What is Faith? A Look at 1 Corinthians 15

Is it any wonder why our culture does not have a clear understanding about the nature of biblical faith? One of the most common assertions about biblical faith is that it is nothing more than a “leap of faith.” A good place to start looking at biblical faith is in 1 Corinthians 15: 3-17:

For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance[ that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born. For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me. Whether, then, it was I or they, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed. But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.

Some observations can be made from this passage:

1. First of all, biblical faith has an object.

2. Secondly, the object of biblical faith must be true. As D.A. Carson says,

“Paul is communicating to the Corinthians’ that their faith is “futile”( vs. 17). In other words, the Corinthians faith is valid only if its object is true. Faith is never validated in the New Testament when its object is not true. Indeed, New Testament faith is strengthened when its object is validated supported by witness, shown to be revealed by God, impregnably real, true. Such an understanding of “faith” is utterly at odds with the use of faith in the Western culture.” (1)

In relation to truth, both the Old and New Testament terms for truth are emet and alethia. In relation to truth, these words are associated with fidelity, moral rectitude, being real, being genuine, faithfulness, having veracity, being complete. (2) According to a Biblical conception of truth, a proposition is true only if it accords with factual reality. There are numerous passages that explicitly contrast true propositions with falsehoods. The Old Testament warns against false prophets whose words do not correspond to reality. For example Deuteronomy 18:22: “If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the Lord does not take place or come true, that is a message the Lord has not spoken”, and the ninth commandment warns against bearing false testimony. (3)

Given that Paul was Jewish and he was raised in the Jewish Scriptures, he must have known that the seriousness of the Sinai Covenant. Within the covenant, bearing false witness was considered to be a major crime (Exod 20:16). Hence, he must have had a commitment to presenting the resurrection story in an accurate manner.

Thirdly, biblical faith is rooted in historical reality: There is no doubt that Christianity is a historical faith. For Paul, the resurrection of Jesus Christ is the verification of the Christian faith as true or false. There is no doubt that Christianity is a historical faith. Biblical faith entails an objective element (the existence of God, Jesus’ resurrection), and a subjective element (the individual must appropriate the objective truths through a subjective act). Objectively speaking, no matter how much faith a Christian has, it can’t change whether Jesus rose from the dead. In other words, believing Jesus rose from the dead won’t make it true. The event of the resurrection is in the past. Either Jesus rose from the dead or He did not rise form the dead. Perhaps we can learn something about their own faith by reading this comment by New Testament scholar Ben Witherington III:

“Any position in which claims about Jesus or the resurrection are removed from the realm of historical reality and placed in a subjective realm of personal belief or some realm that is immune to human scrutiny does Jesus and the resurrection no service and no justice. It is a ploy of desperation to suggest that the Christian faith would be little affected if Jesus was not actually raised from the dead in space and time. A person who gives up on the historical foundations of our faith has in fact given up on the possibility of any real continuity between his or her own faith and that of a Peter, Paul, James, John, Mary Magdalene, or Priscilla. The first Christian community had a strong interest in historical reality, especially the historical reality of Jesus and his resurrection, because they believed their faith, for better or for worse, was grounded in it.” (4)

Finally, there is a relationship between faith and knowledge: Does biblical faith assert that we can’t believe in things we cannot know? According to Paul, unless his audience accepts the “fact” that Jesus rose from the dead in the context of time, space, and history, they are still dead in their sins. They are to be pitied. In the words of Greg Koukl, “The opposite of faith is not fact, but unbelief. The opposite of knowledge is ignorance. Neither is a virtue in Christianity.” (5)

1. Carson, Donald A. Becoming Conversant With The Emerging Church: Understanding a Movement and Its Implications. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing. 2005, 216.
2. Moreland, J.P. and W.L. Craig. Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 2003, 131-132.
3. Ibid.
4. Ben Witherington III. New Testament History. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic. 2001, 167.
5. Koukl, G. Tactics: A Game Plan For Discussing Your Christian Convictions. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing. 2009, 153.

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Book Review: Theology’s Epistemological Dilemma: How Karl Barth and Alvin Plantinga Provide a Unified Response (Strategic Initiatives in Evangelical Theology) by Kevin Diller

Theology’s Epistemological Dilemma: How Karl Barth and Alvin Plantinga Provide a Unified Response (Strategic Initiatives in Evangelical Theology) by Kevin Diller, 2014, IVP Academic. 352 pp. 978-0830839063

In Theology’s Epistemological Dilemma: How Karl Barth and Alvin Plantinga Provide a Unified Response (Strategic Initiatives in Evangelical Theology),  author Kevin Diller (associate professor of philosophy and religion at Taylor University in Upland, Indiana)  tackles a topic that has always been intriguing to anyone that thinks deeply about their theological beliefs. For anyone that isn’t familiar with some basic terminology, I will define three terms that are critical to understand this book.

Epistemology:  Is the branch of philosophy concerned with questions about knowledge and belief and related issues such as justification, truth, types of certainty.

 Justification: a belief is said to be justified when a person fulfills his or her duties in acquiring and maintaining a belief. A belief is said to be justified when it is based on a good reason/reasons or has the right grounds or foundation.

 Knowledge: Knowledge is a belief that is true and warranted or properly accounted for.

Anyone that has ever had any discussions about their Christian beliefs with others generally hear common objections or questions such as “How do you know there is a God?” “How do you know the Bible is one true revelation from God?” “How do you know Jesus is really God’s Son?”

Notice the issue of knowledge is at the forefront of these discussion. Obviously, unless you have been living under a rock, you know there are a slew of philosophical, scientific and historical challenges that make the epistemic problem a pressing issue. Do Christians have justification for what they believe? What kind of verification test is there to know they even have any justification for what they believe?

Diller analyzes two of the most prominent Christian thinkers over the last century, Karl Barth and Alvin Plantinga. Do either one of these influential thinkers provide any good reasons for Christians to say they are justified in what they believe?

Karl Barth (1886-1968) was one of the most influential theologian of the twentieth century. It is important to note that Barth was not an apologist. In fact, his critique of nineteenth-century apologetics has had a  lasting impact. For Barth, the God of the Bible is “wholly other” and, therefore, cannot be approached using human arguments. Hence, if humans are to come to knowledge of God, it must be on God’s initiative in Jesus Christ, the self-revelation of God. Therefore, for Barth, the best and only apologetic is to present God’s revelation as the witness of faith against unbelief. Obviously, Barth was not a fan of evidentialist apologetics.

Let’s go ahead and define some other terms that is relevant to this topic. Natural theology is the practice of philosophically revealing on the existence and nature of God independent of revealed theology (Scripture). Thus, revealed theology/history is based on authoritarianism. Hence, God has revealed himself in history through a written text.

Barth wasn’t a fan of  natural theology.  He was concerned that if humans attempt to drawn inferences about God from nature, they may end up making a god in our own image. For Barth, any rational thought is a benefit for those who already believed in God, and such belief could only come about by God’s revelation of himself. Unfortunately, Barth didn’t believe God has revealed himself in two books, Scripture and Nature; in what he has said and in what he has done.

In the end, I while I do believe in the role of divine revelation, I don’t  Barth  really provides any solutions to the epistemological dilemma. I have talked to plenty of people from other religions (Mormons, Muslims, etc.) who think their text is the true revelation. They want me to read it and I will just “know” it is true. Almost every Muslim tells me “We are taught to believe this…”“We are told this or that…”. But they offer no justification for their beliefs. So the bottom line is that if religious people start with their sacred text  (The Bible, The Quran, The Book of Mormon), they are begging the question that there is a God who is able to give a revelation. Also, how do they know that it is their god and not another god that has given the correct revelation? In the end, while some disagree, I find Barth to be more closer to fideism than anything else. Fideism asserts that faith and religious belief are not supported by reason. One must simply believe. Faith, not reason, is what God requires (Heb. 11:6). Many skeptics can speak from experience that Christians and other people from religious backgrounds don’t feel compelled to offer rational justification for belief.

