, vol. 2, no. 1 (2010)

528767569Great evil has been done in the name of Christ. This charge, a frequent objection to historic Christianity raised especially by the new atheist authors,1 typifies discussions of such historical events as the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, and the Salem witch trials. While characterizing historic Christianity as harsh and violent, the new atheists also insist that atheism, by contrast, is a rational and peaceful belief system.

For example, in his bestselling book The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins asserts that “individual atheists may do evil things but they don’t do evil things in the name of atheism.” However, “religious wars really are fought in the name of religion, and they have been horribly frequent in history.”2

In briefly responding to this provocative topic, I offer four points for consideration.

1. Exaggeration of Christian Evil

The new atheists exaggerate the amount of evil done in the name of Christ. For example, the Crusades (1095–1291), military campaigns carried out by Western Christian forces against invading Islamic armies, were for the most part defensive engagements (implementation of Christian just war theory). And though the Inquisition and Salem witch trials were morally regrettable events that involved unfortunate violence, the number of people killed during these episodes is much lower than one might think. Consider the estimate of Christian author Dinesh D’Souza:

Taken together, the Crusades, the Inquisition, and the witch burnings killed approximately 200,000 people. Adjusting for the increase in population, that’s the equivalent of one million deaths today. Even so, these deaths caused by Christian rulers over a five-hundred year period amount to only 1 percent of the deaths caused by Stalin, Hitler and Mao in the space of a few decades.3

2. Minimization of Atheistic Evil

The new atheists often sidestep or minimize the incredible amount of evil perpetrated by atheistic totalitarian regimes in the last century. Contrary to what Dawkins asserts, the tens of millions (some estimates are as high as 100 million) of people systematically murdered by Soviet and Chinese Communist forces in the twentieth century were killed not merely by a few private leaders who happened to be atheists. No. These mass murders were carried out in the name of a Marxist ideology that held atheism as one of its central components.

Communism (or dialectical materialism) is a naturalistic and atheistic ideology by its very nature. Atheists might claim these dictators were not representing true atheism, but, without God in the picture, objective human dignity, value, and purpose are morally arbitrary and unjustified. So, couldn’t Stalin and Mao reasonably argue that their regime’s murderous acts were consistent with their materialistic, atheistic philosophy?

3. Consideration of Underlying Christian Teachings

Christians should candidly acknowledge that some real evil was done in the name of Christ when Christian leaders enjoyed political ascendancy. These acts were morally reprehensible and damaging to people’s confidence in the faith’s message of truth. Yet Christians can persuasively argue that these evils were objectively wrong according to the principles of the Christian worldview. Unlike the atheists who are unable to justify objective morality, believers can contend that these crimes demonstrated the antithesis of Jesus Christ’s historical teaching found in the Gospels.

Further, Christians can also point out that evil things done in the name of Christ by genuinely misguided followers don’t logically invalidate the objective truth-claims of Christianity.4 The gross hypocrisy of some who identify with the name of Christ does not overturn the truth of Jesus’ historical resurrection from the grave.

4. Acknowledgment of Christianity’s Positive Impact

Those who blame historic Christianity for its so-called dark side should also appreciate the faith for its amazingly positive contributions to the world. The Christian worldview5 has been the catalyst behind most of the great advancements of Western civilization. Christianity’s view of human beings made in the image of God led to the founding of Europe’s great university system and hospitals and also stimulated the growth of the arts. The historic Christian faith motivated advancements in political liberty, economics, the sanctity of human life, and social justice. And Christianity’s view of creation supported the launch of modern science. When authentically embraced and lived out, the Christian world-and-life view produces practical, beneficial results for both citizens and civilizations.

Careful examination of the best arguments for, and the richest contributions of, both Christian theism and naturalistic atheism allow a person to not only evaluate the deaths question. It also places people in a stronger position to test and see which belief system is the most reasonable, viable, workable, and livable.

Endnotes

  1. The so-called four horsemen of the new atheism include such secular authors as Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, and Daniel Dennett.
  2. Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2006), 278.
  3. Dinesh D’Souza, What’s So Great About Christianity (Washington, DC: Regnery, 2007), 215.
  4. See chapter 15 in Kenneth Richard Samples, Without a Doubt: Answering the 20 Toughest Faith Questions (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2004), 201–10.
  5. See Kenneth Richard Samples, A World of Difference: Putting Christian Truth-Claims to the Worldview Test (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2007).

