“Who Do you Say I Am?”: Cultural Confusion and the Identity of Jesus

Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, He was asking His disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; but still others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 16:13-17).

As of today, people are still trying to answer the same question that Jesus asked Peter 2,000 years ago. In his book The Case For The Real Jesus, Lee Strobel says if you search for Jesus at Amazon.com, you will find 175, 986 books on the most controversial figure in human history.

Here are some of the current views of Jesus in the surrounding culture:

Yes, there is a group called Ask a Muslim who actually spends time and money telling others Jesus was Muslim.

Here we also see Mormons have their own view of Jesus:

We have also have those that have their identity wrapped up in politics. Both sides assume Jesus falls more in line with their political party.

To see more about The Black Hebrew Israelite Movement, see here: 

To see one of many responses to the Aslan book, see here:

To see a response to the Smuley book, see Michael Brown’s book here.

As see here, there is plenty of confusion about who Jesus is. For over 100 years, there has been a quest to identify the historical Jesus and differentiate between the Jesus of history and the Jesus of faith. Here are some of the aspects of these quests.

Books That Deal With These Issues

I quickly want to mention two books. I advise reading The Jesus Legend: A Case for the Historical Reliability of the Synoptic Jesus Tradition: By: Paul Rhodes Eddy, Gregory A. Boyd and Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony: by Richard Bauckham. Bauckham’s book is very significant in that he lays out some of the differences between ancient and modern historiography. After all, this issue plays a tremendous role in understanding the Gospels/New Testament (see more below). And by the way, The Jesus Legend is critical reponse to legend theorists. For those that want to see how silly it is to propose the theory that Jesus didn’t exist- click here to read Did Jesus Really Exist? By Paul L. Maier, The Russell H. Seibert Professor of Ancient History, Western Michigan University

Let’s Look at the Quests

The First Quest Period-1778-1906:

The First Quest was marked by works such as David Strauss’s, The Life of Jesus Critically Examined. Under the influence of David Hume, Strauss dismissed the reliability of historical and supernatural elements in the Gospels as “outrageous” and “myths” Another important work of this period was Albert Schweitzer’s The Quest of the Historical Jesus. (1)

The No Quest Period-1906-1953:

Rudolf Bultmann regarded Schweitzer’s work as methodologically impossible and theologically illegitimate. (2) Schweitzer’s thesis marked the end of the Old Quest and the beginning of the No Quest period. Through the first half of the twentieth century, the pursuit of the historical Jesus seemed to some scholars to be futile and irrelevant. The failure of the Old Quest, as N.T. Wright has said, had left a “deep ditch” separating the Jesus of history from the Christ of faith. During the period of the No Quest, critical scholars became more interested in examining the New Testament for what it revealed about the early church and its evolving message. Rudolph Bultmann was a primary leader in what is called form criticism during this period. Form criticism sought to draw distinction between various literary forms within the gospels- parables, pronouncements, proverbs and so on- and to identify the stages of development of the texts and the traditions behind them as they passed from oral to written form. (3)

The New Quest Period- 1953-1970:

Ernst Kasemann, a student of Bultmann began the “new quest” in a 1953 lecture. While he rejected some of Bultmann’s views, he was concerned with the person of Jesus as the preached word of God and his relation to history. The major work of the new quest is Gunther Bornkamm’s Jesus of Nazareth (1960). (4) Among the New Questers were German scholar Joachim Jeremias whose works in the 1950’s and the 1960’s focused heavily on the message of Jesus rather than on reconstructing a full-blooded biography. In the United States, the groundwork for the New Quest was laid by the eminent New Testament scholar James Robinson of the Claremont School of Theology, whose 1959 book called A New Quest of the Historical Jesus defined many of the issues that would come to dominate the scholarly community for decades.(5)

Weaknesses of The First Quest, The No Quest and The New Quest:

Naturalism: The naturalistic worldview came to be more prominent during the Enlightenment period. In this worldview, miracle accounts and any references to the non-natural realm are generally rejected. This is unjustified. For theists, miracles (which are paramount to the Christian faith) are non-natural but not anti-natural. A miracle, of course, is a special act of God in the natural world, something nature would not have done on its own. (6) It is beyond the scope of this article to defend the philosophical basis for miracles. For an excellent treament of this topic, feel free to read Norman L. Geisler. Miracles And The Modern Mind: A Defense of Biblical Miracles (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1992).

