Faith and Reason Comic: 21st Century Christian

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Introduction to Spurgeon’s 1500th Sermon

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I came across this quote from the front end of a sermon by Charles Spurgeon.

This discourse when it shall be printed will make 1,500 of my sermons which have been published regularly week by week. This is certainly a remarkable fact. I do not know of any instance in modern times in which 1,500 sermons have thus followed each other from the press from one person, and have continued to command a large circle of readers. I desire to utter most hearty thanksgivings to God for divine help in thinking out and uttering these sermons—sermons which have not merely been printed, but have been read with eagerness, and have also been translated into foreign tongues; sermons which are publicly read on this very Sabbath day in hundreds of places where a minister cannot be found; sermons which God has blessed to the conversion of multitudes of souls. I may and I must joy and rejoice in this great blessing which I most heartily ascribe to the undeserved favor of the Lord.

I thought the best way in which I could express my thankfulness would be to preach Jesus Christ again, and set Him forth in a sermon in which the simple gospel should be made as clear as a child’s alphabet. I hope that in closing the list of 1,500 discourses the Lord will give me a word which will be blessed more than any which have preceded it, to the conversion of those who hear it or read it. May those who sit in darkness because they do not understand the freeness of salvation and the easy method by which it may be obtained, be brought into the light by discovering the way of peace through believing in Christ Jesus. Forgive this prelude; my thankfulness would not permit me to withhold it.

Charles Spurgeon from sermon no. 1500 “Lifting up the Brazen Serpent” October 19, 1879

I found this humbling. This great man of God was not puffed up by his readership. He was not driven to preach about himself. When he reached 1500 sermons he pointed to God in thanks and did another sermon on Christ. Every sermon was about Christ. This is an amazing witness of what it means to be Christlike. I hope to learn this lesson and pray that the leaders of the faith today know this as well.

Weekly Bible App Review: Logos Bible Software

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20110825-103434.jpgAs a guy who teaches, preaches and offers pastoral services several hours a day with students and adults, both Christians and atheists and everything in-between, I am constantly referring to books and resources. I have spent plenty of time carrying books and have bought several Bibles with various combinations of features trying to anticipate every off-the-wall inquiry and obscure question. With the purchase of an iPad, the field of options became wide open. Now, I need not pick a translation or set of features in a text. Rather, I choose an app and I have at my fingertips any number of books and features. However, there are a glut of Bible apps to choose from and I have found that a lot of the reviews are not written by guys who use the apps on the fly while they teach. So, I have decided to undertake reviewing Bible apps as I use them.

I will be starting with my goto app: Logos Bible Software. Now, I’ll admit that I don’t use the free version of this app, so I have a lot more resources than would come with the free version. However, that having been said, there are quite a few books available in the free version. This includes several versions of the Bible and a plethora of other books and materials. Mine has several commentary sets, including the New International Commentary series and the Pulpit Commentary series.

The app itself has several features that let you interact with the library in different ways.

-You can select books and read them straight.

-You can search key words through your whole library, specific resources or recent resources. This also allows you to search the Bible separately or with the entire library.

-The program does word studies, examining the frequency and usage of the word you select. This feature also researches the history and meaning of the word.

-Passage studies can also be done by entering the verse you are considering. This feature will provide you with parallel passages, cross references, topical connections, literary typing, interesting words, commentaries, art, etc.

-The app also does parallel translations.

The good: This app is powerful and intuitive. The resources are easily searched and managed. The extremely large number of resources offers a wide variety of options for study. I have found the Greek interlinear Bible particularly useful. You can read the Greek with the English and tapping on the Greek words produces resources that analyze the them, giving you a broad spectrum of information. You can also purchase specific books and collections for your iPad without the purchase of a larger package. Navigation through resources is a bit of a mixed bag. Within resources moving is pretty easy, but with recent updates moving from one resource to another is less easy. Moving between search screens, on the other hand, is intuitive and easy. You simply swipe your finger down to bring up the search options and select the one you want. The iPhone version of the software is quite convenient and overcomes many of the weaknesses in searching, because ideally your iPhone should always be online.