So now we move on to Plantinga. I have a lot of respect for Plantinga and  his contributions to Christian philosophy. Plantinga takes issue with what is called classical foundationalism, which requires that a belief be either basic, in which case it is either self-evident, incorrigible or evident to the senses; or nonbasic, in which case it is ultimately connected to basic beliefs by deduction, induction or abduction. Plantinga is correct that classical foundationalism rules out many propositions that we take as basic, such as that a person had lunch today, which is something we know from memory, not from other propositions. Plantinga does didn’t abandon foundationalism altogether, but asks the question, “Why can’t belief in God be properly basic?”

Thus, if people believe without evidence in other minds, or that the past goes back more than five minutes and that we had lunch, then why can’t Christians believe in God on the same basis? Plantinga relies heavily on Calvin’s sensus divinitatis, that awareness which all humans have of God through interaction with nature and their conscience. Thus, humans  are born with a capacity that can trigger an awareness of God. However, what makes this awareness evident to people may vary from one person to another. For Plantinga, people’s encounter with the world can an immediate awareness of God. For example, if two people are hiking on a mountain encountering the world of nature, they may simply know God exists. So this is more of an intuition, not an inference, nor a reasoning process by which we draw a conclusion. Rather, this awareness of God is the result of the work of the Holy Spirit and the way we are made. Because this awareness of God is an intuition rather than an inference is what allows him to say that it is basic. But this basic belief is not a conclusion  from other beliefs.

I  commend Plantinga for his efforts here.  However,  I still don’t think he provides a real solution to the epistemological dilemma as well. So in the end, while both Barth and Planintga are to applauded for their contributions, I don’t think  either one of them provide any solutions.

So the question is, are there any other solutions to theology’s epistemological dilemma?  After doing campus apologetics several years on a major university,  I am more favorable towards the classical apologetic method or the historical apologetic method. In the classical method, natural theology is utilized. Classical apologetics has been practiced by Augustine, Anselm, and Thomas Aquinas. Modern classical apologists also include Winfried Corduan, John Gerstner, Stuart Hackett, Peter Kreeft, C. S. Lewis, J. P. Moreland, and R. C. Sproul, Norman Geisler, and William Lane Craig. We start with first principles and what we can know about reality. We then move into history and then discuss the resurrection of Jesus. Thus, in my discussion with people, I am more interested in establishing plausibility conditions. I think one first establish it is plausible there is a God who wants to communicate with humans in the context of human history. But how do we know there is a God who wants to do that? And which God is it? Allah? the God of the Bible, or another God?

This is where I would utilize a book like Edward Feser’s Five Proof’s For the Existence of God. Then once the person agrees God does exist, I would then utilize historical apologetics and discuss the resurrection of Jesus. The historical apologist argues that one can show that God exists by demonstrating from the historical evidence alone that an act of God occurred, as in the resurrection of Jesus. Thus, Jesus is the supreme apologetic. If someone doesn’t care about natural theology arguments and is open to discuss history, I am all for going straight to the discussing who Jesus is. In discussing God’s existence and who Jesus is with people from other religious backgrounds, it is nearly impossible to bypass utilize historical apologetics.

In the end, we need to utilize the two books approach, that being Scripture and Nature; in what he has said and in what he has done. In conclusion,  I commend Diller for wanting to write a book on such a relevant topic. But I don’t think Barth nor Plantinga solve theology’s epistemological dilemma.

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From Jesus to Us: A Look at P.O.W.E.R.

The New Testament does not reveal Jesus as any ordinary prophet or religious teacher. Rather, it reveals Him as God incarnate (John 1:1; 8:58-59;10:29-31;14:8-9;20-28; Phil. 2:5-7; Col. 2:9; Titus 2:13; Heb. 1:8; 2 Pet. 1:1). Anyone who reads through the Gospels will see that Jesus made some very challenging statements that force us as humans to face our own autonomy before our Creator. Sometimes we may to be aware of the details behind the sources of what we can know about Jesus. We have to acknowledge that  Jesus said and did things that are part of his messianic ministry.

These things are found in an acronym called P.O.W.E.R.

P: Paul’s Letters

The New Testament includes Paul’s Letters: Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians. 1 and 2 Thessalonians, 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus.  Remember, written and oral sources are divided into two kinds: primary and secondary.  A primary source is the testimony of an eyewitness.  A secondary source is the testimony source is the testimony of anyone who is not an eyewitness-that is, of one who was not present at the events of which he tells.  A primary source must thus have been produced by a contemporary of the events it narrates. Since Paul was a contemporary of Jesus, he can be considered as a primary source. He also claimed to have a personal encounter with Jesus (Acts 9:5-9).

You may ask, “Why does matter?” In response, it matters because we actually have people who think since Paul never knew the historical Jesus  that this means we can’t trust his letters. So simply pointing out the role of primary and secondary sources can answer this objection. Not to mention, I always respond by asking if we should just throw away all the books on our shelves that are written by people who never officially met the person they are writing about. So this objection is just plain silly!

What else can we know about Paul?

Paul was a very competent rabbi who was trained at the rabbinic academy called House of Hillel. The House of Hillel  was  a school of Jewish law and thought that was very well known in first century  Jerusalem. Hillel was  known as the Academy of Hillel, founded by a Jewish sage called Hillel the Elder. We also know Paul studied under the famous teacher Gamaliel (Acts 22: 3). Paul also employs oral tradition terminology such as “delivering,” “receiving,” “passing on” “learning,” “guarding,” the traditional teaching within his letters.  Since  Jesus was crucified about 33 A.D., Paul became a follower of Jesus around 35 A.D. Paul’s letters are dated between AD 40 and 60. Hence, these are the earliest records we have for the life of Jesus.  For example, 1 Cor 15: 3-8 is one of the earliest records of the death and resurrection of Jesus. Therefore, to jump to the Gospels as the earliest records for the life of Jesus is a tactical mistake. To see more on Paul’s childhood and education, see here:

But since we know Paul’s Letters were written to instruct local congregations, do they really reveal any significant information about the life of Jesus? The answer is yes. For example, we see Paul talks about:

1. Jesus’ Jewish ancestry (Gal 3:16) 2. Jesus’ Davidic descent (Rom 1:3) 3. Jesus being born of a woman (Gal 4:4) 4. Jesus’ life under the Jewish law (Gal 4:4) 5. Jesus’ Brothers (1 Cor 9:5) 6. Jesus’ 12 Disciples (1 Cor 15: 7) 7. One of whom was named James (1 Cor 15: 7) 8. That some had wives (1 Cor 9: 5) 9. Paul knew Peter and James (Gal 1:18-2:16) 10. Jesus’ poverty ( 2 Cor 8:9) 11. Jesus’ humility ( Phil. 1:5-7) 12. Jesus Meekness and Gentleness (2 Cor. 10:1) 13. Abuse by Others (Rom 15:3) 14. Jesus’ teachings on divorce and remarriage (1 Cor. 7:10-11) 15. On paying wages of ministers (1 Cor 9:14) 16. On paying taxes ( Rom 13: 6-7) 17. On the duty to love one’s neighbors (Rom 13: 9) 18. On Jewish ceremonial uncleanliness ( Rom 14: 14) 19. Jesus’ titles to deity ( Rom 1: 3-4; 10:9) 20. On vigilance in view of Jesus’ second coming ( 1 Thess: 4: 15) 21. On the Lord’s Supper ( 1 Cor. 11: 23-25) 22. Jesus’ Sinless Life ( 2 Cor. 5:21) 23. Jesus’ death on a cross ( Rom 4:24; 5:8; Gal. 3:13; 1 Cor 15: 3) 24. Specifically by crucifixion ( Rom 6: 6; Gal 2:20) 25. By Jewish instigation ( 1Thess. 2:14-15) 26. Jesus’ burial (1 Cor. 15: 4) 27. Jesus’ resurrection on the “third day” (1 Cor.15:4) 28. Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances to the apostles ( 1 Cor.15:5-8) 29. And to other eyewitnesses (1 Cor 15:6); and 30. Jesus’ position at God’s right hand ( Rom 8:34)

For more reading on Paul, see:

Paul and the Historical Jesus

Evidence We Want and Evidence We Should Expect: A Look at Paul’s Letters

What Can Paul Tell Us About Jesus?

