Category Archives: Wrestling with Books

I review books. Read on.

Guns, Germs & Steel

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Jarod Diamond is an evolutionary Biologist who spent some 30 years in and out of the jungles of Papua New Guinea. A question asked by an indigenous tribal person sparked a decades long research project that culminated in the writing of this book. The Tribesman asked Diamond why the white people came to his Island with the big ships and amazing inventions, and not the other way around.

Why did some people groups remain locked in the stone age while others advanced into the modern era, ultimately using their superior technology to dominate, displace and in many cases all but exterminate less developed peoples?

It’s not biology — The gap in advancement between Eurasian peoples and the primitive cultures they conquered should not not be explained by means of slower evolutionary development, or anything that might construe biological inferiority. He cited all sorts of scientific data to push the reader away from such superior race conclusions, he also used many personal anecdotes from his time with tribal peoples. Diamond is absolutely convinced that “primitive” peoples minds are not less evolved than his own, in fact, he argues, to the contrary. The real question to ask, according to Diamond, is how intellectually inferior Europeans managed to invent so much stuff! Time and time again in the jungle it was the natives intellect, know how, and savvy that kept him alive. But even still, why hadn’t they figured out how to move beyond the use of stone tools and hunting and gathering as their way of life?

Location, Location, Location — Diamond is convinced that Eurasian peoples, were predisposed for success because of their environment. Diamond realizes that many a judgmental finger will be raised at this point, cursing him for his  “environmental determinism”. He is quick to point out that geography is only the primary cause. Many other less deterministic causes played roles as well, but those roles must be considered secondary.

Domesticate or die — To advance, a society must be able to domesticate seeds and learn to mass produce food. Having regular crops allow a society to settle down into permanent places. Sedentary life-styles with reliable food supplies mean more population, more population increases power and the potential of invention. The domestication of animals also provides a huge leap forward in productivity and sustainability, all creating more space and time for innovation. The cold hard facts, according to Diamond, is that South and North America, Australia, and Africa simply did not have the same number of domesticable seeds available to them. In some cases, like Australia, they didn’t have any domesticable seeds at all! It also turns out that some animals can be domesticated and some can’t. The above mentioned continents just had bad luck with animals. The Eurasian horse can be tamed, the zebra cannot. The Asian bovine, from which all modern day cattle come from is domesticable, the African water buffalo and the North American bison are not. All large possibly domesticable animals went extinct in Australia giving the early inhabitant’s only the kangaroo to work with! The llama in South America was domesticated but it use pales in comparison to that of the horse. Diamond imagines how history would have been rewritten if African tribes had managed to domesticate the rhino and use it with mounted shock troops to wreak havoc all over Europe, but, alas, a rhino doesn’t take kindly to being mounted and will not be mastered.

Germs are nasty! — The possibility of sickness through germs increased as populations grew and began to cluster into cities in Europe and Asia. Natural trade routes established themselves on Eastern and Western lines and germs were free to travel. The germs that caused black death and countless other plagues ravaged Europe and Asia in the middle ages, but the old adage “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” certainly proved true. The unprepared immune systems of largely isolated populations of North & South America and Australia were vanquished by the germs inflicted upon them by European explorers. In some cases entire populations of indigenous people were exterminated.

Belief does impact behaviour — Indeed, one of the greatest misfortunes of the wide acceptance of Darwinian evolution is the assumption made by industrialized countries that they must be farther along in the evolutionary process and thus superior. Just like Cro-Magnon exterminated, the Neanderthal, so to must those of the modern age, destroy those of the stone age. In the last 250 years countless millions were subjugated to unspeakable atrocities on the slippery footing of these evolutionary assumptions. Diamond halts to speak of right or wrong because as an evolutionary biologist it is really difficult to speak of morality with any sort of authority. For him things must remain a matter of fact. But the facts, according to Diamonds research, prove there is no connection between intelligence and industrialization and thus any sort of racial or developmental superiority should be done away with. The harsh conclusions of inferiority levelled against less developed people have happily fallen out of favour in the main stream, however, Diamond laments that even so, these prejudices remain deep in the psyche of many moderns.

As a Christian person this is one of the reasons I am not overly thrilled to embrace wholesale the origin theories of evolution. Whenever, “lesser humans” factor into our story, there is precedent to destroy them. This of course, become more difficult, if one has the perspective that all humans are created in the image of God and thus intrinsically valuable.

The sad story of Christianity’s conquest — Unfortunately, not all who claimed Christianity as their world view developed a perspective that valued human life regardless of the state in which it was discovered. Such was the case with the conquest of the Incan empire by Pizzaro.

The story is remarkable: With brilliant trickery, superior weapons, and incredible bluster for being so totally outnumbered Pizarro and 168 soldiers defeated over 30,000 Incan warriors in one day. On that day of battle they managed to capture the Incan king and kill thousands of his soldiers without sustaining a single fatality of their own.

Several of the first hand accounts of the events remain. In them we discover a spirit of gratitude, there is  thanks to God for his grace and mercy in allowing such a miraculous conquest. They sincerely believed a great victory for Jesus had been won that day. Why? Because now the infidel hordes would have a chance to learn about the love of Jesus. They would be prevented from carrying out their terrible human sacrifices, and they would learn their place, for no infidel should be in a position of authority over a Christian. What happened to Atahualpa the Incan King? After using him to extort vast amounts of gold from his people. They condemned him for conspiring against Spanish rule and sentenced him to death. However, if he converted, he would avoid being burned at the stake and receive the lesser sentence of strangulation. He converted, was baptized, and then sent to his reward in heaven. Somehow, there had to have been a better way to bring the “good news” of Jesus to South America 😦

The curse of unity — European city states, constantly fought each other, constantly competed. This forced them to innovate, to develop, to incorporate new ideas. China on the other hand was unified and authoritarian. The emperors word was law. One or two bad idea’s by a Chinese emperor could prove to have enormous negative consequences such was the case with shipbuilding and iron smelting, China was the world leader in these two areas long before the Europeans were. But the emperor decreed that nothing good could come from the outside, so he had all of China’s ocean going ships burned and all designs destroyed. As far as iron development was concerned, the emperor, didn’t like the burgeoning middle class that was resulting from iron innovation, so he decreed all iron developments to cease and so it was. In Japan a similar situation happened. Thanks to early Portuguese exploration, Japan acquired guns. Immediately Japan saw the potential, and quickly developed advanced weapon technology, that is until the ruling class Samurai, offended that commoners could wield such deadly power, outlawed guns. An so it was.

Of course we eat humans — Diamond is so matter of fact in his writing style. In Papua New Guinea we discover cannibalism. This is easily explained. There is a lack of protein because there are no large mammals so naturally humans would eat each other. So there you have it. And so it is, with the natural world. We do what we must to survive, some people win and some people lose. Gun’s germs and steel came to Europeans and Asians because they were able to domesticate seeds and animals quicker. Asians & Middle Easterners fell behind for secondary reasons, so Europeans took over the world.