 

God as the Source of Knowledge

Originally published in RTB’s ezine, New Reasons to Believe, vol. 1, no. 1 (2009)

Does the Bible indicate where knowledge comes from? Since evolutionary processes can’t guarantee true beliefs naturalism as a worldview faces insurmountable problems. For its part, the historic Judeo-Christian worldview asserts that God is the author of truth, logic, and the laws of nature. They are part of the “invisible furniture” of the universe, finding their source in the Creator’s very being. God’s existence is the precondition to knowledge itself.

Since humans are created in the image of God (Genesis 1:28–29), we are uniquely gifted to discover and utilize these universal ideas. The mind of God provides a framework for rational human thought (whether believer or nonbeliever). So when we use our minds, we are “thinking thy [God’s] thoughts after thee.”1

The apostle John describes Jesus as “the true light that enlightens every man” (John 1:9). Therefore, historic Christianity grounds human knowledge in Jesus as the logos of God. Logos in New Testament Greek means “word, message, report…As the logos, God himself (John 1:1–2) in his divine glory assumes the flesh of humanity in historical time and space (1:14–15). Jesus, the logos, signifies the presence of God in the flesh.”2

Christian philosopher Ronald Nash adds, “The Logos doctrine occupied a prominent place in the thought of several early Fathers of the church. On the basis of John 1:9, Justin Martyr argued that every apprehension of truth (whether by believer or unbeliever) is made possible because men are related to the Logos, the ground of truth.”3

Ironically, when the naturalist attempts to use the laws of logic and science to disprove the existence of God, he must first borrow certain key components from the Christian worldview.4 The entire scientific method rests on the foundational belief that there is a certain orderliness that permeates the entire universe, “and that universality corresponds to what would be expected when looking through the lens of the Christian theistic worldview.”

Simply asserting the reality of the universality of natural laws doesn’t account for their existence. Neither does it explain why they are universally perceived if the human mind is simply the product of random chance evolving from an ape-like ancestor (Darwin’s concern). The biblically derived presuppositions of the Christian worldview, however, provide a solid and coherent framework for the regularity of nature, the rationality of the human mind, and the progress of scientific discovery.

Endnotes

  1. This quote is commonly attributed to Johannes Kepler, such as by Charles Hummel in The Galileo Connection (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity, 1986), 97.
  2. William D. Mounce, Mounce’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2006), 803.
  3. Ronald H. Nash, The Word of God and the Mind of Man: The Crisis of Revealed Truth in Contemporary Theology (Phillipsburg, NJ: P and R Publishing, 1982), 67.
  4. This idea is adapted from the transcendental argument for the existence of God, promoted by Christian philosopher Greg Bahnsen, as well as his mentor Cornelius Van Til.
  5. Kenneth Richard Samples, Without a Doubt: Answering the 20 Toughest Faith Questions (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2004), 192.

Resource

Explore the agreement between God’s Word and the natural realm through Reasons Institute, Reasons to Believe’s online learning program. Sign up for accredited courses, such as Creation and the Bible (starting March 23), or choose from a selection of on-demand lectures to take learning on the go.

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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.

 

World Religions: The Sage and the Savior

Among the world’s great religious leaders, two became far-reaching moral instructors of humanity. Confucius (the sage) laid down the ethical foundation for much of Asian civilization. Jesus of Nazareth (the Savior) taught moral lessons that distinctly shaped the ethical nature of Western civilization. Yet while both became great moral teachers, the identity, mission, and message of these two influential men stand in powerful contrast.

The Chinese Sage

GettyImages_153829355Born in China as K’ung Fu-tzu (551–479 BC), this philosopher became known in the West by his Latinized name “Confucius.” While the lives of other famous Chinese teachers are mixed with legend (such as Taoism’s Lao-tzu), historians have reliably documented Confucius’ life. This historical imprint is due to his significant influence on Chinese history and culture.

