On Pluralism In Western Culture

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I am currently reading a book on apologetics from my Logos library. The opening chapters of the text are littered  with quotes from D.S. Carson. CArson is an intellectual heavyweight in the area of Biblical scholarship and Christianity. I learned a great deal from his books while I was in seminary. The following are a few of the quotes I lifted from the text. These are all Carson quotes from God and Culture.

In the religious field, this means that few people will be offended by the multiplying new religions. No matter how wacky, no matter how flimsy their intellectual credentials, no matter how subjective and uncontrolled, no matter how blatantly self-centered, no matter how obviously their gods have been manufactured to foster human self-promotion, the media will treat them with fascination and even a degree of respect. But if any religion claims that in some measure other religions are wrong, a line has been crossed and resentment is immediately stirred up: pluralism … has been challenged. Exclusiveness is the one religious idea that cannot be tolerated.

Pluralism has managed to set in place certain “rules” for playing the game of religion—rules that transcend any single religion. These rules are judged to be axiomatic. They include the following: religiously based exclusive claims must be false; what is old or traditional in religion is suspect and should probably be superseded; “sin” is a concept steeped in intolerance. The list could easily be expanded.

Those who are committed to the proposition that all views are equally valid have eliminated the possibility that one or more of those opinions has a special claim to being true or valid. They have foreclosed on open-mindedness in the same breath by which they extol the virtues of open-mindedness; they are dogmatic about pluralism.…

Both the irony and the tragedy of this fierce intolerance stem from the fact that it is done in the name of tolerance. It is not “liberal education” in the best sense; it is not pluralism in the best sense. It is fundamentalistic dogmatism in the worse sense.…

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Weekly App Review: Reformation Study Bible

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The Reformation Study Bible App is an English Standard Version study Bible edited by R. C. Sproul. The app itself is very stable and easy to use. The Bible texts are easy to navigate and the features are simple to use. The app allows the user to reference over 20,000 study notes, which are generally insightful, intelligent and useful in a pinch. The app allows the user to search the text, take notes, and highlight passages. This app is pretty useful for simple and cursory study of texts.

The app also offers a handful of downloadable resources like a Strong’s Analytical Concordance, a Mathew Henry’s Concise Commentary, a Bible Dictionary and Sproul’s devotional collection. The user can also download several additional translations. This app is feature heavy and the features are generally useful, though some of them, like the Mathew Henry Commentary or the Strong’s KJV concordance, are not. These two resources are ok, but are not the best of the best available.

The most important thing I can say about this app is that it is stable, fast and useful. The in-text notes are easy to pull up and typically give a good information when its needed. As a teacher, I use this app daily. It has replaced my Chain Reference Study Bible entirely.

I have occasionally found the search feature frustrating simply because it tends to be very unforgiving to variations in words. This is a particular detriment for a guy who had never used the ESV translation before now. Occasionally, the app gets hung up in the text preventing the user from accessing the features. This is generally fixed by simply restarting the app.

The Reformation Study Bible’s main weakness is the lack of depth of resources, but this is certainly excusable considering that it is essentially a Study Bible. For deeper study, I use the Logos Bible App. The Reformed Study Bible is faster and tends to be easier to use in relation to handling the scriptures directly. This is particularly the case when offline, which is no issue for the Reformation Study Bible App, but the Achilles heel of the Logos app.

Another weakness is with the fact that you cannot copy and paste text from the scripture you’re referencing. While not a fatal flaw, this feature would definitely be a useful addition to this app.

The Reformation Study Bible works well on both the iPad and iPhone. It’s a little easier to use on the iPad because of the larger screen. For $9.99, it is certainly one of the more pricey options for Bible apps, but I would argue that it is worth the price, particularly considering that most study Bibles will run you $30 plus.

Correctly Interpreting God’s Word: Part 4 Using Translations

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My beloved put in his hand by the hole of the door, and my bowels were moved for him.

 Song of Solomon 5:4 KJV

Song of Solomon is the greatest love poem ever written. There is a story that young men were not allowed to read it until they reached the age of 30. If you read it, you will find line after line of flowing poetry. You might even choose the King James Version because it is more poetic. If you did, at some point in time you will encounter this verse. Chapter 5 verse 4. What the heck are you supposed to make of this one? I’ve been married a long time and I have never associated bowel movements with romance. A brief consideration of an alternate translation ought to clear up any weird misconceptions:

My beloved thrust his hand through the latch-opening; my heart began to pound for him.

Song of Solomon 5:4 NIV

A bit of a difference there. This passage is a very silly way of demonstrating our next rule for understanding the scriptures: Use several translations.