In my heart I long for more than just naturalistic explanations for what is and I find myself wanting to believe in something that transcends the natural world and gives ultimate hope. Why do I feel that way? I won’t find that answer from Diamond, but even still his explanation for why New Guineans didn’t colonize Europe, is very convincing.

Out of a Far Country

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This book combines two stories into one.

Chris (the son) — He is gay, that’s not cool by his Asian American parents. There is a nasty blow up. He moves out, gets into the gay club party scene, discovers drugs, excels at selling them. Life is perfect for him, money, power, drugs, gay sex and complete acceptance. All of that ends, with an arrest, incarceration and an HIV diagnosis. In prison he finds a Bible in a trash can, reads it, and accepts Jesus as his saviour.  He also finds a man to help him grow in his new found faith. The man tells Chris to become a minister when he gets out of prison. At first this idea sounds preposterous, but Chris’ prison ministry grows and he wonders if maybe…but what about the whole gay thing? The chaplain at the prison says “not a problem” and gives Chris a book teaching that Christianity was for gay love and not against it. However, the more Chris studied his Bible the more he discovered the opposite to be true. The chaplains book ended up in the trash can.

Chris did get out of prison and he did become an internationally respected conference speaker, and theology professor at a Christian university. In fact, I purchased his book at a conference he recently spoke at. From all points he seems to be doing well. He is reconciled to his family, he has joy and a transcendent purpose now. But what about his same sex attraction? Christopher will tell you that he remains gay, however, he has become content to resist those attractions and remain celibate. He believes that celibacy is a legitimate option for human beings and that he as a person is in no way incomplete, unfulfilled or somehow deficient just because he is not sexually active. His allegiance to Jesus and God’s Word have led him to deny himself in this area. Self denial, of course, is a major tenet of Christianity so he doesn’t feel as though he is different than any other Christian.  Chris thinks it’s unhelpful and unhealthy for humans to be identified primarily by their sexual orientation. Chris does not want his identity to be “homosexual” or “heterosexual” His identity is that he is a child of God. He is also emphatic that singleness is not a curse or a burden. There is only one thing Chris can’t live without, that is God. Everything else can go. For so many years, Chris was a prisoner to his need for popularity, dance music, sex and drugs. Liberation came when he tore those idols down and began to follow the God who is love. Ironically, true freedom came for Chris while he was in prison.

Angela (the mom) — She is Chinese, locked into an honour/shame culture. The ultimate shame was Chris’ coming out. That despair combined with a lifeless marriage brought Angela to the brink of suicide, but she did not go through with it. Instead, by means of a series of incredible providences she discovered Jesus. Her life changed. Now, because of Jesus she could forgive her husband, because of Jesus she could love her son regardless of his attractions or his actions. Before Jesus, Angela manipulated her husband and children through guilt, shame and “drama” now as she oriented her life around Jesus, she began to practice sacrificial love instead. Her husband was compelled by the change and became a Christian as well. With healing on the home front, Angela set to work in prayer and love for her son whose life was clearly spiralling out of control. Chris was very hard on his parents when he was doing and dealing drugs, but Angela relentlessly stuck to her plan of love and prayer. Eventually Chris came to the same faith that had changed her life so much. Now she serves as his travel and ministry partner.

What did I learn? 

  1. I think Chris is right on when he questions our cultures assumption that a healthy and fulfilled life must have sex in it.
  2. A lot about the gay clubbing/party lifestyle, drugs, and prison life. Probably more than I wanted to know.
  3. The power of a faithful passionate prayer life. Angela’s story helps us see that prayer is not a pointless exercise rather it’s a vital means through which God draws people to himself.
  4. Singleness is not a curse, it’s a gift.
  5. Even though, Chris enjoyed the power, popularity, and exhilaration of his pre-Christian lifestyle, it all came at an increasingly terrible cost. Life was solely focused on himself, his needs, his wants, his attractions. This self focus made it impossible for any real relationships to last. This natural turn inward that we all have actually shrivels up our lives. In the end Chris turned his allegiance from himself to Jesus. This shift in devotion liberated Chris to serve Jesus by loving and serving others above himself. The result for Chris has been the exponential growth of joy, peace, and purpose in his life, the abundance of which far exceeds any benefits his previous life afforded him.

 Dinner with a Perfect Stranger: An Invitation Worth Considering

A workaholic, and sub par husband and father get’s an invitation to dinner.  The invitation is signed by Jesus. It must be some kind of a joke, but it intrigues Nick enough to go to the high end restaurant in search of dinner with Jesus. Sure enough Jesus is there.

I settled in for what I thought would be a humorous, intriguing and provocitive conversation. The whole idea seemed so creative to me. However, by the end of the book I was not sure if Nick had sat down with Jesus or Josh McDowell. Essentially, after that first chapter had set everything up so nicely, the booked devolved into an overly simple and straightforward apologetics textbook. Nothing wrong with that of course, I have loads of those kinds of books on my shelf, but I was hoping for something more, like a real story where I could be drawn into the characters lives, where genuine wrestling for faith could happen through a compelling story line.

Instead Jesus effortlessly slices and dices through all of Nicks objections to God and Christianity. In almost bullet point form Jesus solves all of Nicks struggles with faith. By the end of the night Nick has learned from Jesus that universalism is a bad idea, Buddhism and Islam are bogus, Christianity is not about keeping the rules, hell is a good idea, suffering has a purpose, and that Scripture is reliable.  The bullet point argumentation is only broken up by brief descriptions of the food and drink they are consuming as they chat.

It’s an ok book, if you want to learn basic ways of arguing apologetics with someone who might be easily convinced. Since that’s not what I was looking for, the book was more a disappointment than anything.

A World Undone

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My first foray into World War 1 history. All through the book I was blown away by the scope, ferocity, and foolishness of the conflict. Below are a few of the highlight’s that stood out to me.

With Generals Like These Words like “insane” came to mind as I learned about many of these generals. My thought is that some of them should have been brought up for war crimes. I get it, it was a different era, and it’s easier to judge from a distance, but still…

  1. General Haige insisted that the solution against machine gun fire was cavalry, because we all know a horse can outrun a bullet. Ummm?
  2. The Germans were so successful with their first uses of gas that they punched a huge hole in the the French line. The only problem is they couldn’t exploit it because their own soldiers were not fitted with gas masks. oops.
  3. British Generals insisted at the onset of the war that airplane technology was an “Expensive and useless fad.” Brilliant.
  4. One of the biggest problems was pride. These generals jockeyed for power, influence, and glory at the expense of literally millions of soldiers. Pride also made it impossible to work together German General Ludendorff said of fellow general Falkenhayn “I can only love and hate and I hate Falkenhayn” The French and British infighting was even worse.
  5. General Haige, agreed to listen to French General Nevils military plans which were terrible, and proved to be insanely costly for both the French and the English, based on the shape of Nevils head! Haige was convinced that the French General’s head shape guaranteed wisdom and success. What the…??? Turns out head shape was a thing in those days.