Was the New Testament Forged – Dr. Bart Ehrman vs. Dr. Darrell Bock

Darrell Bock responds to Bart Ehrman’s book “Forged

How Did Paul Receive the Gospel? Clearing Up A Supposed Contradiction Between Galatians 1:11-12, and 1 Corinthians 15:3-5

A Look at James Tabor on Christianity Before Paul

Why the Resurrection of Jesus is the Best Explanation For What Happened To Paul

The Earliest Record for The Death and Resurrection of Jesus: 1 Corinthians 15: 3-7

A Look at Richard Carrier’s Critique of Bart Ehrman: Part Three

Did Paul Invent Christianity?

Did Paul Invent Christianity? Is the Founder of the Christian Religion Paul of Tarsus or Jesus of Nazareth?

Ben Witherington’s Review of Bart Ehrman’s Forged

Mike Licona’s Review of Bart Ehrman’s “Forged”

O: Oral Tradition/Oral History:

We need to remember what we call “oral tradition.” In other words, there was an oral history before a written tradition. It  has been argued that some of the followers of Jesus probably took notes.

Remember, home, the synagogue, and the elementary school was where Jewish people learned how to memorize and recall information such as community prayers.  Jesus taught in poetic form, employing alliteration, paronomasia, assonance, parallelism, and rhyme. Since over 90 percent of Jesus’ teaching was poetic, this would make it simple to memorize.  Jesus was a called a “Rabbi” (Matt. 8:19; 9:11; 12:38; Mk. 4:38; 5:35; 9:17; 10:17, 20; 12:14, 19, 32; Lk. 19:39; Jn. 1:38; 3:2), which means “master” or “teacher.” There are several terms that can be seen that as part of the rabbinic terminology of that day. His disciples had “come” to him, “followed after” him, “learned from” him, “taken his yoke upon” them” (Mt. 11:28-30; Mk. 1) (see Paul Barnett, Jesus and The Logic of History, pg, 138).

Therefore, it appears that the Gospel was first spread in the form of  short, memorizable oral creeds and hymns ( Luke 24:34; Acts 2:22-24, 30-32; 3:13-15; 4:10-12; 5:29-32; 10:39-41; 13:37-39; Rom. 1:3-4; 4:25; 10:9; 1 Cor. 11:23ff.;15:3-8; Phil. 26-11; 1 Tim.2:6; 3:16; 6:13; 2 Tim. 2:8;1 Peter 3:18; 1 John 4:2). Also, there was a means of controlling the tradition because the early community had a center which was located in Jerusalem where it consisted of leaders ( the apostles).  We see that the first church council was held at Jerusalem (Act 15:23-29).

To see more on this, see:

Jesus, the Gospels, and the Telephone Game Objection

Jewish Scripture and the Literacy of Jesus by Craig Evans

With no scripture in place, what controlled doctrine in the 1st century? By Darrell Bock

The Issue of Oral Tradition: Dr. Darrell Bock

How Reliable were the Oral traditions about Jesus? – Dr. Craig Keener

Mark Roberts on Oral Tradition/Telephone Game Objections

A Look at Oral Tradition/The Orality Phase of the Jesus Story

James M. Arlandson: Historical Reliability of the Gospels

W: Written Sources other than Paul’s Letters:

These other written sources include the Four Gospels, Acts, 1 and 2 Peter, 1 , 2,3  John, Philemon,  Hebrews, Jude, Revelation, etc. To read more about these sources, see here:

External Evidences for the Truth of the Gospels by Dr. Timothy McGrew

Common Mistakes Critics Make When Approaching the Gospels

An Evangelical and Critical Approach to the Gospels: Michael Bird

Craig Keener on the historical reliability of the Book of Acts

Was Jesus Born In Bethlehem? Dr. Tim McGrew

Who Decided Which Books Belong In My Bible?

F. David Farnell, “The Synoptic Gospels in the Ancient Church: A Testimony to the Priority of Matthew’s Gospel,” The Master’s Seminary Journal 10.1 (Spring 1999)

Recent Perspectives on the Reliability of the Gospels: Gary Habermas

Dr. Tim McGrew Lectures on Alleged Historical Errors in the Gospels of Luke & John

Who wrote the Gospels? Dr. Timothy McGrew

Did Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John actually author the gospel accounts? Darrell Bock

Peter Williams Lecturing on The Reliability of the Gospels

3 Things The Gospel Authors Would Have Never Invented About Jesus

Archeology and the Historical Reliability of the New Testament: Peter S. Williams

Anthony R. Cross, “Historical Methodology and New Testament Study,” Themelios 22:3 (April 1997): 28-51.

James M. Arlandson: Historical Reliability of the Gospels

Click on the link above and here are all the articles by Arlandson

Note: James M. Arlandson teaches World Religions, Humanities, Introduction to Philosophy, and Introduction to Ethics at various colleges. He has written many articles and one book, Women, Class, and Society in Early Christianity (Hendrickson, 1997). His Ph.D. is in Comparative Literature (ancient Greek literature, religious studies, and critical theory). In the above link, he covers the following:
The Historical Reliability of the Gospels
Archaeology and the Synoptic Gospels: Which way do the rocks roll?
Archaeology and John’s Gospel: Is skepticism chic passé?
Did Jesus Even Exist?
Authoritative Testimony in Matthew’s Gospel
Reliable Gospel Transmissions
What is the Q ‘Gospel’? The Gospel According to ‘St Q’?
Did Some Disciples Take Notes During Jesus’ Ministry?
Authoritative Testimony in Matthew’s Gospel
Eyewitness Testimony in Mark’s Gospel
Eyewitness Testimony in John’s Gospel
Are There Contradictions in the Gospels?
Similarities among John’s Gospel and the Synoptic Gospels
The Historical Reliability of the Gospels: Summary and Conclusion

Why the Lost Gospels Did Not Make the Canonical Cut by Michael Bird

Craig Blomberg: Jesus of Nazareth: How Historians Can Know Him And Why It Matters

New Testament Canon: Craig Blomberg

84 Confirmed Facts in the Last 16 Chapters of the Book of Acts

59 Confirmed or Historically Probable Facts in the Gospel of John

The Historical Reliability of John by Craig Blomberg

The Historical Reliability of the Gospels by Craig Blomberg

The Historical Reliability of Acts: Support from Extra-Biblical Primary Sources

Sources Outside the New Testament: “There are no contemporaries who wrote about Jesus”: The Abuse of Arguments from Silence (thanks to Cadre for some of these)

Did Josephus Refer to Jesus, A Thorough Review of the Testimonium Flavianum (Highly Recommended) CADRE member Christopher Price demonstrates the partial-authenticity of Josephus’ first reference to Jesus and discusses what we can know about the historical Jesus from Josephus. A revised and extended version of this article is avaible in the book, Shattering the Christ Myth, discussed below.