This is necessary because the Bible has been translated from languages that are noticeably different than English and originated in a very different era and culture. Translations typically reflect the best demonstration of the meaning possible. However, some concepts are difficult to portray, so using multiple translations frees us from being subject to one version’s translational decisions. To understand this, it is necessary to understand how translation happens. Most of the modern translations we use are done by teams of scholars working in committee with the manuscripts. For each portion of the scripture, roughly 5000 individual manuscripts exist. When a translation is done the scholars evaluate the manuscripts and consider how to best translate the text. There is a spectrum of translating styles that come into play here, which we will deal with momentarily. These scholars work for years doing a version of the Bible. So, when we choose a translation, we are relying on the expertise and work hours of a team of scholars (sometimes quite a few). The advantage of working with multiple translations is that we then use the collected expertise of every scholar involved.

Greek is an inflected language. What that means is that the context in which a word appears alters it’s meaning. I read an excellent example of this recently on another blog that dealt with Judas’ betrayal of Christ. The word that the scripture uses is “handed over” and is usually associated with malicious intent. This, along with the fact that the “handing over” was in exchange for 30 pieces of silver has caused many translators to say “betrayed” instead of “handed over”. This is a judgment call by the translator and is not an unusual thing. Most words have several meanings and shades of meanings based on context and situation. This prompts translators to make interpretive decisions. In addition, certain words like the Greek word “kai” can literally mean dozens of things. Kai is a generic conjunction whose meaning is totally based on the argument in which it is presented. This is another one that requires an interpretive decision. The oddest example of interpretive decisions shows up a lot in Paul’s letters. Greek sentences are often composed of multiple clauses that modify a main point. Sometimes those clauses can be very numerous. Paul occasionally wrote sentences that will go on for pages. The translator must essentially break up the sentence because it would not make sense in English. These are just a few of the challenges involved in translating. The impact of these decisions is diminished the more translations a reader references.

Using multiple translations is necessary when trying to understand a particularly challenging passage of scripture or when studying. This is less necessary when you are casually reading the Bible. When you choose the translation you will use, it is necessary to understand the various translating styles. There are three styles that represent a spectrum of approaches. They are:

Static equivalent: A static equivalent translation is word for word, pr as close to it as possible. The most word for word translation available is the New American Standard Version, which courteously makes note of alterations for the reader by putting additions or alterations in italics. The King James Version is also fairly word for word, though the translation can be a tad wooden at times.  The New Revised Standard Version is mostly word for word, but is controversial for making interpretive decisions that are based on how a modern audience may receive the passage, like gender neutrality (getting rid of gender specific words like brothers). The NRSV also tends to have a more liberal theological leaning.

Dynamic equivalent: Dynamic equivalent translations are the word for word balanced with translating the meaning as best possible. So, the word for word is important, but some paraphrasing or rewording is necessary to reflect the original message of the author.  The trick with this type of translation is that there are more interpretive decisions involved, which means that the translator is doing some interpretation for you. This is a bit of an advantage for the lay person, but a detriment of sorts for scholars. These translations tend to be easier to read and are the direction most non-scholars go when choosing a study Bible. The New International Version is the most common dynamic equivalent translation.  Others include: The Holman Christian Standard Bible, The New English Translation and the New American Bible.

Free/paraphrase/commentary: These Bibles tend to lean in the direction of paraphrase with the least amount of emphasis placed on the word for word aspect of translation. The goal is to get the message of the passage across. The most popular versions in this category are: The Message, The New Living Bible, God’s Word Translation and the Contemporary English Version. These translations are the most subject to the interpretation of the translator and leave the least amount of judgment up to the reader. There is clearly a spectrum within these books. The Message, for example, is a very loose translation with a great deal of influence from the translator. The Contemporary English version is much less so. These Bibles are best suited for casual reading.

It is important to note that each of these categories is a spectrum of its own and none of the translations falls strictly in the middle ground.

When interpreting a passage, it is important to select translations from across the spectrum. The reader will benefit from each of the styles of translation because each offers some benefits to the reader as far as word usage. It is important to compare the word usage and recognize that the consensus will generally indicate the stronger understanding. It is also important to recognize that the variations reflect shades of meaning in the passage.

There is one thing that folks sometimes do with comparing translations that is a technical foul. It is not a good practice to shop translations in search of the meaning you want. This is because the passage means what it means, not what you want it to mean. When you shop the versions of the Bible you try to find the message you want the passage to mean. This also works as a red flag when reading or listening to teachings. When a pastor jumps from version to version, it’s a sign of possible shopping.

Below I have included a spectrum I borrowed from the apologeticsindex.org website.

Faith and Reason Comic: 21st Century Christian

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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.

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.

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