The bad: There are a few issues with the app. The app is best used online. Without the Internet, most of the search features are disabled. You can still reference old searches, but nothing new is available. In addition, resources are kept online. So, you need to download books in order to use them, though downloading is pretty easy. I’ve also found that the passage search can be a bit glitchy. Sometimes it gets confused when you leave the search screen and return. Otherwise, I have have no complaints.

Summary: For a free app, this is the best of the best, assuming you have an easily available wi-fi signal. It’s handily the most resource heavy Bible app I have used. It’s more powerful with the Logos Desktop software because you get more resources. The base package starts at $149 and the top of the line runs $4200. However, you can purchase books for your iPad, so it’s not really necessary to buy the desktop program. Particularly since it’s pricey software. Still, for a free app, the test-drive should be a no brainer. This app has become my standard research tool, though the limited ability offline has kept it from becoming my go to Bible app when I am away from a wifi signal.

Correctly Interpreting God’s Word: Part 3 Cultural, historical and geographical context

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Jesus entered the Temple and began to drive out all the people buying and selling animals for sacrifice. He knocked over the tables of the money changers and the chairs of those selling doves. He said to them, “The Scriptures declare, ‘My Temple will be called a house of prayer,’ but you have turned it into a den of thieves!”
Matthew 21:12-13

It’s easy to read is text and find yourself thinking “Jesus! What are you doing!?!” One of the most common questions I hear in association with this verse is: How on earth could he become so angry over the marketplace in the temple?

Well, answering this question requires that we understand a little something about the historic and cultural context. For Jewish people, the temple was an incredibly important thing. The priesthood was way up there, too. These were parts of their religion that were heavily associated with God. Every member of the priesthood was supposed to be from the line of Aaron, Moses’ brother, and from the family of Zadok. Zadok was a family that God blessed with the priesthood later because they opposed the pagan religions during Isaiah’s ministry. In the several hundred years previous to this story, this had ceased to be the case. The system had become corrupt. The high priesthood eventually became a position that was for sale. Over time, the Sadducees began to dominate the high priesthood because they were quite wealthy. They, in turn, allowed the courts of the temple to be used for commerce. The Mishnah (Jewish commentary on rabbinical debates in the ancient world) indicates that the folks running the market were from the family of the high priest. So, the high priest is a corrupt jerk who bribes the king to get his job. He then allows his family to run the special market in the courts. Sound kosher? It probably shouldn’t. It gets worse though. The high priests decided that the only money that could be could be used in the temple was a special temple currency, which you had to get from them at a modest exchange rate. So, they were skimming off the top of the offerings. This was a corrupt system and pretty much everyone knew it. What made it worse is that it was happening in the temple. The most holy place in the world. Christ became enraged and took action. He was passionate about God’s house.

Does the text take on different meaning for you now? Is it clearer? The next rule of Biblical interpretation is to pay attention to the historical and cultural context. This one requires a little work. Lots of what makes this happen is reading and studying. However, it’s quite do-able and many of the best books that fill in these sorts of blanks are available online for free. A little bit of research goes a long way toward understanding the meaning of a passage based on the context. Often times, a reader can turn to a good commentary to obtain information on the matter. The information is out there and ever more accessible with the Internet.

This is particularly important because it is very easy to force a 21st century value system onto a text. This is often seen in responses to the Bible that refer to it as evil, based on interpreting rules and events by our worldview rather than considering the ancient context. One obvious example is the tendency to look at the accounts of the year of jubilee and criticize the people for having slaves. The Jubilee regulations indicate that in the year of the jubilee all slaves were to freed and all debts washed away. This happened in Israel, but nowhere else in the ancient world. Other nations didn’t free their slaves. The Jews did. It’s easy to criticize and miss the fact that everyone had slaves in the ancient world. What makes the scriptures pretty unique is that they present a fairly progressive perspective. This is easily missed when considering them out of their cultural context.