When an Argument from Silence Becomes Utterly Meaningless by Craig Blomberg

Did Jesus Exist? Searching for Evidence Beyond the Bible

Testimonium Flavianum: Josephus’ Reference to Jesus: Early Christian Writings

Josephus’ Writing and Their Relation to the New Testament Dr. Greg Herrick reviews the value of Josephus’ writings for the study of Jesus and the New Testament.

Early Historical Documents on Jesus Christ The New Advent Encyclopedia chronicles the early references to the historical Jesus, including Pagan, Jewish, and Christian sources.

Extrabiblical References to Jesus before 200 a.d. The Chrisitan Thinktank’s Glen Miller discusses the second-century pagan historian Thallus’ reference to an eclipse that contemporary Christian writer Africanus believed was a reference to the darkness that descended during Jesus’ crucifixion.

Josephus and Jesus: By Paul L. Maier, The Russell H. Seibert Professor of Ancient History, Western Michigan University

E: Early Preservation of Manuscripts:

In this case, we are discussing the fact that people made copies of the completed Gospels and distributed them throughout the world. The greater the quantity of copies of an ancient manuscript we possess, the greater the potential database of our textual comparisons and reconstructions.  E.J.Epp has noted that the “riches in NT manuscripts, however are not only in their quantity but also their quality-that is, the abundance of relativity early texts. Of the more than eighty New Testament papyri, over twenty containing portions of one of more of the Gospels can be dated to the third and fourth centuries. By contrast, the earliest copy of the Homer’s Iliad we possess dates approximately nine hundred years after or more after the original. (see Boyd/Eddy, The Jesus Legend, pgs 382-384). Also, Bruce Metzger, the foremost biblical critic in history  concluded in his overview of modern biblical criticism that of the 22,000 lines in the New Testament only 40 are contested (about 400 words), the rest just given (over 99.5% transmission accuracy) and none affect any significant doctrine. (1)

Of course, it must be noted that we are not arguing that just because we have an abundance of manuscripts that this means they have recorded an accurate event.  For example, Joseph Smith, the founder of the Mormon Church, claimed to have received personal revelation from God on the basis of two visions, (the first allegedly given to him in 1820, the second one in 1823).  Therefore, if we have 50,000 early manuscripts  recording this event, this by no means makes Mormonism true. This is why other tests for historicity must be taken into account to establish the authenticity of the event.

To see more on this topic:

Norman Geisler: A Note on the Percent of the Accuracy of the New Testament Text

Inerrancy and the Text of the New Testament: Assessing the Logic of the Agnostic View by Daniel Wallace

Dr. Daniel Wallace: Earliest Manuscript of the New Testament Discovered

Can We Construct The Entire New Testament From the Writings of the Church Fathers?

An Interview with Daniel B. Wallace on the New Testament Manuscripts

A Response to Bart Ehrman’s Misquoting Jesus: Dr. Thomas Howe

Wallace, Daniel B: The Gospel According to Bart: A Review of Bart D. Ehrman’s Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why

R: Reception

We read about what Jesus said and did in our English Bibles. In this case, an objector might say “But the Bible was not originally written in English.” This is true. So my advice is that if you don’t think we can trust those that do textual criticism and translate the languages for us, go and  learn Hebrew and Greek so you can translate yourself!

Note: The P.O.W. part was adapted from Mike Licona and Gary Habermas’ The Case For The Resurrection of Jesus. I went ahead and expanded on it and added the rest of the acronym.

1. Geisler, Norman L., Nix, William E., A General Introduction to the Bible (Chicago: Moody Press, 1986), 388.

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Why Apologists Can’t Afford to Ignore the Work of The Holy Spirit

Introduction

When Jesus brought his Church into existence, he gave all his people certain gifts so they can be a blessing to others. As Rick Schenker, former President of Ratio Christi (a nationwide apologetics ministry) once said, “the apologist is truly fulfilling the Ephesians 4:11,12 model of an evangelist by equipping others to “do the work of the ministry”– namely winning their family, friends, neighbors and co-workers to Christ. Apologists are doing the exact thing that Paul told his protégé Timothy to do, “The things which you have heard from me…, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also,” (2 Timothy 2:2).” See the entire article here:

All of us who have been in the apologetic endeavor know it can be hard to get our fellow Christians to get motivated about the apologetic task before us. I think one of the first things that needs to be dealt with is getting Christians motivated about engaging the culture. For the record, even though I lead an apologetic ministry on a college campus and having done lots of outreach, I am just as susceptible to weaknesses such as apathy, complacency, and self-centeredness. One thing that helps me when I began to fall into these areas of struggle is to remember the following:

The Holy Spirit is the Agent of Evangelism and Apologetics

In my opinion, one of the most important statements made by Jesus are seen in John 14: 15-21:

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever,even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you. “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.”

Who is the Holy Spirit and What is His Role?

The Holy Spirit is one who consoles or comforts, one who encourages or uplifts; hence refreshes, and/or one who intercedes on our behalf as an advocate in court.  Many scholars say the Holy Spirit is “another Jesus.” He is the one who is called to one’s side; He takes the place of Jesus. His primary role is to exalt Jesus and is He is with Believers forever (John 14:6). I can say for certain that any time I have ever grown complacent or apathetic, the Holy Spirit is always at work trying to stir my heart towards a lost and needy world. Now don’t get me wrong; the only way we can really experience His stirring is if we maintain a close relationship with God. Regular prayer, Bible study and devotion, as well as deep covenantal relationships with our fellow Christians play a large role in sensing His presence and promptings in our lives. Hence, spiritual disciplines play major factor in whether we will be truly yielded to God.

When Jesus said to his disciples “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized withwater, but in a few days you will be baptized withthe Holy Spirit.” (Acts 1:4-5), we need to remember every child of god is indwelt by the same Spirit that Jesus promised to his original disciples. We also need to come to the place where we ask God in prayer to give us a heart for the world around us. While we may have read the commands about evangelism, we still can’t get over the hump. He may need to do a supernatural work in us so we can eventually take up a cross and follow the Lord on daily basis (Luke 9:23). Once again, this work is something that can only be done by our cooperation with the Spirit in us. We can ask God to change our hearts. And we need to remember because of the reality of life itself, many of us may be at the place where we have grown hardened or calloused towards others. We may need to ask God to  do some major surgery on us.

Are Apologists Afraid of the Holy Spirit?

I can’t speak for everyone here. But I have been exposed to plenty of apologists. I have met and interacted with them in joint efforts, evangelism, prayer, and writing. I am all for logic, critical thinking, and rational argumentation. Apologetics integrates a broad variety of disciplines such as history, science, ethics, theology, philosophy, etc. Hence, it can end up becoming quite exhausting.

Another passage to remember:

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes[a] so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.” (John 15:1-4).

I think many of us as apologists need to have a deeper spirituality. I am not advocating weirdness or fanaticism. But when we become overly fixated on evidence and epistemological certainty, it can almost become an idol at times. It consumes us. We all know that in many cases it is evidence and epistemological certainty that atheists/skeptics say they are after. For Christians, unless we spend time in community and are committed to spiritual disciplines, we may run the risk of drying up and eventually leaving the faith.

In my opinion, J.P. Moreland is one of the most brilliant Christian philosophers to date. He is also one that teaches and speaks on how to integrate the mind into our faith. He knows we have to see it as a holistic process. Check out his website here.

So we may want to ask some important questions?

1 How deep are your roots? (Hint, study John 15)
2. Are you drawing from Him on a daily basis?
3. Are you finding satisfaction in Him?
4. Do you long to know Him better?
5. Where are you in your spiritual disciplines?

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Why Christian faith simply can’t be about a relationship with Jesus!