Therefore, the entire starting point in studying the life of Jesus is about one’s presuppositions. Metaphysics is the study of being or reality. It is used interchangeably with ontology (Gk. ontos, “being,” and logos, “word about”). Without metaphysics, a person would be incapable of constructing a worldview. A worldview must explain all of the pieces of the puzzle we call reality.

These issues demonstrate that in investigating the evidence for the life of Jesus, every historian interprets the past in direct relationship to his own Weltanschauung (the German word for worldview). Hence, a worldview will always impact one’s historical method/philosophy of history. Philosophical or metaphysical naturalism refers to the view that nature is the “whole show.” If one has a commitment to philosophical or metaphysical naturalism, several aspects of the life of Jesus will be interpreted in a naturalistic way. Remember, naturalism is not a discovery of science. It must always be viewed as a presupposition of science as presently practiced.

To read more about this issue- see the Boyd/Eddy book or The New Testament and the People of God by N.T. Wright. There is also new book by Mike Licona called The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach. A false separation: These quests fail to show that there needs to be a dichotomy between the Jesus of faith and the Jesus of history. They assume the Gospels are non-historical. (7) In relation to the resurrection, Ben Witherington III says:

“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.” (8)

A non-Jewish Jesus: Many Jewish scholars view the “New Quest” period as just another attempt to “de-Judaize Jesus” or deny his Jewishness.

The Third Quest Period-1970 and on:

As of today, biblical scholars have embarked on what is called “The Third Quest” for the historical Jesus, a quest that has been characterized as “the Jewish reclamation of Jesus.” Rather then saying Jesus broke away from Judaism and started Christianity, Jewish scholars studying the New Testament have sought to re-incorporate Jesus within the fold of Judaism.(9) In this study, scholars have placed a great deal of emphasis on the social world of first- century Palestine. The scholars of the Third Quest have rejected the idea that the Jesus of the New Testament was influenced by Hellenic Savior Cults. (10) Some of the resources that deal with this issue are the following:

The Players in the Third Quest

1. E.P Sanders

Sanders is noted for asserting in 1985 the historical authenticity of eight activities of The Historical Jesus:

1. Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist 2. Jesus was a Galilean who preached and healed. 3. Jesus called disciples and spoke of their being twelve 4. Jesus confined his activity to Israel 5. Jesus engaged in controversy about the temple 6. Jesus was crucified outside Jerusalem by Roman authorities 7. After his death Jesus’ followers continued as an identifiable movement 8. At least some Jews persecuted at least parts of the new movement

In 1993, in a more popular work, Sanders added six more facts to his list:

1. Jesus was born circa 4 B.C., at the approximate time of Herod the Great. 2. Jesus grew up in Nazareth of Galilee 3. Jesus taught in small villages and towns and seemed to avoid cities 4. Jesus ate a final meal with his disciples 5. Jesus was arrested and interrogated by Jewish authorities, apparatnly at the orders of the High Priest 6. Although they abandoned Jesus after his arrest, the disciples later “saw” him after his death. This led the disciples to believe that Jesus would return and found the kingdom.

Both E.P. Sanders and James Charlesworth say “the dominate view today seems to be that we can know pretty well what Jesus was out to accomplish, that we can know a lot about what he said, and that those two things make sense within the world of first- century Judaism.” (11)

2. N.T. Wright

Wright has been another major player in the Third Quest. Wright agrees with Sanders list but still adds some of the following items about what we can know about Jesus:

1. Jesus spoke Aramaic and Hebrew, and probably some Greek 2. Jesus summoned the people to repent 3. Jesus made use of the parables to announce the kingdom of God 4. Jesus effected remarkable cures, including exorcisms, as demonstrated the truth of his proclamation of the kingdom 5. Jesus shared table fellowship with a socially and diverse group, including whom many Torah observant Jews would regard as “sinners.’

