Tag Archives: Bible

Kids and Apologetics

The concept of parents teaching their kids apologetics has gained a great deal of traction in recent years.  Now, we’re not talking about having a conversation with your middle or high schooler about something that took place at school.  What we’re talking about is training elementary aged children in apologetics.

While I understand why some people think this is a good idea, especially in a culture where children are bombarded with ideas at a far faster rate than most of us parents ever experienced.  My difficulty with teaching young children apologetics is that it seemingly “puts the cart before the horse.”  People should know something about theology before moving on to apologetics.  This should be obvious, but….

In fact, I would say that the logic of studying theology before apologetics applies to anyone who is young/immature in the faith.  After all, we should know what we believe before we go out and defend why we believe it.  To that end, I think parents should spend time reading and studying the Bible with their children.  As a family does this there will be many opportunities to discuss central tenets of the Christian faith, as well as deal with difficulties that they might encounter.

That second part, dealing with difficulties they might encounter as they read study the Bible, is worth highlighting.  My reason for saying this is that the difficulties we have may not be such an issue with our children and, conversely, they may have trouble with things we simply never anticipated.  We are currently reading through the Bible as a family for the second time and I am continuously intrigued by what stands out to my children.

I will wind this post down with a final thought: It is easier to defend something when you know, understand, and love it.  If we simply teach people to defend the faith without a firm foundation in it, then we are simply training intellectual mercenaries who may, or may not, have any loyalties to our faith.

Qumran: Home of the Essenes and the Dead Sea Scrolls

This is a brief article that I wrote for a church newsletter a few years ago.  Still, the information is good and the pictures are beautiful.

You have probably all heard of the Dead Sea Scrolls.  The first scrolls were discovered in a cave near the Dead Sea by an Arab shepherd boy in the late 1940’s and have been the source of much scholarly discussion ever since.  Numerous scrolls have been discovered since that original find.  While scrolls have been found in more than one location, they are primarily associated with a site known as Qumran.  This site has been extensively excavated by archaeologists and sheds a great deal of light on the Essenes, the sect that is believed to have occupied Qumran.  In this post I have included some photos from my trip to Qumran during my tour of Israel in 2009.

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In this first photo you can see several of the walls from the Qumran community.  You can also see hills in the upper right hand corner and in the distance of the upper left hand corner is the Dead Sea.

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In this second photo you get a better look at the steep hills that bordered the Qumran site.  You can also see more of the settlement’s walls.

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In the distance of this third picture you can see the Dead Sea.  You can also see that Qumran was built on a plateau.  While you can see some modern developments in the center left of the picture, you can also tell that this is a very dry and desolate area.  The Essenes lived here because they wanted to be apart from others.  They were separatists.  The extremely dry conditions, while because inhospitable to people, are what allowed the scrolls to last as long as they did without decay.

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In this final picture you can see one of the caves at Qumran where scrolls were found.  As you tell, the cave is not easily accessible.  The difficulty of reaching the caves is another reason why the manuscripts have lasted as long as they have – looters could not easily reach them.

Happy New Year!

Welcome to 2017!  I hope this year goes well for everyone out there and that you are able to follow through on your resolutions (if you made any).

For some, the new year marks a point in time at which reading through the Bible in a year will start.  This is truly a remarkable goal, but many will not make it to the finish.  Why? The answers will vary, but one reason will be the lack of a reading plan.

So, if you are looking to read through the Bible in 2017, allow me to encourage you to adopt a reading plan.  My personal favorite: The M’Cheyne Reading Plan.  By following this plan, you will read through the Old Testament once and the New Testament and Psalms twice over the course of a year.  If you would like to utilize this plan, use one of the following links.

For a website that follows the calender and provides the readings, using the ESV, in a convenient manner, click here.

For a printable version of the reading plan, click here.

There are several other plans out there as well, but this is one that I have found profitable for my study.  If you want to go it alone, keep in mind that there are 1,189 chapters in the Bible (unless you are reading a Bible with the Apocrypha/Deutero-Canonical Books, then there are more).  If you read 4 chapters a day, then you will read the Bible within a one-year time-frame with plenty of buffer space for those lazy days and occasional activity packed weekends.

Regardless of how you go about it, I wish you much success if you take on the challenge of reading through the Bible in a year.

Happy New Year!