Over the years, I have attempted to educate youth, college students, and adults about the need to move from a privatized faith to a public faith. In other words, when we present the Gospel, almost all of us talk about how people can have a personal relationship with God through His Son, Jesus the Messiah. While our faith is certainly about our relationship with Jesus, unfortunately, many Christians stop there. Thus, they don’t see their faith as a worldview. Therefore, they aren’t taught that their faith should be able to answer the big questions of reality. C.S. Lewis once said ” I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”

The term worldview was used in the sense described by prominent German philosopher Wilhelm Dilthey (1833-1911). Dilthey affirmed that philosophy must be defined as a comprehensiveness vision of reality that involves the social and historical reality of humankind, including religion. A worldview is thus the nature and structure of the body of convictions of a group or individual. (1) Worldview includes a sense of meaning and value and principles of action. It is much more than merely an “outlook” or an “attitude.” Each person’s worldview is based on a key category, an organizing principle, a guiding image, a clue, or an insight selected from the complexity of his or her multidimensional experience. (2)

Believe it or not, a worldview will impact our view of our vocation, our family, government, education, the environment, etc. A worldview also impacts ethical issues in our culture such as homosexuality, abortion, stem cell research etc. Remember, the issues of competing worldviews shape the past, present, and future of a nation.

Some of the fundamental questions that make up a worldview are the following:
• Origins: How did it all begin? Where did we come from?
• Fall: What went wrong? What is the source of evil and suffering?
• Redemption: What can we do about it? How can the world be set right again?
• Morality: What is the basis for morality? In other words, how do we know what is right and wrong?
• History: What is the meaning of history? Where is history going?
• Death: What happens to a person at death?
• Epistemology: Why is it possible to know anything at all?
• Ontology: What is reality? What is the nature of the external reality around us?
• Purpose: What is man’s purpose in the world? (3)

How does one decide on a worldview? Here are some guidelines:

First of all, a worldview must be consistent: Reason has to be utilized which includes systematic criteria. In using systematic criteria, an individual appraises the truth of a system or worldview.These criteria do not produce systems of thought; instead they judge them. David Wolfe has identified four ways in which one may judge a system of thought: consistency (meaning ideas do not contradict each other) and coherence (the ideas have a positive fit). These are the rational criteria. Comprehensiveness (a system of thought that incorporates the broad range of experience) and congruence (the idea fits human experience) are part of the empirical criteria.(4)

Reason also utilizes the laws of logic (the law of non-contradiction- A is not non-A; the law of identity- A is A; the law of excluded middle- either- A or non-A). The laws of logic have to be used in evaluating a worldview. If contradiction is a sign of falsity, then noncontradiction (or consistency) is a necessity for truth. A real contradiction occurs when two truth claims are given and one is the logical opposite of the other (they are logically contradictory, not merely contrary).(5)

In relation to the creation account, two worldviews that make opposite truth claims are metaphysical naturalism and biblical theism. The naturalistic worldview came to be more prominent during the Enlightenment period. Philosophical or metaphysical naturalism refers to the view that nature is the “whole show.” Biblical theism does acknowledge that while God is the primary Cause of all things, He also works through secondary causes. In other words, God acts in the world through direct intervention (a miracle such as the creation of the universe) and natural causes or indirect actions (preservation). In other words, theism does allow for natural causes but also is open to a non-natural cause as well. After all, natural laws do nothing and set nothing into motion. A “law of nature” is a description of what happens when no agent (whether it be divine, human, etc) is interfering or intervening into the casual order. Their effects are produced by natural forces whose processes are an observable part of the ongoing operation of the physical universe.

In a Christian worldview, the universe was created from nothing (ex nihilo). One of the classical or traditional arguments for God’s existence is the cosmological argument. While Christian apologist William Lane Craig has revived the horizontal form of the cosmological argument, Thomas Aquinas left the church with an apologetic for the vertical form of the same argument. While the former centers on how the universe began in some time in the past, the latter focuses on how the universe exists at this very moment. In other words, the horizontal form is interested in originating causality or the First Cause of the universe while the vertical form defends the need for conserving causality or a Sustainer of the universe.

Secondly, a worldview must be comprehensive: A worldview should cover the whole world of reality. A worldview must provide adequate answers to the worldview questions mentioned above.

Third, a worldview must be livable:
 After all, a worldview is not just a philosophical system but something that can be attempted to live out each day. Thus, if some views are not livable, then they are not adequate. However, remember that what works is not always true. Lies work very well for many people, but that does not make a lie true.(7) Truth is determined by what corresponds to reality, not simply results. Therefore, while a pragmatic test is helpful, it cannot be the only test for the truthfulness of a worldview.

Fourth, a good worldview will have adequate explanatory power: When examining how a worldview needs explanatory power, it is important to emphasize that a good worldview needs to avoid both extremes of being neither too simple or too complex. In his book called A Case For Christian Theism, Arlie J. Hoover uses the famous “Occam’s razor test.” William of Occam (1300-1349) supposedly said, “Do not multiply entities without necessity” which basically means to resist the temptation to make our explanations too complex. On the other hand, the worldview should not be so simplistic that it commits the reductive fallacy. In other words, it cannot be too simple. (8) A good worldview will be able to explain a wide variety of things that we observe in the world.

Epistemology and Ontology: Fifth, a good worldview will allow for a wide range of methods in the knowing process. To reduce reality to one area of knowledge (such as the scientific method) is a fatal mistake. Furthermore, it also commits the reductive fallacy. A worldview should recognize that humans come to know and experience reality in a wide variety of ways by not only the scientific/empirical method, but also by memory, the testimony of others, intuition, religious experience, logical reasoning, listening to the authorities of others, etc. A good worldview will emphasize a balance between both the objective and the subjective.

As worldview analyst David K. Naugle says:

“Ways of knowing the world complementing the capacities of sight and mind should be also be embraced by believers in order to do justice to their complete God-given natures and allow them to comprehend the totality of reality in its rich multiplicity and fullness. Naugle goes onto quote what spiritual writer Palker Palmer calls “wholesight,” which fuses sensation and rationality into union with other, yet often neglected ways of knowing such as imagination, intuition, empathy, emotion, and most certainly faith. In God’s epistemic grace, he has provided a variety of cognitive capacities which are adequate for and to be employed in grasping the diverse modes of created reality, and ancient concept known as adaequatio. All capacities ought to be well employed when it comes to apprehending the truth about God, humankind, and the cosmos, else one suffers from metaphysical indulgence. (9)

As E. P Schumacher explains: “The answer to the question, what are man’s instruments by which he knows the world outside him? is….quite inescapably this: “Everything he has got”- his living body, his mind, his self aware Spirit…It may even be misleading to say that man has many instruments of cognition, since in fact, the whole man is one instrument…..The Great Truth of adaequatio teaches us that restriction in the use of instruments of cognition has the inevitable effect of narrowing and impoverishing reality.” (10)

So you might ask where to I begin to work on my worldview?  I will recommend four resources here:

A World of Difference (Reasons to Believe): Putting Christian Truth-Claims to the Worldview Test by [Samples, Kenneth Richard]

So the question is do you have a private faith, or a public faith? Can your faith answer the big questions of our day?

Sources:

1.Newport. J.P. Life’s Ultimate Questions: A Contemporary Philosophy of Religion. Dallas: Word Publishing. 1989, 4.
2.Ibid.
3.Pearcey, N. Total Truth. Liberating Christianity From Its Cultural Captivity. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books. 2004, 25-28.
4.Clark, D.J. Dialogical Apologetics: A Person Centered Approach to Christian Defense. Grand Rapids MI: Baker Books. 1993, 85-86
5.Geisler, N.L. Systematic Theology Vol 1. Bloomington, MINN: Bethany House Publishers 2003, 82-96.
6.Ibid, 40-63.
7.Ibid, 110-124.
8.Hoover, A.J. The Case for Christian Theism. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House. 1976, 52.
9.Naugle, D.K. Worldview: The History Of A Concept. Grand Rapids, Eerdmans. 2002, 266-274.
10.Naugle, 266-274.