Geographic understanding also helps with properly interpreting the scriptures, which is why Bibles come with the book of maps. Knowing the place things took place makes certain elements of the text more vivid. For example, the story of the good Samaritan involves a man being robbed and left for dead on the road. A priest and a scribe pass him while moving from Jerusalem to Jericho. They crossed to the other side of the road to avoid the man. Here we have a geographical joke built into the text. Both are mountain towns. This would have been a mountain road. These roads were not superhighways wide enough to give a big berth. Rather they were fairly narrow and so crossing to the other side was not a huge step. In fact, in some spots it may have been step.

So, where do we learn this stuff? Well, a good study Bible will cover most of these bases. After that, we have a glut of resources at our disposal if we merely spend some time to ask the right questions to get us going in the right direction. Here are a few decent sites for research and reading to check cultural, historical and geographical context:

biblestudytools.com also available as an AppStore app.
biblegateway.com
ccel.com this one is a little more advanced and much tougher to use
For iPad, iPhone and android users the logos app is really good, but better if you have a logos package purchased.
For a good cultural overview of the New Testament era I would recommend the New Testament Milieu by A. B. Du Toit. It offers an overview of the history building up to the coming of Christ and the social setting. Reading this one will give you most of the contextual information you will ever need.
Alfred Edersheim wrote several excellent books on the New Testament setting. I use his book on the temple and the Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah.

The Monty Python Gospel

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20110824-091745.jpg“Always look on the bright side of life!” Eric Idle sings these words in the closing scene of the Life of Brian. For those not familiar with the Life of Brian, the film follows Brian, a Palestinian Jew during the time of Christ. It is a sort of mockery of people and conventions in the first century. (as well as some of the foibles of religious folks) The closing scene depicts Brian being crucified. After several misguided “attempts” at rescue turn out to be far too silly to work, Brian becomes frustrated and downhearted. Enter Eric Idle, who does his best to cheer up Brian by singing this startlingly cheerful song. It’s a crazy scene because we see people being crucified, arguably the most horrid form of execution in history, but they all sing about whistling and being happy even as we face death. Comic genius – though, it is sharp enough to make most Christians pretty uncomfortable. I’ll own up pretty openly that I love Monty Python and I laughed quite a bit at this movie.

This is the scene that came to my mind as I listened to a sermon in my car the other morning on the way to work. The sermon was by a popular pastor, who was giving a set of clever tips on how to live life better. There were scripture verses cited that supported all the things we needed to do to fix this particular area of our lives. It was fairly Christian-esque in the respect that it presented a message that was positive and the Bible turned up occasionally as a part of supporting a particular point, it was entertaining, and encouraging and everything else a good Christian message should have. What it lacked was a clear message that in struggling with our sins, we can only find victory in Christ’s atoning death for our sins on the cross. Without forgiveness, we are working to be good through the law. The book of Romans tells us that the law is death.

For while we were in the flesh, the sinful passions, which were aroused by the Law, were at work in the members of our body to bear fruit for death. Romans 7:5

Actually, this is one verse. Go read it in context. The surrounding chapters drive this point home. The law is death to the sinful man. More law equals more burden we cannot bear. Sermons like this are like throwing a drowning man an anchor.

Thus, we see the scene from the Life of Brian. Men and women dying and cheerfully singing that the best thing they can do is sing and try to be happy by looking at the bright side. Our sins are killing us. Christless Christianity gives us more laws, more burdens and more death. So, to deal with it, we sing and try to be cheerful. Its not really any kind of good news for someone to tell me that I need to overcome the sin in my life through my works and effort.

The only salvation we can find is to realize that we are dying in our sins and be renewed in Christ through his death for our sins.

Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin. Romans 7:24

Managing a great life through principles can never compete with righteousness in Christ through grace. It’s the difference between us merrily singing as we die and him dying so we can live and sing praise.

Proving that John wrote the Gospel of John

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Identifying and defending the authorship of the Gospel of John is important from the standpoint of defending the faith because John is a fairly early source of first hand information about the life of Jesus. Particularly in light of John’s close relationship with Christ. John is a powerful tool in responding to critics. If a Christian is to defend the author of the gospel, he/she needs to know what support exists for John’s authorship, as many unbelievers challenge apostolic authorship. In the case of John this is generally based on skepticism and no facts.