 

Putting Our Eggs in the Wrong Baskets

I write this post simply to state that a lot of us, as Christians, misguidedly place all of our eggs into the wrong basket. And, if someone has all of their eggs in a basket that fails, then the result is often times a very damaged, or even abandoned, faith.

For instance, a person can place all of their eggs into a particular view of creation (you can take your choice between Young Earth, Old Earth, Intelligent Design, Theistic Evolution, or something else). If that view comes under attack and the holder of the position does not feel it can be adequately defended, a domino effect can take place in that person’s spiritual life that can lead to the ultimate demise of his or her religious belief.

It is important to note that the Christian faith stands or falls primarily on the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Paul, himself, says as much. Outside of this, there is plenty of room for argument and discussion, but if you are going to put all your theological eggs into one basket, then this would be it. After all, the resurrection has several vital doctrines connected to it.

So, why am I spending these few moments to write this very brief post? The answer is simple. Many people will where themselves out battling over some obscure piece of turf that should have never become as important as they made it out to be. It would be like the United States being defeated as a nation, and surrendering unconditionally, in a battle in Greenland – no offense to the good people of Greenland.

Now, let me wrap this up with a note of clarification: the various doctrines we hold are important (even the ones we disagree on), and there are many things worth fighting for (even Greenland). But, it is my prayer that we don’t get so consumed by items on the margins that we lose sight of the most central component of the faith: the resurrection.

Conference, reading, and what not.

Greetings to the handful of people reading this blog.  I have been attending an Annual Conference for the United Methodist Church where I serve – not the most exciting event out there – and have just a few observations to post about.

While I enjoy connecting with fellow ministers that I have not seen in quite some time, there are many components of Annual Conference that I am not a fan of.  Primarily, you can only “church up” a business meeting so far, or throw so much business into a worship service, before making you end up with a completely bipolar meeting.  If I were king for a day, I would separate the two elements and simply have business meetings and worship services, but not worship/business meetings.  I appreciate what they are trying to do, but it seems too strained.

Now, onto something more interesting.  My family and I recently completed reading through the Bible together as a family.  Woohoo!  During the course of our study everyone had the chance to ask questions, offer comments, and voice concerns.  Interestingly, the questions that were asked by my children were not the ones that I find so often advertised in books.  While I certainly recognize the uniqueness of every person, I also found it telling because it raises the possibility that perhaps the folks at the brain trust (wherever or whatever that may be) are answering the wrong questions.

For instance, Natasha Crain wrote a book titled Keeping Your Kids on God’s Side.  While I confess that I have not read the book, the table of contents lays out all the questions it seeks to answer.  Of 40 questions in the book, my children asked at most 3 that I can recall, and this is over the course of reading through the entire Bible around the supper table.

I am certain that Natasha’s book is an excellent guide for conversations around the table, but I am curious who the questions are really for: the parent or child.  I encourage my children to ask questions, but they should be their questions and not mine imposed on them.  At the same time, I am okay with it if they don’t ask a lot of questions.  After all, as my grandfather used to say, “It’s their little red wagon and they’ll pull it how they want.”

All of this is to say that I am extremely proud of my family for the reading accomplishment. And yes, as a father and husband, I am extremely biased in this regard.

The Need for Christians to Read the Bible

Statistics show that few people take the time to actually read the Bible.  A survey conducted by Lifeway of 2,930 Protestant churchgoers indicates that only 19% read the Bible everyday and that 18% rarely or never read the Bible.  Furthermore, only 1 in 5 Americans claims to have read the Bible from cover to cover.  The American Bible Society also reports on the distressing Bible reading trends.

The trouble with these reports should be self-evident.  As Christians, we make the bold claim that the Bible is the very Word of God, but many of us do not regard as such in practice.  The average churchgoer can probably tell you a number of books that they have read, but the Bible, strangely, is not on that list.