Though disadvantaged, Confucius received a robust liberal education that prepared him well for the civil service he entered at an early age. He eventually rose to the powerful position of minister of justice in the Chinese government. Later in life he left government and became an itinerant teacher with a significant following. Described as a “one-man university,” Master K’ung (as he was called) is said to have provided instruction in such fields as history, poetry, government, propriety, music, philosophy, and divination. Confucius’ collection of influential teachings was later compiled into a book called the Analects.

Confucius’ central teaching focused upon developing a system of ethics that would produce a morally superior human being (the “magnanimous man”). In light of China’s troubling cycle of anarchy and warfare, he strove for an efficient and benevolent form of government that would lead to a morally ideal state. He attempted to define a system of conduct that could be applied to all aspects of society:

  • Jen: Human-heartedness, benevolence, concern for humanity
  • Chun Tzu: “Magnanimous man,” superior person, humanity-at-its-best
  • Li: Good form, propriety, ceremony, decorum, correct order
  • Te: Integrity, moral influence, power of the good example
  • Wen: “The art of peace,” aesthetic, intellectual, and spiritual influences

While his efforts failed to create a Chinese utopia, Confucius’ ideas became so influential that a couple of centuries after his death Confucianism had become the official imperial philosophy of China.1 World religions scholar Huston Smith has called Confucius “the most important figure in China’s history.”2

Confucianism is often viewed as more of a moral philosophy of life than as a traditional religion. For example, Confucius didn’t explicitly advocate the worship of God or gods, nor did he speculate about death and the afterlife. Confucianism has no priesthood, no divine revelation, and does not advocate such common Eastern practices as asceticism and monasticism. While some have suggested that Confucius was an atheist or agnostic, it is more likely that he did believe in the supernatural but simply viewed religious beliefs and rituals as secondary in importance to the need for social reform and order.3

The Sage and the Savior

GettyImages_162245121The title “sage” is granted to those who are revered for their wisdom and good judgment. Confucius stands as China’s greatest philosopher and religious teacher. The title “Savior” is a New Testament designation given to Jesus Christ (Luke 2:11) because his atoning death on the cross saved sinners from God’s just wrath (1 John 4:10). The sage and the Savior differ in five ways:

  • Nature: Though the sage was a great teacher and master communicator, he was merely a human being who lived and died. The Savior, on the other hand, revealed himself to be God in human flesh and conquered death by his historical bodily resurrection.
  • Character: While the sage believed in the basic moral goodness of human beings and in the perfectibility of human nature, he failed to achieve those lofty goals in his own life as he wrestled with moral weaknesses and a failed marriage. Conversely, the Savior lived a sinless life and was thus qualified to offer his life as a perfect sacrifice for sin.
  • Mission: The sage’s mission was to forge a universal system of ethics and to help build an ideal Chinese state. The Savior’s mission was to rescue sinners by providing a substitutionary sacrifice for sin.
  • Role: The sage himself isn’t essential to the essence of Confucian philosophy or religion except for providing the original ethical instruction. On the other hand, historic Christianity is all about Jesus Christ’s saving life, death, and resurrection.
  • Focus: The sage was reserved in introducing people to God and to a spiritual life. In stark contrast, the Savior revealed himself as Immanuel (“God with us”) whose self-sacrificing love initiated salvation.

Confucianism offers a noble ethical system that shares much in common with that of historic Christianity. However, this reputable Chinese moral philosophy offers no ultimate solution to humankind’s grave problem of moral depravity. That hope is uniquely found in Christianity, which offers its own Sage who is, more importantly, a divine-human Savior.

Comparison of Religions

Chinese Popular Religion Historic Christianity
Moral philosophies (Confucianism, Taoism): Ethical focus, way of life, atheological Theistic, redemptive: Focus on God as Creator and Savior
Non-revelatory: No supernatural unveiling Revelatory: Divine unveiling, propositional disclosure (Scripture)
Syncretistic: Sharing and assimilating different religious beliefs Traditional: Distinct truths
Tolerant: Allowance of different beliefs and practices Uncompromising: Truth is narrow, discriminating
Pluralistic: Acceptance of many religious perspectives Exclusivistic: One ultimate religious perspective

Endnotes

  1. Winfried Corduan, Neighboring Faiths (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1998), 292–93.
  2. Huston Smith, The Illustrated World’s Religions: A Guide to Our Wisdom Traditions (New York: HarperSanFrancisco, 1994), 119.
  3. Lewis M. Hopfe and Mark R. Woodward, Religions of the World, 7th ed. (Upper Saddle River, NJ: 1998), 198.