Though probably written last, the gospel was still likely written before 80 AD. I argue this position because of the treatment of the Temple in the text. The temple was likely still standing or recently destroyed when the book was written based on two factors.

  1. The gospel seems to treat the temple as a structure that still stood and doesn’t mention its having been destroyed. In addition, it demonstrates intimate knowledge of the city of Jerusalem, which suggests that the author had been there recently or lived there for some time. This would require a pre-70 AD authorship.
  2.  There are those that argue that Jesus is juxtaposed to the temple in such a way as to hint that the author may be suggesting to Jewish readers that Jesus is the replacement for the recently destroyed temple. This would require that the temple be gone, which would place the date after 70. However, if John is referring to the temple, he does so without words. This gentle discussion of the matter lends to a relatively close date to the destruction of the temple, which would require increased delicacy. However, enough time would have had to pass for word to get around. This points to 80 AD as late date for authorship.

John is also important because it is generally accepted that it was written in aramaic, which was probably Jesus’ native language. The fact that it was written in aramaic closely associates the book with Israel and bolsters the case for its accuracy as an eye witness account.

Determining the authorship of John’s Gospel requires consideration of both internal and external evidence.

Internally, we see that the narrator identifies himself as an apostle. In both 1:14 and 2:11 John identifies himself amongst the disciples by using the pronoun “we.” This suggests that the author was one of the disciples present. 21:20 indicates that “the disciple who Jesus loved” is the author as well, because he refers to the anonymous disciple and then indicates that he is the writer of the book in verse 24.

The last supper offers further evidence for the elimination of several names from the list of candidates. The disciple identifies himself as present and reclining on Christ’s breast during the meal. He also mentions: Peter, Philip, Thomas, Judas Iscariot and Judas the son of James. These men could not be the author because he would scarcely have mentioned them by name and himself anonymously. In addition, we can eliminate several additional names through the account of the 7 disciples fishing in 21:2. This includes: Simon Peter, Thomas and Nathanial. In addition, 21:2 mentions the sons of Zebedee and two other disciples, which are acceptable candidates because of their lack of specific naming. James the son of Zebedee cannot be a potential candidate because of his early martyrdom (42 AD).

The remaining disciples are: Matthew, Simon the Zealot, James son of Alphaeus and John son of Zebedee. Matthew is unlikely because he is credited with writing another gospel. Simon the Zealot and James son of Alphaeus are both obscure figures and have never been suggested as authors. This leaves John the son of Zebedee.

John is a strong candidate because of his close proximity to Peter in several accounts in the synoptic gospels, which coincides with the frequent close proximity of Peter to the Disciple that Jesus loved. Ultimately, John the son of Zebedee is the only disciple that has such close proximity to Peter (other than James who is not appropriate because of his early death).

Interestingly, John’s gospel is silent on the inner circle of Christ’s followers. This supports Johannine authorship because of the anonymous nature of the text. John could scarcely have mentioned it without tipping his hand as to his identity. In addition, it accounts for the author’s prominent role within the text of John.

It is important to note that John’s familiarity with Jesus and its anonymity offering interesting hints as to authorship. If the book was not written by John, then the author would likely have not hidden his identity only to leave enough clues in the text for the reader to figure out that John was the author. If the author was to forge a text in John’s name, wouldn’t it be more reasonable to use John’s name. The purpose of usurping an apostle’s name is notoriety. This is defeated in hiding the identity of the author.

External evidence comes from the church father Irenaeus, who used the gospel in his refutation of the early gnostic heresies. Irenaeus claims to have learned from Polycarp, who was himself a disciple of John. Irenaeus goes further and identifies John as the disciple who reclined on Christ during the last supper.

Church father Clement of Alexandria also identifies the apostle John as the author of the gospel as well. After the end of the second century church tradition is unanimous on the matter of authorship.

Pascal on the Physical Sciences

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The vanity of the sciences.—Physical science will not console me for the ignorance of morality in the time of affliction. But the science of ethics will always console me for the ignorance of the physical sciences.
Blaise Pascal

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