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An Easy Way to Explain the Role of Apologetics in a Christian’s Life

For most of us in the apologetics endeavor, on many occasions I have found myself having to explain what apologetics is to my Christian friends. I have also noted elsewhere that I have had to give an apologetic for why we should see the need for apologetics. After the last election (in 2016), I  have found a very simple way to explain the role of apologetics. Given there were so many debates and so many Christians had to give reasons or justification for why they picked a specific candidate, I have used this as a springboard to explain the need for  apologetics.

I generally ask my fellow Christians if they had to give reasons for why they picked a specific candidate. They always say “yes.” Then I ask them if they have to had to ever give good reasons for why they chose a specific vocation or a specific major to study. Again, they agree they have had to do that as well. What about giving good reasons for why they picked a specific church? Or what about giving reasons for why they picked a specific spouse? Or what about giving good reasons for picking a specific place to live? Or what about giving reasons for why they follow a specific sports team? The list goes on. The point is we have had to give reasons for almost every position we have taken or choice we’ve made. In the book Good Arguments: Making Your Case in Writing and Public Speaking, the authors note the following definitions: 

  1. Argument: the process of giving a systematic account of reasons in support of a claim or belief.
  2. We use effective argumentation to defend our position as a reasonable option among various choices.
  3.  Claims and beliefs go hand in hand. For anything you believe, you can state that belief in the form of a claim

So as we’ve just noted, almost all Christians have to give reasons to support their positions/claims or choices they’ve made. Therefore, why wouldn’t a Christian see the need to give good reasons for why they think there is a God and Jesus is His Son? It seems like this issue impacts one’s view of reality. So this is a huge issue. Once I explain it this way, most Christians see the need to learn apologetics. Give it a try!

 

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Book Review: Bound for the Promised Land: (New Studies in Biblical Theology) by Owen Martin

Bound for the Promised Land: (New Studies in Biblical Theology) by Owen Martin, IVP Academic, 2015. 210 pp.  0830826351

Bound for the Promised Land (New Studies in Biblical Theology) by [Martin, Oren]

When it comes to a theology of the land and how it plays a role in the Bible, there have been very few treatments of such an important topic. Oren Martin attempts to do this with his book Bound for the Promised Land: (New Studies in Biblical Theology). As Martin says in Chapter One, “The aim of the present study is to demonstrate that the land promised to Abraham advances the place of the kingdom that was lost in Eden and serves as a type throughout Israel’s history that anticipates the even greater land – prepared for all of God’s people throughout history – that will come as a result of the person and work of Christ. In other words, the land and its blessings find their fulfillment in the new heaven and new earth won by Christ.”- Pg 17.

Martin does a wonderful job of expounding on the importance of the land theme and how it relates to the entire biblical narrative.  He discusses some of the written works that have attempted to wrestle with the issue of the land and how it relates to the narrative (Walter Brueggemann, W. D. Davies, Craig Bartholomew, Gary Burdge and others).  Martin is also correct that some treatments of the land in the Bible are shaped by conflicting views (e.g. Palestinian Christian, Jewish Christian). As I anticipated, Martin discusses typology. He says,

“An important methodological component for this study is typology, which involves correspondence(s) between persons, events and institutions, and later persons, events and institutions. That is, God’s past dealings with his people serve as patterns, or types, for his future dealings with his people.”- pg 25.

He says, “Typology is prospective and prophetic. That is, God intentionally planned certain persons, events and institutions in redemptive history in order that they would serve later redemptive – and Christological – realities.”- pg 26.

As Martin points out, one of the goals of Biblical theology is to wrestle with the promise- fulfillment theme of both Testaments. In other words, how do both Testaments relate to one another? The land is just one of several topics that Biblical theology much wrestle with. Martin is correct the land theme has been often neglected and this is quite sad given how much space is given to this topic in the Bible.  Martin evaluates the land theme in both the Jewish Scriptures and the New Testament. I commend him for that. In some cases, many treatments of a theological topic will start with the New Testament and then go backwards. I always have found that to be the wrong hermeneutical approach.

In Martin’s chapter on The Epistles , I anticipated that Martin would mention this text: “For the promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith.”-Romans 4:13. Martin says:

“The land initially promised to Abraham and his descendants extended to the borders of Canaan, both the typological pattern and trajectory of the Old Testament show that as his offspring multiplied and filled the earth, so also would the boundaries of the land encompass the earth. Of particular importance is Genesis 26:3–4, where the unique plural ‘lands’ (hā’ărāṣōt), when read in conjunction with the oath to which it alludes in Genesis 22:17–18, makes clear that Abraham’s seed will possess/inherit the gate of his enemies.14 This, together with Genesis 22:17, provides firm exegetical  warrant for Paul’s assertion that Abraham would inherit the world. Paul, then, is demonstrating sound biblical exegesis, informed by Scripture’s redemptive-historical story line, by putting all three elements of the covenant together. Therefore in the light of Christ – Abraham’s (singular) seed (Gal. 3) – Abraham and his (corporate) offspring will inherit the world as people, both Jew and Gentile, come to faith in Jesus Christ.”- pgs 134-135.

So here we have the issue that has always been a large part of this topic: The particular and the universal. God uses the particular (a particular person or people) to bring blessing to the universal (the world). Some of the particulars that have been debated are the following:

1. Israel is (the type- the particular)  in the Old Testament. The Church ( the anti-type: a people group composed of Jews and Gentiles) is the universal- the fulfillment.

2. God uses a particular man (Abraham the type) and his people (the Jews- the type) to bring blessing to their neighbors and to the world (Christianity-the universal). 

3. (Christianity- the universal) replaces or fulfills Judaism (the particular). Granted, anyone that has kept up with scholarship that has focused on the Second Temple period (James Dunn, N.T. Wright, and others) have been saying the same thing. The first followers of Jesus were a sect of Judaism and they were one of several “Judaism’s” in the first century. Thus, is you were a Jew or Gentile in the first century and you came to follow Jesus, you were part of the Jewish world. Because of several historical, theological, and sociological factors, today, Christianity is totally separate religion that has very little do with Judaism. Because of this, many Christians view Judaism as about law and legalism, while Christianity is viewed as being about grace and love. But to assume there is one Judaism in the first century and then Jesus comes and now we have Christianity which fulfills Judaism is just historically inaccurate and ignores the complexities of the Second Temple period. 

With these thoughts in mind, it is alleged that Romans 4:13 reveals a universalization of the Abrahamic promise. It is assumed that this indicates that the “world” has replaced or ‘fulfilled” Israel’s purpose  in the consummation of the covenant promise. I have never really understood why this text is one of the main texts theologians attempt to utilize to demonstrate that the land has been so universalized that it redefines or even replaces, or supersedes Israel. So the question is whether Abraham understood that the land promised to him as simply as a type anticipating the future reality of the coming of the messianic kingdom with the Messiah himself assuming the throne of David in heaven? So was Abraham’s ultimate goal  the attainment of a spiritual land?

I will defer to Steven M. Vantassel comment’s in the book  The Jews, Modern Israel and the New Supersessionism (New Revised and Expanded Edition), by Calvin Smith and Calvin L. Smith. He says:

“The Greek word translated world is kosmos occurs 9 times in Romans (Rom 1:8, 20; 3:6, 19; 4:13; 5:12, 13; 11:12, 13). Only 1:20 definitely refers to the physical planet. All the remaining occurrences of kosmos can be interpreted as referring to human activity and not to geography. For example, in Romans 1:8, Paul says that the faith of the Romans is proclaimed throughout the whole world. Clearly, Paul is referring to the preaching of the Gospel to people and not to physical locations. Even if one says, that Paul intended kosmos to refer to people and places, we still must ask if one is primary. Even if we concede that Paul wanted kosmos to refer to the planet, the verse still lacks sufficient force to overthrow the view that God promised ethnic Jews the land of Israel.”