The horror of it all. At the beginning of the war, the poetry was brave and patriotic. There was glory in war, but things changed midway through. Turns out there was no glory in trench warfare, only gore, blood, mud and suffering. Wilfred Owen wrote the following poem just a few months before he was cut down by the bullets of a German machine gun.

The title of the poem is “Dulce et Decorum” meaning “It is right/sweet” The title mocks the idea that it is good to die for ones country. Calling the notion an out right lie by poems end. Certainly treasonous talk especially in that era. But the war was so costly, so vicious, and so senseless that soldiers could no longer “put a good face on it.”

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,

Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,

Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs

And towards our distant rest began to trudge.

Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots

But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;

Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots

Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.

Gas! Gas! Quick, boys! – An ecstasy of fumbling,

Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;

But someone still was yelling out and stumbling,

And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime . . .

Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,

As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,

He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace

Behind the wagon that we flung him in,

And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,

His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;

If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood

Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,

Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud

Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,

My friend, you would not tell with such high zest

To children ardent for some desperate glory,

The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est  Pro patria mori.

The French losses were particularly devastating, (See why under Idea’s have consequences) To  a point that the French army almost deserted. French soldiers headed to the front could be heard on masse, bleating like sheep. To desert was to be shot, to go to the front was to die. So they protested in this way bleating as they marched forward “as lambs to the slaughter.”

A bullet for cowards. Never in the history of warfare was there so much artillery. Far and away this medium of destruction killed the most people. Sustained bombardments would go on for days even weeks. It became too much for many men. They couldn’t function, they shut down, couldn’t follow orders. At first these suffering soldiers were labeled cowards and many were shot, or harshly disciplined. As the war dragged on so many soldiers were shutting down that they realized it must be more than cowardice. They labeled it “Shell Shock”. Unfortunately many of the treatments to get the soldiers back into battle shape were little better than a firing squad.

Idea’s have consequences In France there came into focus at the turn of the century a philosophy of warfare that was held so tightly by the military establishment, that to even suggest other strategies was to end ones military career. In English the strategy was described with one word. “Attack”. It was believed with such fanatical zeal, that defensive maneuvers, strategic retreats or even leave for soldiers on the front lines were not real options. One general was demoted for his observation: “Attacking straight on with flesh and bone will have no success against the gunfire of the 20th century” This philosophy was pitted against, a German killing machine unlike the world had ever seen. The loss of life on the French side as a result is staggeringly difficult to comprehend. Charles De Gaulle would later say that “No amount of courage will be successful against machine gun fire.” He was right, unfortunately the French didn’t accept this fact until the war was mostly over!

You take the Romanians, No! you take the Romanians One would think, that having an entire country join your side of the war effort would be a huge boon. As countries watched the big powers slug it out they gradually joined sides, hoping to pick the winner and enjoy the spoils of victory. Romania decided to throw in with the Allies. Russia was completely against the idea. Of the Romanians they said “getting them to fight was like trying to get a donkey to do a minaret” The Russians preferred the Romanians to remain neutral. They did not. Sure enough, the Germans crushed the Romanians. Forcing the Russians to stop their advance on Germany and spread out their front line out an extra 250 miles. The whole of Romania was easily conquered and the spoils of that conquest helped to fuel Germany’s war effort for a couple more years.

Overcoming the odds to become a hero. He was from a colony, (Australia). (one strike against) He was Jewish (two strikes) He was of Prussian origin (three strikes) and his interest in military strategy was just a hobby (Four strikes) But John Monash rose up through the ranks to become the one of the few good General’s of the war. In addition to being very likeable he was also a master strategist, gifted organizer and creative innovator. His use of co-ordinated attacks using mortars, machine guns, tanks, airplanes and artillery, along with a philosophy that saw no use in wasting infantry needlessly made him not only successful but immensely  popular.

Propaganda and poor communication — the reason why millions more had to die. In Gallipoli, several Allied landings were successful. But the communications were poor, so instead of pushing in land and possibly securing the Dardanelles which would have ended the war a lot sooner the Allies waited on the beaches for orders. Giving time for Turkish reinforcements to arrive.  An opportunity lost. This is just one illustration of a hundred or more where if the communication was a little bit better the war would have certainly ended sooner.

Truth was never really a concern with the media (has anything changed?) All media outlets were controlled by the various war ministries. The job of reporting was simply to make the opposition look absolutely terrible and to make the home team look triumphant. After years of propaganda it was impossible for the belligerent nations to come to terms since they had such incredibly skewed views of each other.

Germany almost pulled it off. I was amazed at how close they seemed to come to victory. If  Ludendorff had gone all in on the attack at 2nd Verdun. If he the German generals would have shelled the supply line going in and out of that one city whose name I’ve forgotten in one of their massive attacks. If they could have kept the USA on the sidelines for one more year. If the Zimmerman telegraph hadn’t been discovered. If the generals from the West and Eastern fronts could have just got along. If General Conrad of the Austrian/Hungarian army had been sacked from his post in 1914. If they had implemented the creeping barrage & storm troop tactic’s on the Western front a year sooner. If they hadn’t been quite so cautious with Schlieffen plan. If 186,000 of their soldiers hadn’t died from influenza.

They were the better army, inflicting 2 million more casualties on the French and English then they themselves received, but it was not meant to be.

A not so great finish Ultimately it was the naval blockade that broke the back of Germany, they were starving to death, and running low on everything needed to carry on a war. Sadly, when the war ended, the Allies did not lift the navel blockade for another 6 months. Costing the lives of some 250,000 German civilians. The plan was not to rebuild Europe after the war, as much as it was to debilitate Germany to such a degree that she would remain feeble forever. This strategy set the stage for the Second World War.

Japan played a minor role in the war, but were at the bargaining table when the world was carved up. They did pretty well, gaining several territories. However, the main thing they were after was respect. They made a specific request that the Americans, Europeans and Australians recognize the Japanese people as an equal race not be discriminated against, fair enough right? Shockingly, or maybe not so shockingly, the great powers denied that request. White man was not yet willing to acknowledge that Asian people were equal to them. It was then that Japan washed their hands of Western influence.

The Shack

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I already know that the theology police are not super happy, their citation pads are out and they are furiously scribbling down infractions. What has them so upset? The Shack is now a movie. It’s not just the theology police either, I imagine the theatrical police have their issues as well. It’s always difficult for actors to depict convincingly for the screen spiritual struggle. I will leave the varying theological and theatrical policing blogs to do their necessary work. As for me, I only want to comment on how I believe the movie managed to capture powerfully the big ideas of what it means to be a Christian person connected to God in the midst of grief.

A Christian person — To be a Christian, is to get to a point where you agree with God that he is good and to be trusted. Jesus, God in the flesh, is the vital link in getting us to that place. We are told, that when you’ve seen Jesus you’ve seen God. You must walk with Jesus to avoid sinking into the black abyss of guilt, shame and bitterness. In this movie Christianity is portrayed simply as being friends with Jesus, trusting him. It’s not about religion, or keeping a list of rules, or paying for past sins. Both Mack and his older daughter blamed themselves for the death of Missy. The older daughter was fooling around in the canoe. In her mind it was her irresponsibility cost Missy’s life. For Mack he was sure that this unspeakable tragedy was the result of his own past sins. Both their lives became stuck in the quicksand of guilt and shame. Because of Jesus’ love and sacrifice they both came to believe that the time for blame and guilt was over. Bad stuff happens, our hearts break, we suffer, great sadness occurs, but we don’t get stuck, we trust that through it all God will do what is good and right and true. That’s what it means to be a Christian.

