On Pluralism In Western Culture

1 Comment

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based exclusive claims must be false; what is old or traditional in religion is suspect and should probably be superseded; “sin” is a concept steeped in intolerance.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.…


Weekly App Review: Reformation Study Bible

1 Comment

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.

Defending the Resurrection: Part 7- Using parts one through six together

1 Comment

Part 7 of is series is the “how to” manual for using the previous 6 posts effectively. Obviously, this was not a full-on apologetics primer dealing with every aspect of the faith. This was the basic class. It was sort of like the wax-on, wax-off series. The historic truth of the resurrection event is THE single most important element of the faith to defend and argue. We can spend forever arguing about philosophy and Darwin and the crusades and any other aspect of Christianity. If you lose those arguments, it doesn’t change the fact that Christ died and was resurrected. If this happened, it acts as a reference point for every other teaching and thing we can know about God. This is the heart of our faith.  Paul puts it best:

Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. For what I received, I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.
1 Corinthians 5:1-8

Verses 3 and 4 are thought to be part of one of the earliest creeds of the church.

Frequently, young people go off to college and are challenged with arguments and statements against the faith, but they lack any concrete arguments in its favor or to defend it, so they only have their presuppositions to utilize in defense of what they believe. As a result, they fall away easily when challenged. Or adults experience loss or frustration, then stumble because they do not know the historical events on which the faith is founded. It’s one thing to deny belief in God based on simple preferences, it’s another to deny a historical event. It’s like saying the French revolution didn’t happen. Or that Alexander the Great was a made up guy. Or that Nero was fictional. It’s not reasonable to just deny a historically provable event just because you don’t like it.

The previous posts demonstrated that there is ample historic evidence that is very reliable and well preserved that proves that Jesus was a real man, was executed by the Romans and rose again three days later.

Arguing the historical facts: The historic event is what needs to be argued when defending the resurrection. Simply arguing that it feels true or that Jesus changed your life is lovely, but it is subjective. Subjective proof cannot be demonstrated to others and it can be countered by clever arguments. Experience is a shifting foundation.

You will seldom encounter someone who will argue this history with any real knowledge of the more complex issues involved. Most folks know a few basic arguments and bust them out when itching for a fight or when offering a simple explanation. One apologist I follow used the following analogy: the atheist comes into the conversation with his bandolier and his 5 or 6 arguments, ready to run you off. They seldom expect folks to have an informed response. After all, they reason, Christianity is based on myths and assumptions with no basis in fact. The last thing they expect is for real answers to be offered.

Different folks argue in different ways. Some people itch to argue and look for chances to debate. They relish in the opportunity to play mental chess. I cannot say that I identify with this perspective. However, I do love to tell people about Jesus. Frequently when talking about faith, challenges or objections are raised regarding proof or whether or not Jesus existed or if there was any proof. Or, even when folks just ask: how do we know Jesus is real?

So, here are a few of the questions and challenges that folks will encounter. The silver bullets in the atheist bandolier, if you will.

What if some guy just made all this stuff up and there is no Jesus? There are a few variations to this one. They include: There is no proof Jesus even existed. Jesus was probably just a legend. These are pretty typical arguments. They are easily responded to because of the wealth of evidence. The answers for these can be found in parts 3 and 4, as well as by understanding how the Bible came to be. You can point to the eye witnesses. Frequently, this will be met with: that’s the Bible, it’s biased. At that point you can explain that these books were written as eyewitness accounts and of course they are biased. They were written by guys who saw Jesus rise from the dead. They will be biased toward what they saw. Another response is that you cannot use the Bible to support the Bible. The problem of course being that the Bible is multiple accounts put together. You are using one eyewitness to support another (posts 5 and 6). Further, you can argue for the witnesses from outside the Bible that prove that Christ existed (Part 4). Knowing the details of these positions is important for responding effectively. The accusations are general and based on speculation, your responses must be specific. You have facts on your side.