Obviously, Genesis predicts that Abraham literally would be  the father of many Gentile nations. This did happen. But  the logic of Paul’s argument that Abraham and his descendant(s) would inherit the world gives no indication that the specific land promised in Genesis 13, 15, and so on will be missing from that world. Rom 4:13 is used as the one big text to show the land promise has been transcended. But we would have to look the treatment of the land in the entire Bible. Granted, Martin does cover plenty of other texts besides Rom 4:13. But this one seems to utilized to build the case for their position.

Towards the end of the book, Martin is fair in evaluating  both dispensational and covenantal views of the land promise in the Bible. I have grown tired of the debates between both of these schools of thought. Martin mentions some of strengths and weaknesses of both views. But he then mentions some of the issues of “Inaugurated Eschatology” which says the the end times were inaugurated in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, and thus there are both “already” and “not yet” aspects to the Kingdom of God.  We are now living in the end times (or latter days), which were inaugurated at the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. With the kingdom of God having been inaugurated by Jesus, the church has access to the kingdom promises right now. In the context of this issue, Martin says something that is a theme I see quite frequently:

“The New Testament shows that all of God’s saving promises have already been fulfilled in Christ and that these promises are expanding where Christ is present – in the church now and finally in the new heaven and new earth in the age to come. Secondly, Scripture presents the New Testament antitype to fulfill the Old Testament type, for in and through the person and work of Christ all of God’s promises have reached their telos. This point is what distinguishes the view of this book from replacement theology. In other words, it is not that the church replaces Israel and inherits her blessings. Rather, Israel finds its fulfillment not in a community but in an individual Son of God.”- Pg 170.

Martin, like others, have moved away from wanting to be having a replacement, or a “supersessionist” view of Israel and the church. So they now call it “fulfillment” theology. But this puts us back to the debate over the particular and the universal (see above). If Martin and others say the particular reaches its fulfillment in Jesus and Christianity (see above), does it really make any difference to use the word “fulfill” over terminology such as “replace” or “supersedes.”   In Gerald R. McDermott’s Israel Matters: Why Christians Must Think Differently  he discusses the terms “Replacement Theology” and “Supersessionism.” He says:

“Supersessionism holds that all the promises that God made to Old Testament Israel are now (since the resurrection of Jesus) applied to the Christian Church. The promises were contingent on obedience to the covenant. Biblical Jews broke the terms of that covenant—both before Jesus came, by breaking God’s laws, and then after Jesus came, by refusing to accept him as their messiah. But since Jesus obeyed all of God’s law, and all believers in him are joined to him, his obedience is credited to them. So by virtue of his obedience and their inclusion in him, Christians receive the blessings of the covenant. They are members of the New Israel, which is his body, the Church. This is also called “replacement theology.” The Church replaced biblical Israel as the apple of God’s eye. God’s covenant with ancient Israel was replaced by Jesus’new covenant, which is made with all those who believe in him. The Church has replaced the Jews as the inheritors of all the biblical promises concerning Israel. When Christians read the Old Testament prophecies about the restoration of the people of Israel to the land of Israel, they should interpret those prophecies as referring to the Christian Church. The true meaning, according to this view, is that the Church will inherit the whole world in the age to come. All of those in the Church will be blessed, not just Jews. There will no longer be a distinction between Jews and gentiles among those who believe in Jesus, and there will be no land of Israel separate from the rest of the world. For the Church has replaced the ethnic people of Israel. And the little land of Israel has been replaced by a whole world. The Jews are no longer God’s people in any special way, and the land of Israel is like the land of any other country in the world—say, Uganda or Thailand.” -Page 2.

My question is the following: If the particular has no role in the plan of God anymore, then the end result is the same. Is fufillment theology any different than replacement theology or supersessionism?

In the end, I appreciated Martin’s book. But I find two recent works to be more exegetically satisfying. They are  The New Christian Zionism: Fresh Perspectives on Israel and the Land and Gerald R. McDermott’s Israel Matters: Why Christians Must Think Differently about the People and the Land.

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A Look at William Lane Craig’s Comment: “The Ultimate Apologetic is Your Life”

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“More often than not, it is what you are rather than what you say that will bring an unbeliever to Christ. This, then, is the ultimate apologetic. For the ultimate apologetic is: your life”-William Lane Craig

This was a quote that I read when I plowed through the Second Edition of Reasonable Faith in 1998. Ever since I read this quote, I have always thought about how my life might be an apologetic. In other words, do my words and actions reflect the One who is one we represent? To be honest, the quote has convicted me over the years. And without giving a sense of false humility, I know I don’t always live the apologetic life. I even know people who are Christians who have observed other Christians who are very well read in the field of Christian apologetics but note that the lifestyle of the individual doesn’t match up with what they profess with their lips. Just this past week I had the opportunity to teach on The Sermon on the Mount at a local church. Yes, I was convicted about how challenging it is to live out the very characteristics that show the reign of God is here. So anyway, let me go ahead and focus on a couple of areas and ask how we might live the apologetic life:

Two passages that have always challenged me are the following:

“ But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.”-Galatians 5: 22-26

”Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” –Ephesians 5: 17-20

If you are like me and love to defend the resurrection of Jesus, you hopefully know thatliving the resurrected life is a challenge. One aspect of resurrection is the how it impacts our present life: We as believers now live in a resurrection state. For after noting that God “made us alive together with” Messiah (this is a past event). Eph. 2:5 says: “by grace you are now in a state of salvation” (indicating a present resurrection state).

When Jesus rose from the dead, He not only reversed the curse of death (1 Cor. 55-56) but also broke the power of sin in this life for us. This doesn’t mean we will be perfect. But it does mean we can have a transformed life and victory over sin in this present life.

The bottom line is that the only way we can possibly appropriate passages like the ones above is to be empowered by the Holy Spirit and depend on the Him every day of our lives. This means we need a good understanding of pneumatology. The Holy Spirit has been described as one who consoles or comforts, one who encourages or uplifts; hence refreshes, and/or one who intercedes on our behalf as an advocate in court. Therefore, you can forget about reflecting our Lord without knowing the ministry of the Holy Spirit. He is your Helper on a daily basis. The question is, “How much does the Spirit have of us?” There is more fullness in our lives that comes from the Spirit’s influence in our lives (Eph. 5:18). We are commanded to be filled with the Spirit. The more yielded we are, hence, a willingness to follow the Spirit (and doing so) produces this filling. Attitudes of unforgiveness, bitterness, and carnal behavior will not reflect the fruit of the Spirit.

So what is the bottom line? When we are controlled by the Spirit of God, people will see the character of Christ in us. They won’t have to beat it out of us. As much as I read and study apologetics, I long to see these traits in me on a daily basis. What about you?

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Answering the Objection “If Jesus is the Jewish Messiah, where’s the peace?”

In a previous post, I discussed some of the common objections anti-missionaries and groups like Jews for Judaism make to the claims about Jesus being the Jewish Messiah of Israel and the nations. 

One objection that always comes up is that if Jesus is really the Messiah, how come there’s no peace in the world?  So one of the traditional objections is that Jesus is not the Messiah since he did not fulfill the job description. One of the Jewish expectations is that the Messiah will enable the Jewish people to dwell securely in the land of Israel (Is.11:11-12; 43:5-6; Jer.23: 5-8; Mic.5:4-6), and usher in a period of worldwide peace.The Messiah is supposed to put an end to all oppression, suffering and disease (Is.2:1-22; 25:8; 65:25; Mic.4:1-4).