Connected to God — God is depicted as a trinity so that we can see that the Christian God is fundamentally relational. Love is possible only in relationship and the Father, Son and Spirit have that in bucket loads. God’s invites us into this love. In the movie God reminds Mack regularly that he is especially fond of him and all humans. That was a tough one for Mack to accept, and it’s a tough one for all humans to accept. We all must suffer and we all must die. Reconciling human suffering with God’s goodness is not a new conundrum, and this movie offers nothing new in resolving that tension, except in this movie God gets to answer directly the charges levelled against him. I found God’s explanations in the context of this movie powerful and helpful.  All three persons of the trinity, are shown to feel our pain. That’s the reason all three have nail prints.  God changes his appearance in order to help us understand that he knows what we need when we need it. God is portrayed as all knowing, but yet keenly interested in our lives. And though God loves all his children, he is not disinterested in justice either. In the end we are told that God will make right judgements upon his wayward children, however, we are also told in compelling fashion, that this job of ultimate justice is better left with God. The perpetrator is never caught, justice never served in the movie. Even still Papa wants Mack to “remove his hand from the throat” of this terrible predator. Forgiveness is the only way forward, but by forgiving Mack is also entrusting himself to the judge of all the earth who will judge rightly.

In the midst of Grief — When we suffer, we have to realize that we don’t have the complete perspective. We can only see through the “knothole of our own grief.” The garden in the movie is an absolute mess from Mack’s perspective, but when the shot pans out and you see the garden from the air, mess turns into beauty. God is not the ultimate source of evil, human free will prevents that conclusion, however, God is actively working in and through evil to bring about a greater good, good that we can’t always see, but must learn to trust is there.

I think if every person walked away from this movie, having taken into their hearts the above conclusions about Christianity, God, and grief. The world would be an infinitely better place.

Lamb — The Gospel according to Biff Christ’s childhood Pal

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Christopher Moore in his afterword reminds his readers  “The book you’ve just read is a story. I made it up…I am not trying to present history as it might really have been, I’m simply telling stories…This story is not and never was meant to challenge anyone’s faith; however, if one’s faith can be shaken by stories in a humorous novel, one may have a bit more praying to do.”

The book is definitely irreverent, which is why Moore feels compelled to make the above statements. I wonder if Moore will ever decide to write a book about “Hank the childhood pal of Mohammed” — not likely, the life insurance policy would be to expensive. The religion of grace is always easier to pick on.

What is the book actually about? Biff takes Jesus on an epic trip of self discovery for about 20 years through Afghanistan, China, and India. On this trip there are Yeti’s, Monks, lots of wisdom learned, evil spirits vanquished, daring escapes, people rescued, discipline learned, miracles practiced with varying degrees of success, and lots and lots of sex, not for Jesus though, his father in heaven had told him “no sex” and he was going to obey. Biff had no such prohibitions coming down from heaven however and so was free to indulge. The benefit to Jesus with having such a promiscuous friend is that he was able to learn all about sex through Biffs detailed recounting’s but yet still remain blissfully pure as the son of God. — Lovely.  I’m not sure if there was a single chapter that was free from this tireless crusade to educate the son of God on all things sexual. Eventually Biff and Jesus make their way back to Judah just in time for Jesus to gather up a bunch of misfit disciples, bring in the kingdom of God, rekindle old romances with Mary Magdalene and die on the cross. Biff is not at all for Jesus’ death, and tries to prevent it, with all manner of cunning and deception. He fails, Jesus dies. In a fit of sorrow and rage, Biff tracks down Judas, kills him, then commits suicide. This inglorious end is the reason why the disciples of Jesus wrote Biff out of the official story recounted in the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

Is sin real? Moore never excuses or justifies the actions of Biff. Biff is impulsive, careless, foolish, proud, and selfish but Jesus loves him anyway, but not with an “It’s all good” kind of false love. Jesus, with masterful patience genuinely speaks into Biff’s life with authority. There is a right and a wrong, and Biff finds himself regularly on the side of wrong, but Jesus’ ever faithful arm is always there gently pulling him back, but yet giving Biff the freedom to make his own choices.

Who is Jesus? Jesus’ humanity comes out strongly in this book, Jesus is confused at times, unsure of himself, unsuccessful, and wanting to hear from God more than he actually does, however the author without hesitation communicates Jesus to the reader as God in the flesh. This was one point that I was surprised at, through all of the twist’s and turns of this story there is never a doubt, Jesus is God enrobed in flesh here on earth to save the world through his own death and resurrection. This beautiful high ground that has actually changed the world is present in this book! One just has to wade through a lot of swamp land to get there.

Who is man? Biff loves Jesus with all his heart, his fierce loyalty is commendable but his constant use of unwholesome traits to protect and shield Jesus from the dangers of this world, not so much.  Biff is decidedly human, all of us can relate to him, but we are not left feeling comfortable with that. Sure, Biff’s escapades create lots of laughs, and at times leaves the reader shaking his head saying “really?” But in the end, It’s obvious that Jesus’ life not Biffs is the life we should long for.

Do all paths lead to God? Not hardly. Moore does not present a universalist understanding of the worlds religions. I thought for sure as Jesus traveled into the Buddhist and Hindu worlds I would be told that the Jesus way that was being developed would essentially be a repackaged version of what already existed. The tired old mantra that “all religions are the same” would inevitably come forth. It didn’t. Instead Moore has Jesus carving a new way forward in contrast to the eastern religions. Moore’s Jesus is radically anti caste. He is at his most aggressive in resisting the scourge upon humanity that has Brahmans on one side and untouchable’s on the other.  He is very critical of karma and the justification of doing nothing to help your fellow human as a result of it. Jesus is gracious but firm, meditation is over rated, and the perceived wisdom of nebulous guru’s is fraught with hypocrisy and pretension.

The book is entertaining, and it contains some food for thought. Moore is certainly a clever writer, but sadly he resorts to the familiar “must use sex and sensation to sell” motif. I wish Moore would use his talents to produce a substantive work of literature.

Father, Son, & Holy Spirit –Relationship Roles and Relevance

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Bruce Ware is good for laying down the historical back story for how the Christian church came to affirm the Trinitarian position. Certainly it was a struggle, but it was always a struggle to make sense of what the Scriptures actually said. Faithfulness to the written text was the motivation for the doctrine even if the conclusions went beyond the capacity for full human understanding.

What the Scripture presents is monotheism, but yet at the same time,  3 unique persons emerge from the Bible all having the attributes of deity and the affirmation of deity from the biblical authors. If all three persons are equally God, then whats the difference between them?