 

How We Got the Bible, Part 3

This week we’ll be finishing up a series on the biblical canon, a topic that has been a source of discussion, debate, and controversy since the beginning of Christianity. We’ve covered the doctrine of divine inspiration and standards for recognizing canon, as well as apocryphal literature. To conclude, RTB editor Maureen Moser and I will tackle some challenges skeptics pose to the canon and how the relationship between Scripture and church tradition can help defend Christianity from these challenges.

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133830103Some of the most sensational challenges to biblical canon have come from Dan Brown’s DaVinci Code books and movies. These stories posit that the church (specifically the Catholics) decided the canon Christians have today. How would you respond to that?

Of course, Christianity gets attacked from the outside. The DaVinci Code, with the controversy surrounding that book and movie and their sequels, contends that the Catholic Church operated in a bad way, manipulating the canon and holding back certain books. A lot of people see the history of Christianity as just a power struggle. It just happens that the Catholics won the political war and the Gnostics lost it. So we get “these books” because the Catholics won, instead of “those books” because the Gnostics lost. This is similar to the perspective Hermann Göring espoused at the Nuremburg Trials, saying that the Allies were judging the Nazis only because they’d won the war, not because they were right.

I think the reality is that the Scriptures do go back to the apostles and prophets. Historic Christianity is rooted deeply in the apostolic issue.

What other challenges does the biblical canon face from skeptics today?

When you decide to include certain books in the canon, you want to know who wrote them. But, while Paul had a habit of signing his letters, other New Testament authors did not. Originally, the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John were anonymous; there were no names attached to them. Some skeptics make a big deal out of this. They say, “You mean you are trusting this testimony and you don’t even know who wrote it?”

This is where church tradition becomes important. Many of the early church fathers, such as Papias and Irenaeus, confirmed the gospel authorship. The church was never in doubt.

It sounds like there was an oral history passed down along with the books.

Yes, exactly. Church tradition or history can help a great deal in defending the positions we take.

The three branches of Christendom each view the relationship between Scripture and tradition differently. The Catholic Church places tradition above Scripture because, ultimately, it is the pope and the magisterium that have to interpret the Bible. Protestants reverse it, while the Orthodox put them side by side.

I’m a Protestant, so I believe in sola Scriptura (Latin: “Scripture alone”). This means that Scripture is the supreme authority; it’s the final court of appeals, to put it in American terms. However, I would caution my fellow Protestants who say, “I just go by Scripture. I don’t need any church tradition. I don’t need any church fathers.”

You don’t want to dismiss church tradition when you do apologetics. When the skeptics come along and they want to challenge our interpretation of historic Christianity, including the biblical canon, church tradition and history are essential to defending our positions. For example, I would say that Augustine is as important to Protestants as he is to Catholics. He’s a central figure; he is the last of the fathers; he’s by far the most sophisticated; he’s the one who brings the strongest defense of Christianity. He’s the one who says that salvation is by grace, not by works.

It seems Christian apologetics would be even more robust if we include both Scripture and church history. After all, the church fathers lived much closer to the apostolic era than we do.

Yes, Polycarp knew John personally. There are connections from John to Polycarp to Irenaeus and so on down the line as important traditions (such as our understanding of gospel authorship) are passed along. When the Bart Erhmans come along and say the four gospels have no names attached to them, that’s only true if we don’t listen to Papias and Irenaeus. The church fathers were there to guard and guide the recognition of inspired Scripture.

So, even though Protestants say Scripture is the supreme authority, we’ll be in a bad position if we disrespect how church history has unfolded. Perhaps our Catholic and Orthodox friends give the church too much credit, but Protestants need to avoid giving too little credit.

Any concluding thoughts to wrap up our discussion of biblical canon?

I think many people have questions about the Bible. Where’d we get this book? Who says that the books in there are superior to those that were left out? On whose authority did this all come about? Where do we find the authority of the Holy Spirit?