So, why is it so important to read the Bible?  Here are a few reasons that I can think of right off the top of my head:

  1. It is the Word of God.  This should be sufficient reason alone for someone to want to read the Bible in its entirety.  Indeed, this is good enough reason to make Bible reading and study a lifelong practice.
  2. It is in the pages of Scripture that we learn about Jesus Christ – the one and only path to the Father.
  3. It prepares us, as Christians, to engage with the world we live in.  Christians should make Bible reading and study a habit so that we know what the Word says.  We should not be part of the number that thinks Joan of Arc was Noah’s wife, or that “God helps those who help themselves” is in the Bible.  In order for us to engage the world with a developed Biblical worldview, we must read the Bible.
  4. It provides the ethical and moral system by which God expects us to live by.
  5. It allows us to see the Bible as a whole and not as a bunch of random texts that are often read without context.
  6. It has had a profound impact on our culture throughout history that can be seen in numerous places, including literature, art, music, and history.

I am sure that you can probably add your own reasons to this list, but these are what popped into my head first.

While reading the Bible as individuals is important, I also think it is vital that families read the Bible together.  This allows for questions to be asked and answered; deep, thoughtful discussions to take place; doubts and concerns to be expressed in a safe and supportive environment; and it can help families have aligned values.  Reading the Bible in its entirety as a family is also important because it exposes difficult passages that are often overlooked.  Christians should be aware of difficult passages and have some idea, or framework, for how to deal with these.  This framework may vary depending on your theology (Arminian, Calvinist, etc.), but it will help guide you in understanding the Bible as a whole.

This last point, understanding the Bible as a whole, is of critical importance.  I have strange suspicion that a lot of people know bits and pieces of the Bible and build a caricature of the whole thing from those parts.  Similarly, I think many Christian try to engage culture with a very keen knowledge of a very small amount of Scripture, but do not have a good grasp of the whole Word of God.  Having an understanding of the Bible as a whole is of enormous value to mature faith.  After all, the canon of Scripture was given to us for a reason, and that is to learn what God has to say to us.

Happy reading!

Sell everything you own?

From time to time, the objection will come up that Christians are hypocrites, and unwilling to follow Jesus’ commands. A common line of reasoning behind this view is that Christians do not sell everything they own and give it to the poor. The statement in question is found in Matthew 19:21 and reads:

Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”

Now, the background to this text is a conversation between Jesus and a rich young man who desired to become one of His followers. The young man was under the impression that works could get him into heaven. He was already living rather piously, but there was one thing that came between him and God: his personal wealth.

The point of the story is not that all followers of Jesus should sell everything they own in order to be faithful in their discipleship. Instead, the point is that there should be nothing in our lives that comes before our relationship with Christ. If the Lord were to ask us to walk away from something, and we chose not to, then that item is an idol and no different than the great wealth that the rich young ruler was unwilling to walk away from.

Jesus’ command in Matthew 19:21 was given to a specific individual concerning a specific circumstance, it is not a universal command to be obeyed at all times by all people. Jesus does not give this command to other wealthy individuals, and there is no reason to suspect that He ever intended the selling of everything we own to be normative.

What should be considered normative, however, is the idea that nothing should come between us and God. Examples of people being called away from the lives and livelihoods they had known are found multiple times in the Scriptures. For example: Abraham left Ur, David left the flocks, Levi left the lucrative tax-collecting business, and several disciples left the fishing industry. Anything that comes between a person and God is an idol, and idolatry is something always to be avoided.

I know this is a little short this week, but things have been busy : (

More on the Transmission of the Gospels

This week I will continue my complaints against the arguments Bart Ehrman provided in his discussion with Richard Bauckham on the Unbelievable? radio program of Premier Christianity. In case you are unfamiliar with the subject matter, Ehrman was arguing for the notion that the Gospels were not written by eyewitnesses, while Bauckham argued that they were. In particular, Ehrman hammered away at the possibility of people being able to recall facts from decades earlier. Last week, I addressed a number of objections I had to his arguments. This week, I will address two more issues that Ehrman raised.

Let’s consider first the literacy rate in Judea at the time of Christ. Ehrman makes mention of the idea that the literacy rate in first century Palestine (a.k.a. Judea) was only around 2 or 3%. He points to research done by other scholars in this field to support his claim, and I have no doubt that many scholars endorse this view. However, I think we need to state the obvious: we have no real way to verify the literacy rate of Jews in first-century Palestine. Unless there was some sort of survey done during that time frame addressing the ability of people to read and write, we must admit that we are making educated guesses when we speak of the literacy rate. The idea behind much of this is that only the upper crust were educated enough to read and write. I recognize that acquiring an education in the ancient world was not something that just everyone could afford, but it does not necessarily follow that everyone was dumb as a box of rocks.