The answer to that question is essentially what Bruce Ware’s book is all about.

For Ware the difference comes down to roles. God the Father’s role is that of supreme leader (not to be confused with the title currently given to North Korea’s dictator) He is the highest authority, the one deserving of ultimate praise, the grand architect of all things. Both Jesus and the Spirit acknowledge the Fathers authority even though they are equal in value to him.

God the Son’s role is that of submission. Jesus always yields to the will of the Father. It doesn’t mean that Jesus is inferior to God, only that to obey is divine. It’s not a bad thing to submit is Ware’s oft given refrain during this chapter. He has a reason for driving this point home.

God the Spirit’s role is that of assistant. Ware refers to the H.S.’s job as “the background role” of the Trinity. But certainly it is not unimportant, the Spirit’s work both points people to Jesus and also empowers those who follow Jesus.

The “so what” part of the book is the last chapter. What I liked about his conclusion is his presentation of the Trinitarian God as highly relational, interconnected and interdependent. For Ware this vision of God is also a vision of what we should be like. He takes a well timed swipe at the rugged independence of the western world, and urges us away from the “I did it my way” Long Ranger approach to life that America is famous for.

What I’m definitely iffy on is his efforts to put the members of the Trinity in their proper places. Order is all that seems to matter to Bruce Ware. Yes, they are all equal, But God is first place, Jesus is second place and the H.S. is third place. I don’t believe the Bible makes as many pains to bear this out as Bruce Ware thinks it does. But he has good reasons for pressing into Trinitarian order.

Which leads me to the second thing that I just can’t swallow. Ware seizes upon I Cor 11:3 —  But there is one thing I want you to know: The head of every man is Christ, the head of woman is man, and the head of Christ is God and then launches himself into the conversation about the role of men and women. Just like Jesus submits his will to God so to must the woman submit her will to the will of man. But that’s just the starting point, the conversation quickly moves to a Church polity discussion and I discover that because Jesus submits to the will of the Father, women should not be aloud to speak in church! Wait, what? But don’t worry women because men and women are positionally equal, just like Jesus and God are. It’s just that it’s your job to submit which means you need to keep your mouth closed in church. Yeah, it’s just too much for me. I don’t believe the wonder of the Trinity should be used as a maneuvering point to “keep women in their proper place.” I think a Trinitarian conversation could go in so many better directions, which is why I like Michael Reeves book Delighting in the Trinity a 100x more than Bruce Ware’s book

Delighting in the Trinity

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“God is Love” is always a much more interesting topic than “God is Trinity” however, Reeves contends that we can appreciate God as love only because God is Trinity. As Reeves made pains to prove his thesis, I did not feel like I was reading another theological treatise on the unassailable doctrine of the Trinity, rather it read like a friendly invitation to discover and love the triune God. Also I found salient, humorous, and fascinating little historical gems scattered throughout the book, which made the read even better.

Reeves asks the question; “What was God doing for all eternity?” His answer:  loving the son. (John 17:24-26)  The trinity gives us a completely unique vision of an eternally loving God. Love happens in the context of a relationship. The trinity makes it possible for there to be a divine relationship. Drawing this connection between trinity and true love is not a new concept, Richard of St. Victor centuries ago understood the triune love with the term “sharing”. “Its not that God becomes sharing he’s always been sharing, he is Triune. If God were just one person he could not be intrinsically loving.” 

The Trinity and Apologetics — The concept of the Trinity is so good in Reeves mind that it makes other religions look, well, not so good. Islam in particular, is a target: Love demands a relationship or it doesn’t exist. The Quran teaches that Allah is loving which means, he must be dependent upon his creation in order for that to be true. But the Quran also teaches that Allah is dependent on no one. This creates a conundrum with no way out, but not if one believes in a non-solitary God as Trinitarians do.

The Trinity and the submission of women to men? — For many I Cor 11:3  But there is one thing I want you to know: The head of every man is Christ, the head of woman is man, and the head of Christ is God. has long been a verse used to teach submission, and in particular at it most practical level the need for women to submit to men. Since Jesus submits to the Father so to should women submit to men. Reeves doesn’t take that approach. He see’s this passage as “A gracious cascade, a waterfall of love”  For Reeves the focus is not on submission rather love. he doesn’t deny headship, but he doesn’t describe it either, he sidesteps it.

“For eternity, the Father so loves the Son that he excites the Son’s eternal love in response; Christ so loves the church that he excites our love in response; the husband so loves his wife that he excites her to love him back. Such is the spreading goodness that rolls out of the very being of this God.”

To me the passage and it’s context is still confusing, but I like Reeves generous attempt to infuse the entire passage with love, even though I don’t quite see it in the text like he does.

Does everything hang on the trinity? I’m wondering if perhaps he attributes a little to much to the triune God. Good can’t exist without the Trinity. Evil has no real explanation with out the Trinity. Love appears to be void of meaning without the Trinity, God becomes an empty word without the Trinity etc. etc. I get it, he is making the case for loving the Trinity. I think Trinitarians have probably not done enough to imagine and appreciate the implications of a robust acceptance of the doctrine, so I’m inclined to give Reeves an “At a Boy” and not an “Easy Tiger” on this.

The best way to understand God. God is not an abstract quality he is a loving father. The Scripture doesn’t suggest that God becomes a father at some point, rather he always was a father. That is how he is known. God is a father by virtue of his relationship with his son. God should not be viewed primarily as creator or ruler, but instead as a loving Father. Humans are the creative result of an overflow of love. Reeves describes the human originating from “The overflowing joy of the heavenly harmony bursting out!” Who doesn’t like that? But you only get to that vision of humanity if you have a non-solitary God who is truly love.

The whole “Solitary God” thing just isn’t cool

From Reeves’ pen straight up…

For strip down God and make him lean and you must strip down his salvation and make it mean. Instead of a life bursting with love, joy and fellowship, all you will be left with is the watery gruel of religion. Instead of a loving father, a distant potentate; instead of fellowship, contract. No security in the beloved Son, no heart change, no joy in God that the Spirit brings

Reeves is not kidding around here

If he is not essentially triune then he is not essentially loving and it’s a real reason why Atheists would prefer no God over this grizzly image of the single person loner ruler God.

I was really captured by this book. It didn’t help me understand the Trinity any more but it helped me appreciate the Trinity way more. The Trinity is not an insignificant doctrine that demarcates Christianity from everyone else, its the diamond in the crown of Christianity.

The Trinity of God is the secret of his beauty — Karl Barth

If we try to think about God without thinking about the Father, Son & Spirit, then only the bare and empty name of God flits about in our brains, to the exclusion of the true God — John Calvin

5 Views on Biblical Inerrancy

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Has God spoken? Have those words been written down and preserved for us in the Bible? Are those words perfectly good and true? Is the Bible absolutely trustworthy, mostly trustworthy, somewhat trustworthy? Right on some things but wrong on others?  All of these questions coalesce into a debate among conservative Christians . “Inerrancy”  is the term that capsulizes this conversation. This book pits 5 Christian men with varying views on inerrancy against each other. Each gets a shot at explaining how they understand inerrancy and each has to look at three passages of Scripture which seemingly purport a mistake and offer their two cents on how that Bible might still be true or not in light of these alleged  errors.