So we  are supposed to see the challenge: anti-missionaries can string together some texts in the Jewish Scriptures and then say “Case closed, Jesus is not the Messiah.” Now as I have said before, Israel’s faithfulness and the role of the Messiah go together. Thus, if Israel doesn’t fulfill their side of the covenant, there is a delay in blessings. 

One text anti-missionaries  try to use is Isaiah 11: 6-9:

“The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them.  The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.  The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.  They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the land will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea (Isaiah 11:6-9).”

Now, it is obvious this text speaks of some sort of utopia conditions on earth. As Richard Bauckham says here in his online article: 

“Occasionally this passage has been read as an allegory of peace between nations, while inattentive modern readers sometimes see it as a picture simply of peace between animals. In fact, it depicts peace between the human world, with its domestic animals (lamb, kid, calf, bullock, cow), and those wild animals (wolf, leopard, lion, bear, poisonous snakes) that were normally perceived as threats both to human livelihood and to human life. For the Israelite farmer, the unacceptable face of wild nature was these dangerous animals. What is depicted in the prophecy is the reconciliation of the human world with wild nature. Significantly, humans and domestic animals are all represented by their young, the most vulnerable. Each of the pairs of animals in verses 6-7 is carefully chosen, so that each predator is paired with a typical example of that predator’s prey. Especially from verse 7, it is clear that this peaceful condition is possible because the carnivorous animals have become, like the domestic animals, vegetarian. No doubt, this also includes humans. The pairing of the snakes and the children (v 8) differs from the other pairs in that the child is not the prey of the snake, but its poison is nonetheless dangerous to a child who ignorantly interferes with its hiding-place. This is a utopian (or, we might say, ecotopian) picture of the future kingdom of the Messiah that harks back to the primeval utopia that Genesis depicts as the beginning of human history.

Originally, all the creatures of the earth were vegetarian (Gen 1:29- Bauckham Page 3 30), and violence both among humans and between humans and animals came with the degeneration of life on earth that provoked the Flood (Gen 6:11-13). Isaiah’s description of the peaceable kingdom probably also alludes to the human responsibility for other living creatures that God gave humans at creation (Gen 1:26, 28). The first depiction of animals at peace (Isa 11:6) concludes: ‘a little child shall lead them.’ This is a reference to shepherding practice, in which the domestic animals willingly follow the shepherd who leads them to pasture. Even a small child can lead a flock of sheep or herd of goats, because no force or violence is required. In the ecotopia of Isaiah the little child will be able to lead also the wolf, the leopard and the lion. It is a picture of gentle and beneficial service to wild animals, which the animals now willingly receive. It is how we might imagine Adam and Eve related to the animals in the garden of Eden. This is not to say that the messianic kingdom is merely a return to the garden of Eden. It is more than that, but the original innocence of humans and animals does provide a model for the way this prophet envisages the future.”

Anti-missionaries like to say that  in worshiping a deified Messiah/God man, Christians and Messianic Jews are committing idolatry. But the question  is what kind of ordinary, anointed, Davidic King  can usher in such a peaceable kingdom as mentioned here? It seems only a Messiah who is supernatural could do such a thing!

To see more about this objection, see Michael L Brown,  General and Historical Objections 

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Does It Matter Whether God Exists?

 

 

 

lost my ability to give a damn funny quotes

After talking to hundreds of college students for several years about spiritual beliefs, one thing that comes up from time to time, is whether the existence of God is even relevant. In other words, the discussion kind of goes like this: “I don’t see what difference God would make in my life!

The comment “I don’t see what difference God would make in my life!” displays a very pragmatic view of truth. I have discussed the problem with this elsewhere. But when a student says God’s existence isn’t really relevant, my first response is to try to get them back to the issue of truth. After all, if there is a God and He does exist and it turns out Jesus is His Son, that is an objective reality. It has zero to do with how I feel about it. And the truthfulness of it isn’t determined whether the person stays busy and says “I don’t care if God exists.” Another issue that comes up are the following worldview questions:

• Origins: How did it all begin? Where did we come from?
• The Human Condition: What went wrong? What is the source of evil and suffering?
• Redemption: What can we do about it? How can the world be set right again?
• Morality/Human Rights, Human Dignity: What is the basis for morality? In other words, how do we know what is right and wrong? What is the basis for human rights, moral values, moral duties, human dignity, and equality?
• History: What is the meaning of history? Where is history going?
• Death: What happens to a person at death?
• Epistemology: Why is it possible to know anything at all?
• Ontology: What is reality? What is the nature of the external reality around us?
• Purpose: What is man’s purpose in the world

Now after looking at these worldview issues, I think the one that is the question that is the most pressing one is the morality, human rights, and human dignity issue. This issue is directly related  to the the origins question. They can’t be separated. Just recently in the recent presidential debate, the abortion topic came up. That is directly related to one’s view of humans and what makes them valuable. Of course, on a theistic worldview, human aren’t valuable based on their function. They are valuable based on their nature or essence. It is quite obvious we live at a time where people are obsessed with human rights, justice, and equality. I discuss why theism lays the foundation for these features of reality here. 

So in the end, when I run into college students that are apathetic about the existence of God, I now ask them if they think humans are valuable and whether they believe in justice, equality, and human rights. Every single time, the student says “Yes!” So now the door is open to discuss the origins question and how that relates to the human dignity and equality issue. Robert Spizter helps us understand the importance of this topic. He says:

“The best opinion or theory is the one that explains the most data. The general principle is this: opinions that explain the most data and are verified by the most evidence are better than those that do not. The vast majority of people consider this principle to be self-evident because if greater explanatory power and more evidence is not better, then additional evidence and explanatory power add nothing, which means that all evidence and explanatory power are essentially worthless. This leaves us with only our subjective assertions, which most people do not consider to be good enough. For example, as suggested previously, Einstein’s theory about the universe is better than Newton’s theory because it explains more data. (Newton was unaware of most of the data that the special and general theories of relativity account for.) Again, calculus has more explanatory power than algebra and trigonometry because it can account for curves through derivative and integral functions, which algebra and trigonometry cannot do on their own. This applies to virtually every science and social science. The more data a theory or hypothesis explains, the better it is. With respect to life issues, this principle is important because a theory of human personhood that treats a person as a mere individual physical thing (materialism) does not explain the data of persons being self-conscious or having transcendental desires (such as the desire for complete and unconditional Truth, Love, Goodness, Beauty, and Being). Therefore, materialism’s explanation of many acknowledged human powers and activities, such as empathy, agape (self-sacrificial love), self-consciousness, the desire for integrity and virtue, the sense of the spiritual, and the drive for self-transcendence, is, at best, weak. Theories that attempt to account for and explain these data, such as hylomorphism or transmaterialism, should be preferred to ones that do not, such as biological reductionism, materialism, and behaviorism. There is another more serious consequence of the underestimation of human personhood, namely, the undervaluation of real people. If we consider human beings to be mere matter without the self-possession necessary for freedom and love, without unique lovability, or without spiritual or transcendent significance, we might view human beings as mere “things”.
If humans are viewed as mere things, then they can be treated as mere things, and this assumption has led historically to every form of human tragedy. Human beings might be thought of as slaves, cannon fodder, tools for someone else’s well-being, subjects for experimentation, or any number of other indignities and cruelties that have resulted from human “thingification”. The principle of most complete explanation has a well-known corollary, namely, “There are far more errors of omission than commission”, which means that leaving out data is just as harmful to the pursuit of truth as getting the wrong data or making logical errors. This adage is related to the moral saying that “there are far more sins of omission than commission.” In the case of the underestimation of human personhood, history has revealed how close the relationship between errors and sins truly is.”- Ten Universal Principals 
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