Now, interestingly, Ehrman makes part of his case for the bulk of Jews being illiterate based on the fact that we have found very little Jewish written material from that area and time frame. But, let’s be honest about something: we have not found too much written material in that area and during that time frame regardless of language or ethnicity. However, it should be noted that the Essenes had quite a bit of literature in their possession (the Dead Sea Scrolls), and it is entirely possible that the Jewish population in first-century Palestine wrote primarily, if not entirely, religious material. Furthermore, I want to argue that Ehrman is simply arguing from silence, which is not necessarily a very sound way to argue. As the old saying goes, “Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.”

But, let’s think this literacy thing through one more step. Let us suppose for a moment that it is absolutely true that only 2 or 3% of people could read and write. Is this the only way of transmitting information? I can think of at least two methods: oral tradition and art. I spoke a little about oral tradition last week, so I will not touch on that today. Instead, I will simply and quickly point out that art is an effective method of communicating messages, especially if there is a story that goes along with it. Take, for example, stained glass windows in churches. When they are done well, a person can share with another the entire life story of Jesus from birth to ascension.

But, let’s carry on with the idea that only 2-3% could read or write and this small number was made up primarily of the wealthy and professional scribes. Does this count Jesus and His disciples out? Hmm… I think not, and that leads naturally to my second gripe against Ehrman in his dialogue with Bauckham.

So, I will now turn my attention to the ability of Jesus and His disciples to have produced written documents. Taking Ehrman’s position on the literacy rate in first-century Palestine at face value, is it possible that Jesus and His followers could have produced written documents? I think it is entirely possible. Consider the fact that not all of Jesus’ followers were penniless – or perhaps, miteless : ) According to John 3:1-21, Nicodemus seems to have had some interest in Jesus’ teachings, and he was a member of the Jewish ruling council (see also Jn. 19:39). Joseph of Arimathea was also personally invested in Jesus enough to have His body removed from the cross and buried in his own tomb (Matt. 27:57-60; Mk. 15:43-46; Lk. 23:50-53; Jn. 19:38-42).

In addition to Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea, there were others who were seemingly financially well to do. Matthew (a.k.a. Levi) was a tax collector (Lk. 5:27-32), as was Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-10). Zacchaeus, by the way, is also described as being rich (Lk. 19:2). John Mark seems to have come from a family with some degree of wealth. After all, his mother had a house big enough to entertain multiple guests and included at least one servant (Acts 12:12-17). Jesus also had women that followed Him who were wealthy enough to travel with and minister to Him (Mk. 15:40-41).

These are just names found in the New Testament. There may be plenty more in the early church. After all, it is not unreasonable to think that a wealthy person converted. Furthermore, the use of an amanuensis (a professional writer who takes dictation) was not unheard of, and Paul made use of such workers.

This is good enough for today. Next week, I will turn to some other worthwhile topic.

On Memory and Transmission

For two weeks in row, the Unbelievable? radio program of Premier Christianity featured a debate between Richard Bauckham and Bart Ehrman. Both men are world renowned scholars and the debate was very informative. Central to the discussion was whether or not the Gospels were written by eyewitnesses. Bauckham argued in favor of the idea that they were, in fact, written by eyewitnesses while Ehrman, unsurprisingly, argued that they were not. What I found most interesting in these two debates was the emphasis on human memory.

Ehrman holds the position that the primitive church in the region of Judea would have been largely, if not entirely, illiterate. He also believes that the human memory cannot be relied upon to convey information accurately. Now, I should make it clear that Ehrman is no knucklehead, and he comes to debates with a wealth of information. He mentions scores of psychological studies, and references scholars regarding the literacy rate in first-century Jerusalem.

Bauckham is no slouch in these matters either, and he also speaks of psychological studies and various scholars that support his conclusions. Still, I wish he would have done a better job of arguing with Ehrman. So, let me throw in my two cents from the cheap seats several days after the actual radio broadcast.

1. Can human memory be trusted? This is a good question, and there is a lot of evidence that shows the human memory is definitely fallible. However, researchers often focus on things that I would say are removed from the individuals being studied. So, one of the studies spoke of a person seeing the space shuttle exploding on television, and another of various silly tasks given to college students on a campus.