This was both fascinating and spicy! Clearly, this is not a topic of casual debate. For the Christian understanding the Bible is a big big deal.

1 ) Al Mohler — The Bible must be factually accurate in every detail otherwise it cannot be trusted. In short Mohler believes that “When the Bible Speaks, God Speaks” The Bible alone and the Bible in it’s entirety, is the Word of God written and is therefore inerrant in the autographs.

The church must have a total commitment to the trustworthiness and truthfulness of the Bible, or else the church is left without a defining authority.  Inerrancy is an all or nothing kind of thing. Scripture is the support beam on which Christianity is built. Christians need a trustworthy guide. If the Bible is not completely true and trustworthy then the support beam for our faith, is destroyed, and the whole thing comes tumbling down.

Mohler rejects attempts to say that Biblical authority does not require inerrancy. In no meaningful way can the Bible be authoritative in a persons life while at the same time have some errors in it. “Biblical authority is inescapably impaired if total divine inerrancy is in any way limited or disregarded.”

With an alarmist tone Mohler laments that if the Bible is not fully authoritative, fully trustworthy, then we don’t even know what Christianity is.

Mohler reasons that he is on solid ground with his position because

  • The Bible teaches total inerrancy
  • The tradition of the church teaches it
  • The function or purpose of the Bible demands it.

But ultimately Mohler appeals to his pre-supposition first of all

“I do not allow any line of evidence from outside the Bible to nullify to the slightest degree the truthfulness of any text in all that the text asserts and proclaims. That statement may appear radical to some readers, but it is the only position that is fully compatible with the claim that every word of scripture is fully inspired and thus fully true and trustworthy” 

Bottom line, since God is true his word must be true. Certainly translations can go off the rails but that’s a different matter. Given this disclosure, we already know Mohler will not struggle to much with the alleged discrepancies.

  • Did the walls fall? (Joshua 6) — archeology says there was no walls in Jericho at the time Israels alleged invasion, therefore Joshua 6 is not true in a factual sense. Mohler simply throws shade on the archeological “evidence”, and finds an archaeologist who agrees with what the text says.
  • Did Paul’s companions see or hear? (Acts 9:7) — The men who were traveling with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one (Acts 22:9)  — Now those who were with me saw the light but did not understand the voice of the one who was speaking to me. So did the men hear but not see, or did the see but not hear? Can’t be both so the argument goes. Mohler see’s no conflict, his presupposition won’t allow him to, but there is also a convenient explanation, in both cases, the men heard something and they also saw something, but there were unable to grasp what they were hearing and seeing.
  • Is God inconsistent with himself? Duet 20:16 — Kill your enemies Matt 5:43-48 —  Love your enemies — the Bible is contradictory. Mohler says it’s impossible to understand why it had to be this way, but to get to the cross the Bible has us going through Cannan. It’s all one grand, mysterious, and wonderful story. Judgment in Canaan and also in eternity is part of that story.

Criticisms of Mohler

  • There is certainly criticism of Mohlers a-priori convictions. You can’t even have a discussion about errors in the Bible, because going into the conversation Mohler has already decided there aren’t any. You could slap him in the face with an error and he won’t accept it.
  • Mohler’s approach is not helpful because “It is reductionistic and adversarial. It produces not a faith seeking understanding but a rational seeking certainty.”
  • He is too much against extra Biblical lines of evidence. It’s ok for someone to modify their interpretations of Biblical texts and make better sense out of them based on facts that come in. Interpretations change and the text can still be trustworthy.
  • There is criticism of Mohler’s appeal to the church fathers, yes, they made great claims to the inerrancy of Scripture but that was because of their commitment to spiritual and allegorical interpretation. The Bible was declared true because the hermeneutics were so flexible in their day. Augustine wasn’t interested in becoming a Christian until he discovered allegorical interpretation!  The concern is that Mohler is forcing a more modernistic fact based interpretation into inerrancy. Literary devices such as myth and saga need to be considered — they were part of the landscape of the ancient world

Peter Enns

Like it or not, the Bible is empirically false at times, and must not be regarded as inerrant. The Bible tells of God’s acts but also reports some events that either may not have happened or have been significantly reshaped and transformed by centuries of tradition. Inerrancy as it has been accepted by many evangelicals like Mohler actually proves to be unhelpful because it puts expectations on the Bible that it was not meant to bear. The Bible was never meant to be read with our modern interest in accuracy and scientific precision. Strict pre-suppositional convictions on inerrancy short circuit helpful criticism, inquiry, and healthy intellectual pursuit. It’s all about the manner in which God speaks truth, namely, through the idioms, attitudes, assumptions, and general world views of the ancient authors. — some of which we now know are not technically true in a strictly modern sense. Inerrancy is an intellectual disaster for evangelicalism, and it’s gotta go!

  • What about Jericho? — Didn’t happen like Joshua 6 says it does. The archaeologists are correct. This then must be an example of “Mythologized History” There is a kernel of true history to the story, but it has been retold and expanded for reasons we don’t fully know or appreciate. According to Enns the entire Exodus narrative is a myth. A small band of Jewish slaves escaped Egypt, snuck out through a dried lake bed, and created an insignificant colony in Canaan.
  • What about Pauls friends — It doesn’t matter whether one account said they saw something and the other account said the heard something. We need to embrace the creative nature of ancient portrayals of the past. We cannot force the text into being burdened by modern precisionist notions of truth.
  • What about the extermination of Canaanites? — That didn’t really happen either at least not to the same extent the narratives seem to indicate. These narratives were not reported events, they were tribal rhetoric. When you discard the violent narrative’s as tribal trash talk, it’s not so bad. But that’s not the main point. The point is what Jesus says and what the O.T. says cannot be neatly lined up together. Jesus is reversing the O.T. way. We don’t vainly try to justify or explain away the genocide like inerrantists are forced to do. Stuff happened in the O.T. that was tribal and brutal. It is what it is, God’s name got thrown around, now because of Jesus all that is different.

Criticism of Peter Enns

  • If inerrancy falls so falls evangelicalism. It’s difficult to see the difference between Peter Enns and a liberal protestant. It’s what he sounds like. Liberal protestantism is in ruins because they emasculated the authority of Scripture. It hard not to imagine that the same problems will occur if one follows Enns.
  • If one can effortlessly turn most of the O.T. into a myth, what would hinder one from doing the same to the N.T.?  The answer is nothing.
  • Enn’s appears to be a Marcionite — The God of the O.T. is an inferior war like tribal God that has been replaced with the loving God of the N.T. — That heresy was expunged from the church millennia ago. It’s really hard not to draw this conclusion given what he said.
  • He caricature’s inerrancy as some sort of brain dead position, and then attacks it viscously. Critical inerrancy looks very seriously at literary form, grammar, and cultural context , but he seems to think it doesn’t.
  • His “mic drop” ending. See it’s all a mess, quite trying to cover up the errors!  What then is God’s Word? What Qualities must it have? Can the Bible be authoritative? To these questions he gives no answers.