In his book Jesus and the Victory of God,Christian Origins and the Question of God, Volume 2, author Wright says that the historical Jesus is very much the Jesus of the gospels: a first century Palestinian Jew who announced and inaugurated the kingdom of God, performed “mighty works” and believed himself to be Israel’s Messiah who would save his people through his death and resurrection. “He believed himself called,” in other words says Wright, “to do and be what, in the Scriptures, only Israel’s God did and was.”

3. Craig Evans

One of the active scholars in the Third Quest is Craig Evans. One of his recent books is Fabricating Jesus: How Modern Scholars Distort the Gospels. I had the privilege of sitting under Dr. Evans this past May. His knowledge of the Dead Sea Scrolls, early Judaica, and the cognate languages is unsurpassed.

Evans adds a few items to the lists of Sanders and Wright: 1.The public viewed Jesus as a prophet 2. The Romans crucified him as “King of the Jews.” 3.That following Easter his followers regarded him as Israel’s Messiah.

The Core Facts

Gary Habermas makes an important point when he says, “Certainly one of the strongest methodological indications of historicity occurs when a case can be built on accepted data that are recognized as well established by a wide range of otherwise diverse historians.”Historian Christopher Blake refers to this as the “very considerable part of history which is acceptable to the community of professional historians.” (12)

Here are five well-evidenced facts granted by virtually all scholars who study the historical Jesus: (see See Habermas. G.R. and Licona, M. L. The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus):

1. Jesus’ death by crucifixion 2. Jesus’ followers sincerely believed Jesus rose from the dead 3. Early eyewitness testimony to belief in Jesus’ resurrection 4. The conversion of Jesus’ skeptical brother, James 5. Paul, once an enemy of the early faith, became a commited follower of Jesus the Messiah

Who are some of these critical scholars that Habermas mentions? To read more about this see: http://preventingtruthdecay.org/jesusresurrection.shtml

It is important to understand that I don’t want to say that just because I offer a list of core facts that are universally agreed on by historians and Biblical scholars makes it true. If so, that would be what is called a “consensus gentium fallacy” which is the fallacy of arguing that an idea is true because most people believe it. Habermas completed an overview of more than 1,400 critical scholarly works on the resurrection from 1975 to 2003. He studied and catalogued about 650 of the texts in English, German and French. Habermas reports that all the scholars who were from across the ideological spectrum agreed on the five facts that are mentioned. Therefore, the scholars and historians that Habermas researched were not all from a conservative or traditional perspective. So there was some impartiality in the study.

The Jesus Seminar

It is important to mention that another group of scholars who are involved in the Third Quest are the Jesus Seminar. The Jesus Seminar come from various academic, professional, and  religious backgrounds.  Among the seventy scholars and laypersons that comprise the group, the  individuals that are regularly in the public eye include Robert W. Funk  (co-chair), John Dominic Crossan (co-chair), and Marcus Borg (Oregon State   University). For most of those in the Seminar, there is a dichotomy  between the “Jesus of history” and the “Christ of faith.” The “Christ of faith”  is seen as a figure of the early church who was elevated to a divine status by  the use of early Christian creeds and through the mythological embellishment  accounts of the Gospels that were written later. (13) In  a debate with John Dominic Crossan of the Jesus Seminar, William Lane  Craig exposed Crossan’s naturalistic presuppositions. Craig asked Crossan if  there was anything that would convince Crossan that Jesus rose from the dead as  an historical fact. Crossan responded by saying a person has the right to say,”I by faith believe that God has intervened in the resurrection event.” However,  Crossan then goes on to say, “It’s a theological presupposition of mine that  God does not operate in that way that they.” (14)  To see some critques of Crossan and the Seminar’s views see here:

Conclusion:

The good news is that the quest for The Historical Jesus may be shifting to what is called “The Interdisciplinary Quest.” This means that there are many people from a variety of academic backgrounds such as philosophy, sociology, anthropology, etc., that are all weighing in on this topic. It should be interesting to see what happens in the future. I can only speak for myself in that I see no dichotomy between the Christ of Faith and the Jesus of History. You can decide for yourself.