The advantage of the Catholic position is in the assertion that we can’t interpret the Bible just any old way. They insist on the necessity of teaching authority and tradition. I think that’s a strength. Still, I think the strength of the Protestant position is Jesus. The best evidence that Scripture trumps all other authority is that when Jesus appealed to the final standard, He always quoted Scripture.

So, Protestants would say if you want to hear the voice of the Holy Spirit, you go to Scripture. Catholics would absolutely agree that Scripture contains the voice of the Spirit, but to understand it you need the teaching authority of the church. In the end, however, no believer would say either Scripture or tradition is unimportant. All of it is important.

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Resource: For more on the history and importance of Scripture, see my book A World of Difference.

How We Got the Bible, Part 2

Last week RTB editor Maureen Moser and I began a discussion of the biblical canon, including the doctrine of inspiration and the criteria for recognizing canon, particularly for the New Testament. But as we noted, the branches of Christendom view aspects of Scripture in different ways. This week we’ll look at the Old Testament and apocryphal literature.

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So, while the New Testament received challenges from the Gnostics, it seems the Old Testament faces a lot of debate within the church. Why do Catholics and Eastern Orthodox accept the Apocrypha, but Protestants don’t?

32232Yes, the Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox have a handful of Old Testament books that are not in the Protestant Old Testament. These apocryphal works include books like 1 and 2 Maccabees, Tobit, Judith, 1 and 2 Esdras, and some additions to other canonical books.

However, the Protestants reject the Apocrypha. They point out that Jesus doesn’t quote from them and some of them teach doctrine that seems inconsistent with the broad scope of biblical teaching. For example, 2 Maccabees says it’s a helpful and wholesome thing to pray for the dead. Teachings like that trouble Protestants. What’s interesting is that, to my knowledge, the Catholic Church itself has said that the Apocrypha constitute a secondary canon (deuterocanonical).

What criteria do Protestants use for determining the Old Testament canon?

It would be something similar to what we outlined for the New Testament last week. We want to connect these books to authentic biblical authors, which for the Old Testament would be the prophets. We want to know if these books support overall biblical teaching. And we want to know if these are books that the Jews recognized early on.

Obviously, Jewish people wrote the Old Testament. How did they shape the canon?

Orthodox Jews believe that God gave the Torah to the Jewish people. These books are inspired and they reflect a historical narrative. Orthodox Jews usually consider the Torah (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy) the most important part of the Old Testament.

The Jews affirmed their present canon in the first century around AD 90 at the Council of Jamnia. They divide their canon (what we call the Old Testament) into three sections: the Torah (first five books), the prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, etc.), and the wisdom literature (Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, etc.).

What category would history books, such as 1 and 2 Kings or 1 and 2 Chronicles, fall under?

I think those books would fall under the prophets. In Hebrew the Old Testament has 24 books; in the Protestant canon it has 39. It’s the same content divided out differently. For example, the Jews consider 1 and 2 Chronicles one book and they collect the minor prophets, which constitute 12 books for Protestants, into one book as well.

So, even if the history books aren’t “prophetic” a prophet likely authored them?

Exactly. It’s important to remember that while prophets can be people who make predictions, they can also be every bit as much, if not more so, people who make proclamations. I think it’s in that secondary sense that a lot of what Christians call history books would fall under the prophet category.

How do the Jews view the Apocrypha?

The Jews agree with the Protestants and say the apocryphal books are not a part of their canon. At times Jews will agree more with Protestants than they will with Catholics and vice versa.

What’s the difficulty with the apocryphal books associated with the New Testament?

Those books include the Gnostic gospels. They were written a few centuries after the apostolic era and teach that Jesus did not have a physical body. So, these books fail the criteria laid down for recognizing inspired scripture.

Again, it’s helpful to think of canonicity as an implication of the basic view of inspiration. Martin Luther liked to say that when you hear Scripture, you hear the voice of the Holy Spirit. The Bible is the Holy Spirit’s book even while it preserves the voices, vocabularies, and writing styles of its various authors.

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Next week we’ll conclude with a look at challenges to the canon from outside the church and ponder how the relationship between Scripture and church tradition impacts Christian apologetics.