Michael F. Bird

He doesn’t feel comfortable with the standard comment “the Bible is inerrant in it’s original autographs.” What does original autographs even mean? Several portions of both the New and Old testament had later add ons, the original Jeremiah was destroyed and then re-written. The N.T. authors were clearly more interested in the meanings of the O.T. and not it’s actual wording, because they regularly take great liberties when quoting the O.T. certainly they weren’t concerned about “the originals”. This feels to Bird like a convenient way to explain away lots of the potential problems with the Bible. “Well yes, there is that problem, but we believe it wasn’t in the originals, so we are ok”

For Bird Inspiration is a better term. Inspiration extends “to the human literary processes which preserved the meaning and power of God’s Word to achieve the ends for which it was given.”  

Bird see’s inerrancy debate as a largely American phenomenon which is used primarily as a weapon for religious politics. So what does Bird believe about the Bible?

Bible is an authentic and authoritative account of God’s actions in creation, redemption, and consumption…God does not feed us nuts of truth inside of shells of falsehood…There are bits of Scripture, inconsequential for the most part, that do not agree (with the truth) in their precise details.”

These minor inconsistencies, do not derail Birds confidence in Scripture. Nor does he feel that we should always try to defend and explain these bits of Scripture. “We should not anchor the truth of Scripture in our apologetic capabilities to beat the skeptics at their own game; I think there are better ways.” 

Bird things the Bible speaks authoritatively for salvation, but not necessarily on matter of history and science. The Bible should be the ultimate standard for faith and practice, but it should stop there.

He lands his plane by rejecting inerrancy and embracing infallibility as the better term. Infallibility to Bird is the confidence that “The Bible does not fail to achieve the purpose for which God has given it, whether that purpose is asserting, promising, commanding, exhorting, praising etc.”

Jericho? — Main point of story is God fulfilling his promise to bring his people into the promised land, that happened. He is not nearly as confident as Enns in the “clear evidence” of archaeology. But he is ok if the narrative doesn’t correspond exactly to reality in certain mostly minor points.

Pauls Buddies — Ancient historians were story tellers not modern journalists. Lukes narration can be flexible on the details because that is what the genre in which he was writing allowed.

Genocide — God’s a pragmatist, it wasn’t ideal but the Canaanites had to go, and the children of God were the people for the job. This is the unfortunate but necessary provisional step on the road to Shalom in God’s master plan. You can be committed to the Bible with out having to reconcile this O.T. instance of  killing your neighbours and Jesus’ admonition to love them but in order to do that you have to recognize “the contingency of divine command in less-than-ideal situations, and an acknowledgement that some commands are more indicative of God’s original and eschatological intentions than others…We don’t fully understand but we trust.” 

Criticism 

  • Bird assumes that to hold to inherency means you accept strictly literalist interpretations. Which is not true.
  • I don’t know how helpful it is to just walk off from the genocide passage by saying it’s imponderable but I trust God. — Maybe that’s all that can be done?

Kevin Vanhoozer 

Vanhoozer defines inerrancy in the following way: “to confess faith that the authors speak the truth in all things they affirm when they make affirmations, and will eventually be seen to have spoken truly when right readers read rightly.”

Two things stand out about his definition.

  1. Vanhoozer is quit willing to give the biblical authors the benefit of the doubt. He embraces the Augustinian idea of “Faith seeking understanding.” and thus is confident that the authors words will eventually be proven true.
  2. The second part of his definition “when right readers read rightly” is meant to draw attention for the need to understand how truth is revealed in many ways through cultural context, genre, and authorial intent. Truth is about reality, but there is more than one way to render reality in language. Like the difference between maps, one highlight’s roads, another topography, another buried treasure, they need not contradict each other they have different purposes. a poem harbours truth in a different way than does a physics manual right readers reading rightly will know this. for example was Jesus affirming botanic truth when he called the mustard seed the smallest of all the seeds or was he drawing an analogy that his hearers would have understood in order to communicate a non botanical truth? For Vanhoozer this is not difficult, the reader was never intended to look for technical botanical accuracy.

Vanhoozer believes the Bible has difficulties but stops short of referring to them as errors. He also recognizes the pastoral importance for Christians to have an authority that is ultimately united and coherent.

The walls of Jericho — Archaeological evidence is inconclusive, however in many cases, narrative is “true history artfully presented.” Ancient narratives do not give us a completed and unbiased account of events. It’s an angle on truth. But that doesn’t mean its in error.

Damascus Road — Don’t ask what words Luke used, ask what he is doing with those words. This is a progressive reduction of the role of his companions. Paul alone is a witness to Christ’s visit upon him. Literary repetition with a difference is Lukes way of showing that Paul’s commissioning by Jesus was intended for Paul alone. That’s the point.

Racial violence vs. Radical Love — Jesus understood the O.T. as a grand story with an overarching plot — Salvation history. “At points along the story we have holy love meeting with unholy rejection. we have the Creator redeemer engaging with the forces of Chaos. Jesus could say “love your enemies” without condemning the O.T. because the conquest of Canaan was a unique and limited event — a single scene, now past — in the drama of redemption.”  This event was never intended to be a model for how all future generations were to behave towards their contemporary enemies. This event has to be interpreted in the shadow of the cross.

Criticism 

  • It’s not fair play to simply say this difficultly is not an error because it has some greater theological purpose.
  • This is the standard “be patient” and “it’s not impossible” apologetics which Enns has no interest in.
  • Vanhoozer tries to systematize all of the difficulties away.

John Franke

“While the diverse parts of the biblical canon do not contradict or negate each other, neither do they cohere. — When we attempt to ease the difficulties of the multiple perspectives in Scripture to make matters more compact, clear, and manageable, we suffer the loss of plurality and diversity that is woven into the very fabric of Scripture and by extension, the divine design of God” 

John is all about plurality when it comes to truth. He wants us to see the Scriptures as the Word of God in human words, and that as such its stories and teachings taken as a whole, are true and not a lie. However, he strongly rejects inerrancy. For him the principle of divine accommodation is really important. Human language is incapable of providing descriptions of God that are fully faithful to the reality of God as God. What that means is Scripture is not so much the actual words of God as it is a map that effectively guides our journey into the mission of God. The Bible points us in the right direction without the necessity of being photographically precise or drawn exactly to scale.

Another way he explains it, is as follows: Capital T truth is how God sees things, small t truth is how we see it. Witnesses to Capital T truth are contained in the human speech-acts of Scripture but these witnesses are situated and fragmentary and are therefore small t truth.

He is against the idea of forcing Scripture into conformity with others Scripture for the sake of systematic unity. Scripture doesn’t have to agree with itself, there is a plurality of truth found in the Bible is his big idea.