These are interesting studies, but do they really prove the point? I say they don’t. To begin, the person on the street will have a very different emotional investment in the memory of the space shuttle disaster than someone who worked on the project. And, there is seemingly no emotional investment in being asked to do oddball tasks on a college campus. The apostles saw a close personal acquaintance die a horrifying death and then return to life three days later. This is a far different emotional experience than what is found in the research mentioned in the radio show.

2. Does memory have to be perfect to be trustworthy? Nope. Since people love to point out the fallibility of eyewitness testimony in a court of law, we can talk about this for a moment. Let us say that three eyewitnesses are called to the stand in a murder trial. The first witness says that he saw a man get shot by an assailant in a blue sports car, and that after the shooting took place the paramedics arrived within ten minutes. The second witness says that he saw a man get shot by an assailant driving a blue pick-up truck, and that the paramedics showed up within five minutes. The third witness says that he saw a man get shot by an assailant in a green SUV, and that the paramedics arrived within fifteen minutes of the shooting.

Now, are any of these witnesses trustworthy, and can we learn anything at all from their testimony? I think the answer is a qualified yes to both questions. We must ask what our expectations are for their memories, and if those expectations are reasonable. Do we expect people to accurately remember the make, model, and color of cars that they see throughout the day? I think not. Their inability to recall minute details only means that they are not trustworthy regarding those particular items. However, they can still be reliable on larger details. Now, turning to the question of whether or not we can learn something from the testimony of these three witnesses, I think it is clear that we can. In this case, we learn that a man was shot by an assailant in a vehicle, and that paramedics arrived within fifteen minutes.

3. We do not need to abandon God when we argue with skeptics. I have never understood the tendency of believers to toss aside God when engaging those who are hostile to our faith. I have immense respect for rational argumentation, but if that is all you have when engaging in dialogue with a skeptic, then the discussion is no different than if two atheists were debating the merits of religion. The Bible teaches us that God was at work in the inspiration, transmission, and preservation of the Scriptures (John 14:26; 2 Tim. 3:16; 2 Pet. 1:20-21).

Some may argue that this is cheating somehow, or intellectually lazy, but I do not see that as being the case. If I claim that there is a God in heaven that has the capability to act in this world, then I am under no obligation to argue for that God apart from that God. In other words, when we make arguments for God, there is no reason to leave Him out of the discussion.

Whew… This has gone on for quite some time now, and I think it is time to stop. So long for now : )

 

And the virgin will be with child

Ahh… The wonder and majesty of Christmas. Celebrated around the world on December 25th (or January 7th if you follow the Gregorian calendar), this is the moment we celebrate the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ. While there are many who challenge the Church’s celebration of Jesus’ nativity on this date, there is also good reason to accept it. And, if you are interested in this debate, then I encourage you to visit www.dec25th.info and read some of the well documented materials found there. I, myself, was quite impressed with the site’s content after visiting it recently. The man who operates the site had an article published in the most recent issue of the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society that is well worth reading.

While questions about the date are always interesting, that will not be the focus of this post. Instead, I would like to talk about the virgin birth of Jesus Christ. After all, it was not just any baby that was born that day so long ago in Bethlehem. The babe in the manger was none other than the Son of God Himself.

We can see the importance of the virgin birth to the Church by its inclusion in such creeds as: the Apostle’s, Nicene, and Chalcedonian creeds. These early formulations of agreed upon Christian doctrine clearly illustrate that virgin birth should not be viewed as a side issue of minimal relevance to the faith.

But why is the doctrine of the virgin birth so important? I can think of at least three reasons:

  1. It relates directly to the incarnation. There are three primary means by which the incarnation could take place. Jesus could have had two parents, but this would call His deity into question. He could have entered the world apart from any human agency, but this would have called his humanity into question. Or, he could have entered into the world with a human mother that conceived through a supernatural act. This third, and final, option fits best with Jesus being both God and man.
  2. It identified Jesus as the incarnate Son of God. The virgin birth set Jesus apart in a way that no other child or pretender could claim.
  3. It ties together expectation and fulfillment. Isaiah spoke of a virgin being with child, a prophecy repeated in the Gospel of Matthew. Just as Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem fulfilled a prophecy, so did His being born of a virgin.

As we celebrate with loved ones this Christmas, it is my prayer that we all take time to reflect on the wondrous event that occurred so many centuries ago when the Word became flesh.

Merry Christmas!