The Bible wasn’t written until decades later and probably not by Jesus’ followers. This argument is best responded to using the arguments that deal with that matter in Post 3 and the Response to a comment on Post 3 post. We have external confirmation for the authorship of some of Paul’s writings and John. Both of these are found in the early church fathers. In addition, the early church held that the various apostles wrote the texts. This is more evidence for the position than there is against apostolic authorship. Further, most of what we know about the apostles is revealed in the Gospels. Why fake a book under a name no one has hard of? So, “Matthew didn’t write Matthew.” Well, who is this Matthew guy and why would anyone pretend to be him? Most of the argument are spurious. As for the written decades later argument, there is no real support for this position. In fact, the books themselves show clear signs of having been written before the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD. Further, the epistles confirm the details of the Gospel accounts. See posts 3 and 4 for more on these. It is also worth noting that no other historical documents are treated in this manner. The Gospel accounts are supported externally by other biblical, external Christian and external non-Christian sources. They are so well supported that willing blindness is the only way to ignore the texts. Also, read Response to a comment on Post Post 6 for information on the church fathers’ research of the original accounts.

The books were likely edited to change the Gospel accounts to present a message the church wanted. Read Post 5 for more on this one. The big idea to present in discussing this point is that the distribution of the texts made this tampering impossible.

The story was made up by men who were trying to con the stupid peasants. Check the accounts of the disciples deaths in post 3. They died badly. This was a stupid lie if it was a lie. Why die for something you made up? Often folks will come back with arguments that lots of people die for their beliefs. The disciples died swearing that they saw Jesus resurrected.

Some guy just wrote the whole Bible and made it up. This is easily dealt with using the information in post number 6.

No Roman records exist of Jesus’ crucifixion. I’ve heard this more often lately. The nice thing about this argument is that it lends support to Tacitus, who would then have supporting documents to base his claims on. (See Post 4) But, the important thing to know is that we don’t have accounts of tens of thousands of crucifixions. The Romans may have kept records, but lots of records are gone because this was thousands of years ago and time has a habit of destroying documents. Lack of records isn’t conclusive proof. There is, however, the Torah. (read more in Post 4)

The Gospel accounts are full of contradictions. I deal with this in Post 5. It is worth noting that if you are familiar with the Biblical accounts and the harmony of the gospels, you can call this one out. Most folks say this and have no idea where there are contradictions. However, if you do this, you must be prepared to addressed apparent contradictions. The better response is in post 3.

The fallback for dealing with claims that you can’t immediately answer is is the question: What is the proof for your argument? Very few of the opposing theories have real evidence supporting them. “Everybody knows” or “scholars say” is not proof. The accounts of the early church fathers that validate the Biblical texts are proof. Speculation from skeptics with PhDs is not. What makes this interesting is that the attacks leveled against Christianity most often deal with the idea that there is no evidence. Opposing theories unanimously suffer from the same malady.

Ultimately, this is just the basic stuff. It is just the resurrection. Future posts will deal with  other areas.

Defending the Resurrection: Part 6 How the Bible Came to Be

Leave a comment

20110819-093743.jpg This next to last post on defending the resurrection will deal with how the Bible was put together. It’s primary value will be in offering a framework for understanding how the scriptures went from a collection of manuscripts that had been copied and distributed globally to the Bible that we use today. This information may also prove useful when dealing with those who suggest that the church suppressed Gospel texts because they weren’t happy with the messages they contained. A quick survey of the process for selecting the books of the Bible will reveal the problem with this accusation.

The transition begins with a church council meeting in 140 AD. Leaders from churches all over the ancient world gathered in order to address the various issues facing the church of the day. These councils took place from the early days of the church when the book of Acts records meetings between Paul and some of the apostles over matters like the conversion of Gentiles. This particular council was attended by a man named Marcion, who brought with him the first canon of Scripture. (Canon means collection of books that are considered to be authoritative.) Marcion’s canon consisted of a heavily edited copy of the Book of Luke and edited versions of some of Paul’s Epistles, excluding the pastorals. Marcion assembled his canon based on his own teachings. The council took issue with the liberties Marcion took with the texts and his decision to identify books as authoritative of his own accord. Marcion was excommunicated and his teachings rejected as heretical. The good that came from Marcion’s canon was that it put the church in a position where it deemed it necessary to identify which books were scripture and which were not.