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Sources:

1.Geisler N. Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1999, pgs 385-386. 2.Ibid. 3. Sheller, Jeffrey L. Is The Bible True? How Modern Debates and Discoveries Affirm the Essence of the Scriptures, New York. Harper Collins Publishers. 1999, 176-182. 4.Ibid. 5.Ibid. 6.Geisler, pgs 385-386. 7.Ibid. 8.B. Witherington III. New Testament History. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic. 2001, pg 167. 9.Craig, W L. Christian Reasonable Faith, Wheaten, ILL: Crossway Books. 1984, 240-241. 10. Ibid. 11. Ibid. 12. Geisler, N.L., and Paul K. Hoffman, Why I Am A Christian: Leading Thinkers Explain Why They Believe. Grand Rapids: MI: Baker Books. 2001, 152.

13. House. W.H.,and Joseph M. Holden, Charts of Apologetics and  Christian Evidences.Grand Rapids,   MI: Zondervan Publishing House,  2006, Chart 51.

14. Copan, P. Will The Real Jesus Stand Up? A Debate between William  Lane Craig and John Dominic CrossanGrand  Rapids, MI: Baker  Books. 1998. 61-62.

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Discipleship of the Mind/The Recovery of the Christian Mind

Discipleship of the Mind/The Recovery of the Christian Mind

Within Christian discipleship, scholars, theologians, and philosophers are asking, what ever happened to cultivating the intellectual life of the Christian? There have been several books written on this subject. One book that I recommend is Love Your God with All Your Mind: The Role of Reason in the Life of the Soul by J. P. Moreland

It is imperative for Christians to understand the history of anti-intellectualism in the church. In this brilliant book, Dr. Moreland traces the history of what has happened in relation to the Christian mind.

Moreland discusses the history of the pilgrims arriving to the United States in the middle of the nineteenth century. The Pilgrims along with other American believers placed a high value on the intellectual life in relation to Christian spirituality. The Puritans were highly educated people (the literacy rate for men in Massachusetts and Connecticut was between 89 and 95 percent) who founded colleges, taught their children to read and write before the age of six, studied art, philosophy, and other fields as well. Evangelical scholars such as Jonathan Edwards were scholarly and well informed about other fields other than theology. Christians originally founded several American universities. The minister was regarded as proficient in both spiritual and intellectual matters. (1)

When the first Great Awakening happened in the United States from the 1730’s to 1750’s, Christianity was not prepared for the philosophical thought that began to undermine Biblical authority in the late 1800’s. In other words, Christianity was not prepared for the philosophies of David Hume (1711-1776) and Immanuel Kant (1724-1804), German higher criticism, and Darwinian evolution. During the middle 1800’s, Christianity continued to see an anti-intellectual approach in sermons. Ministers such as and Charles Finney who preached during the Laymen’s Prayer Revival ( 1856-1858), delivered simple sermons that were more tailored around emotions in contrast to sermons that were reflective and doctrinally informed. Moreland notes that many positive things did come out of this period. However, the downside was that since thousands of people were converted on the basis of emotion and warm fuzzy feelings, these new converts were not trained to think theologically or doctrinally. (2)

Moreland has also commented on the impact of Christians refusing to be informed about the language of ideas in the marketplace. As Moreland says:

Instead of standing up and doing the hard work of responding to the critics, Christians opted out and said, It doesn’t matter what the facts say, I feel Jesus in my heart and that’s all that really matters to me. So we opted for a subjective pietism instead of hard thinking on the issues, and therefore we lost our place in the public square. The way to deal with vain philosophies, wherever they may be found, is to have good philosophy, not to abandon the art of critical thinking altogether. (3)

Another book that has traced the history of anti-intellectualism in the church is Fit Bodies Fat Minds: Why Evangelicals Don’t Think and What to Do About It by Os Guinness. In this book, Guinness says:

Loving God with our minds is not finally a question of orthodoxy, but love. Offering up our minds to God in all our thinking is a part of our praise. Anti-intellectualism is quite simply a sin. Evangelicals must address it as such, beyond all excuses, evasions, or rationalizations of false piety. We need to affirm certain truths: Intellectualism is not the answer to anti-intellectualism, for the perils of intellectualism-supremely in Gnosticism- are deadly and ever recurring. Or passion is not for academic respectability, but for the faithfulness to the commands of Jesus. Our lament is not for the destruction of the elite culture of Western civilization but for the deficiencies in our everyday discipleship as Christians. For anti-intellectualism is truly the refusal to love the Lord our God with our minds as required by the first of Jesus’ commandments. Thus, if we take the commands of Jesus seriously, we cannot dismiss the charge of anti-intellectualism as elitism or intellectual snobbery. As God has given us minds, we can measure our obedience by whether we are loving him with those minds, and disobedience whether we are not.(4)

In his book,The Opening of the Christian Mind: Taking Every Thought Captive to Christ author David W. Gill makes a significant contribution about the relationship between intellectualism and discipleship by stating that we should advocate Christian minds, not intellectualism. Gill says:

Let me stress one more time that I am not advocating intellectualism in the Christian life! We must give our brains to God. But we are more than brains. I do indeed want people to develop their minds under the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Mindless emotionalism or traditionalism, segmented fragmented lives and ignorance disguised as simple faith are all terrible deformations of Christian discipleship. But so is arid, dry intellectualism. Developing a Christian mind is but one crucial aspect of Christian discipleship. (5)

Scriptures that can be misunderstood as speaking against anti-intellectualism:

Acts 4:13: “The Jewish elders and rulers observe that Peter and John were uneducated and unlearned.” Many have concluded that intellectual emphasis has no place for the life of the believer. Is this right? It is important to understand that the Jewish leaders did not mean that Peter and John were irrational or intellectually unskilled. They meant that they had not undergone the proper rabbinical training. (6)

Colossians 2:8: “See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ.” Some have concluded from this passage that Paul is commanding people to avoid secular studies or philosophy. If we look at this passage in context, Paul was dealing with a proto-Gnostic philosophy that was threatening the Colossian church. If Paul had not had a vast understanding of philosophy, he could not have addressed the problem in the Colossian church. It is important to note that Paul quoted pagan philosophers in Acts 17:28. (7)

1 Corinthians 1: 19-21:
” For it is written, I WILL DESTROY THE WISDOM OF THE WISE, AND THE CLEVERNESS OF THE CLEVER I WILL SET ASIDE.” Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe.”
Does this passage say God is against reason? It is important to note that Greek orators prided themselves with possessing “persuasive words of wisdom,” and it was their practice to persuade a crowd of any side of an issue for the right price. So, since Paul is most likely condemning hubris (pride), he is against false pride, or prideful use of reason, not reason itself. (8)

One of the primary texts used for apologetics is 1 Peter 3:15 which says, “But in your hearts acknowledge Christ as the holy Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to every one who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have yet with gentleness and respect.” In the context of this verse, the apostle Peter is writing to a group of persecuted believers. The Greek word for “reason” in this passage is “logos,” which is defined as “a word,” inward thought itself, a reckoning, or a regard. Peter does not suggest we be prepared to do give a reason for the hope that is within us, but he commands that we do it! (9)

Some Suggestions in Restoring the Christian Mind

1. In order to restore the mind within the local congregation, there needs to be a stronger emphasis on critical thinking and apologetics. As Christian philosopher Douglas Groothius says:

Since we as Christians are called and commanded to have a reason for the hope within them (1 Peter 3:15), it is the responsibility Christian teachers, pastors, mentors and educators of all kinds are remiss if they avoid, denigrate, or minimize the importance of apologetics to biblical living and Christian witness. (10)

2. Christians also need to understand Christian anthropology (the study of humanity from a Christian / biblical perspective. It is primarily focused on the nature of humanity). As Norman Geisler says,

God is a rational Being, and man is made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). Since God thinks rationally, man was given the same capacity. Brute beasts, by contrast, are called “irrational” (Jude 10). The basis laws of human reason are common to believer and unbeliever; without them, there would be no writing, thinking, or rational inference. Nowhere are these laws spelled out in the Bible. Rather, they are part of God’s general revelation and special object of philosophical thought. (11)

3. Establish a Worldview: The term worldview is 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. 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.(12) 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.