Instead of viewing Scripture as a true foundation it should be a web of interconnected beliefs that are a witness to capital T truth. With the web model, new evidence, fresh interpretation, and alternative viewpoints are continually assessed and incorporated as needed into the existing network of beliefs. All beliefs are subject to critical scrutiny and reconstructed, replaced, or relinquished if necessary.

Truth is not relative Franke says, but it’s a whole lot more flexible than inerrantists think.

Jericho — Doesn’t’ matter because the purpose of the text is to form a covenantal community. It’s not about details at all.

Road to Damascus —  Precisionist approach is terrible. perhaps Sauls companions did not hear with comprehension in the one case. The second telling is from Paul perspective the first from Luke’s. Perhaps Paul’s companions had a different experience. There is no need to harmonize these accounts in anyway.

Genocide vs Love — Both legit perspectives — Franke believes in just war theory for example, and yet still believes in the love of Jesus. Two truths in play. The Bible is a web of varied truths.

Criticism 

  • He shrugs off difficulties in the Bible by saying that there is a plurality of truth, and that’s it. Difficulties aren’t difficult anymore. He is careful to say he is not a relativist. However I’m not sure how he is anything but that.
  • He doesn’t really say what he believes in other than it all fits together, and errors, or conflicting truths don’t really matter because the Bible is a web that we can sort of pick and choose out of.
  • God’s truth as he knows it and God’s truth as he reveals it are two different things, I’m not sure that’s a great idea. Certainly not if we want to have any confidence that we can know what God has spoken to us.
  • There is no real application to his approach.

I’m sympathetic to Mohler because those are my roots. As a Christian who doesn’t want a Bible that is completely free of errors and 100% accurate on everything it talks about. However his unyielding faith in the inherency presupposition made me a bit uneasy. It was kind of like “Don’t confuse me with any facts my minds made up”.

I’m not so much persuaded by Enns. He feels more like a wrecking ball to me. That and a heretic. I’m sure he’s not, right? It just felt to me like he was a Marcianite. Plus his explanations don’t actually help explain the challenging passages in the long run.

Bird is shooting for the term “infallible”. The Bible will not fail to achieve it’s purposes, it is fully reliable for matters of faith and practice, and if it’s a little off here or there on minor points, no big deal. It’s not intended to be a science book, or a technically precise modern history book.

Vanhoozer acknowledges his presupposition that the Bible is true, but it doesn’t feel the same as Mohler’s alarmists cries. I liked his persistent reminders for us to understand how important it is to read Scripture rightly. In many way’s I felt like he was a more scholarly version of Bird.

Franke lost me in a postmodern cloud. I get the part about the plurality of truth, I think. But what is he saying then? Is the Bible really a loosely-connected web of incoherent truths that are all true in their own special way? Truth ever shifting ever changing? Truth with a capital T only known by God, and small t truth for the rest of us —  I’m a bit confused.

I like Bird and Vanhoozer the most. No one had a good explanation for the genocide passages. I’m not sure there is one.

The End of Reason

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“I find it fascinating how relativists who say they love the idea of tolerance ultimately reveal themselves to be among the most bigoted”

I must say, I can confirm the veracity of this assertion many times over in my own personal life.

It’s for this reason that Ravi Zacharias gives a blood earnest response to the intolerant vitriol of popular atheist Sam Harris.

The inconsistency of new atheism. 

Atheists, Voltaire, Sartre, Nietsche and even Russel were honest and consistent in their views, they wanted liberation from God and a certain form of morality but they understood the bleak horizon that their world view presented them. Voltaire put it well:

What is the verdict of the vastest mind?

Silence: the book of fate is closed to us.

Man is a stranger to his own research;

He knows not whence he comes, nor whither goes. 

Tormented atoms in a bed of mud, 

Devoured by death, a mockery of fate. 

They knew what they were getting into, the new atheist doesn’t want to think about this. He wants to make absolute moral claims and create meaning and hope on a grand scale, but that’s incompatible with atheism’s framework. Foucault lived the atheist dream, and as he lay dying, his body ravaged by AIDS he said, “there are no solutions, there are no answers, only that it is forbidden to forbid.” at least he was honest.

If your going to belly-ache about evil remember where it leads 

It seems to me that most Christian apologists these days are zeroing in on how morality is not compatible with atheism in any meaningful way. Ravi is on to this like a bull dog on a bone! For example Harris comes unglued on Christianity, blaming Christians for everything from slavery to the holocaust leaving just enough room to toss people like Mother Teresa under the bus for their contributions to evil.

Ravi gives no quarter to this talk. He masterfully deconstructs the historical fantasy Harris is engaged in but more than that he evaluates the inconsistency of Atheisms’ moral rant. “I can see no moral frame-work operating in the world” says Harris, we are all just neutrons and protons, just stuff and then he turns around an says “what I see in Christianity is morally condemnable” Well you can’t have it both ways and remain consistent. Noted atheist Bertrand Russell in his day, was pressed with how to distinguish between good and evil. He said that he distinguished the difference between blue and yellow by seeing, and the difference between good and evil by feeling — for Russell it came down to preference. The interviewer then asked him

“Mr. Russell, in some cultures they love their neighbours; in other cultures they eat them. Do you have a personal preference, and if so, what is it?

Russell was unsettled, his inability to proclaim a moral absolute was a troubling reality to him, at least he was honest. Modern atheists like Harris and Epstein will usually retort to this with some sort of comment about morality being a matter of common sense, or self-evident truth. Is it? I’m not convinced history gives any support to that view. For Ravi, to assert evil you must assume actual good. if good and evil truly exist, than you must assume moral law and if moral law is true than there must be a moral law giver. In framework where matter alone exists its impossible for there to be objective morality. Objective moral values exist only if God exists. Objective moral values do exist. — a point every atheist concedes when they reject God because of all the evil they see in the world. Therefore God exists.

Problems that don’t go away

The more books I read on apologetics the more I see that there are the same basic arguments that just don’t seem to go away, in addition to the problem of morality, atheist’s struggle to find convincing answers for the following:

  1. The problem of origins. Science teaches that something doesn’t come from nothing. The Christian concludes that there must be a self existing non-physical state that got everything going. But that’s unreasonable for the atheist so the fruitless hunt  for an explanation continues.
  2. The problem of chance. So what are the odds that life is the random product of time plus matter plus chance? With the full use of science we are told that the probability is beyond measuring.
  3. The the absence of ultimate meaning and hope — they don’t exist in the atheist framework. But yet we are wired for them.
  4. Evolution is not a deal breaker — Belief in a creator does not hinge on how he created.

A better story

Christianity has a better explanation for origins, meaning, morality and hope. That is not in question. The question is could Christianity actually be true? Yes, there are countless reasons to support that conclusion. The problem however, is that when Christianity is embraced one is no longer able to be the centre of their own universe and that is infinitely undesirable for some and so they reject the better story for reasons that will have to suffice.

A look into the future

Zacharias is utterly convinced that “secularism simply does not have the sustaining or moral power to stop Islam” He believes that in the not to distant future America’s choice will have to be between Islam and Christianity! What can be said about this? Is it true? Who knows, I guess we will find out.