Rather than simply choosing books arbitrarily, the church leaders came up with a criteria for identifying texts. This way, the books selected as authoritative were selected based on merit rather than “this is what I want to be true.” The criteria were:

1. Apostolic authorship.
2. Universal acceptance within the congregations.
3. Consistency in teaching.

Apostolic authorship: All books that were eventually included in the canon needed to have sprung from the pen of an apostle or be directly connected to an apostle. Apostles were guys that knew Jesus personally, saw him teach or saw him resurrected. If apostolic authorship of a book was not certain, it was typically not included. There is the one exception to this in Hebrews, which many attributed to Paul, but there was not total certainty. However, its strength in the two other criteria put it over the edge in consideration. This is important because there were books that were in circulation that were rejected because their authors were not apostles. For example, some of the books of the early church fathers were not included because they weren’t written by apostles. The Gospel of Thomas was proven to be a forgery. The author was excommunicated and the book was not included in the canon. Most of the books that skeptics point to as suppressed Gospels fall into this category. The fancy theology word for this is pseudoepigraphical. It means written under a fake name. It is frequently alleged that this was a common practice in the ancient world and that the early church fathers simply looked the other way and included books of dubious origin. Any examination of the historical record of the forming of the canon will demonstrate the falsehood of such accusations. The early church fathers were resolute in their desire to preserve the teachings of the apostles.

Wide Acceptance: This criteria resulted from the manner in which documents were distributed in the early church. For more on the method of distribution, read part 5 of this series. The distribution of texts kept the church honest in the respect that the books were harder to alter effectively and pointed to the text’s reflection of the teaching received. Further, the more widespread the documents, the more likely that they had been around for a while, since books were relatively hard to distribute quickly. Further, it removed subjectivity from the equation. With Marcion, the books were selected based on his personal theology. If this were the case, one man would be the determiner of what is and is not authoritative. With this criteria, the entire church made the decision.

Consistency of teaching: With this standard, the church determined that the canon ought to reflect a logical and coherent set of teachings. If a text did not reflect the teaching in the canon, it was not included in the canon. The main idea behind this standard is that a teaching cannot be “true” and “not true” at the same time. If two books contradict each other, one must be false. Consistency of teaching involved comparing the teaching in question to the larger collection.

A quick word ought to be devoted to the role of the Holy Spirit in the process. Consistency of teaching and wide acceptance standards assume the Holy Spirit’s involvement in the process of forming the canon. The assumption is that the Holy Spirit spread the texts that were scriptural and that the Spirit’s teachings would be consistent. This leading of the Spirit reflects a disciplined and educated approach to the Spirit’s leading. They did not simply go with their gut feeling and assume it was the Spirit.

The process of researching and determining the canon of scripture was not instant. The early church fathers spent 200ish years researching and studying before closing the canon. The origination of the texts was tracked down, the books were compared for coherence and the collections of the eastern and western churches were evaluated against each other. Some books, like Jude, spread in their acceptance and were eventually included.

Though the canon was essentially closed in the 4th century AD, there were some ongoing arguments regarding a few of the books. For example, during the reformation some Bibles excluded the book of James because it was thought to promote works-based salvation. Accusations of a mindless following of the Bible don’t accurately reflect history.

It is important to note that early church leaders did a great service to the church by carefully evaluating the books of the Bible in this manner. It has resulted in the Bible being freed from some of the difficulties inherent in the looser handling of texts that has surfaced in other faiths. Further, it provides modern day believers an assurance that they stand on solid ground.