4. Engage the Culture: According to a Barna study, 95% of all professing Christians have never attempted to share their faith. Out of that 5%, only 2% share on a regular basis. Now Jesus said in John 14:15 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments”.Since Jesus commands His people to “make disciples of the nations” (Matt.28:19), the Christian who is not ashamed of the gospel (Romans 1:16), will desire to share the good news of Jesus with his neighbor. It is my conviction the reason that there is such a lack of interest in apologetics and critical thinking is because evangelism and outreach are neglected. Christians also have a responsibility to be aware of the issues within our culture.

My suggestion to change this problem is to challenge congregants to take a survey with five spiritual questions and engage people on a regular basis. Once they see how people respond to the questions, they will begin to see how inept they are to handle objections to the faith. By doing a survey, this allows the congregants to witness firsthand the tremendous amount of diversity in our culture. One of the reasons the Holy Spirit was able to use Paul with a variety of audiences was because Paul had a vast knowledge of the Hebrew Bible, as well as Jewish and Greek culture. If someone asks a question that cannot be answered, it allows the believer the privilege of doing research about a particular apologetic issue.

As William Lane Craig says:

It is not just scholars and pastors who need to be intellectually engaged with issues. Laymen need to become intellectually engaged. Our congregations are filled with people who are idling in intellectual neutral. As believers, their minds are going to waste. One result is an immature, superficial faith. People who simply ride the roller coaster of emotional experience are cheating themselves out of a deeper and richer faith by neglecting the intellectual side of that faith. (13)

5. The university: From a university perspective, it is imperative that students be trained to think critically as well as apologetically. By the time Christian students leave to college, they should have a grasp of a biblical worldview as well as the ability to understand the importance of integrating the mind into all areas of spiritual life. If young college students compartmentalize their spiritual life, they will end up viewing spirituality as simply going to Bible studies, private prayer time, and congregational attendance. Classes and study time will be viewed as “secular” and something they need to get through in order to graduate. This must be corrected. How can students impact the university if they do not understand the way the culture thinks?

What about Christians who want to study philosophy in college? Should they avoid it? Groothius says:

Young Christians with an aptitude in philosophy and academic pursuits in general should be encouraged that these disciplines are just as spiritual as anything directly church-related. For example, being a Christian philosopher at a secular college or university is just as godly and spiritual than being a pastor, missionary, or professor at a Christian institution (1 Corinthians 10:31; Colossians 3:17). One may prudently apply one’s apologetic skills in these settings and extend the Christian witness. (14)

6. Understand the proper relationship between faith and reason: As David Gill says above, “Mindless emotionalism or traditionalism, segmented fragmented lives and ignorance disguised as simple faith are all terrible deformations of Christian discipleship. But so is arid, dry intellectualism. Developing a Christian mind is but one crucial aspect of Christian discipleship.” Another challenge in restoring the Christian mind is the misunderstanding of the biblical use of the word “heart.” How many times has the Christian been told, “Faith is an issue of the heart, not the head.” How can we correct this problem? Remember, biblical faith also involves a commitment of the whole person. In the Tanakh (the acronym that is formed from the first three parts of the Hebrew Bible: Torah (the first five books of the Bible), Nevi’ im (the Prophets), and K’ tuvim (the Writings), the Hebrew word for heart is “leb,” or “lebad.” While the word “heart” is used as a metaphor to describe the physical organ, from a biblical standpoint, it is also the center or defining element of the entire person. It can be seen as the seat of the person’s intellectual, emotional, affective, and volitional life. In the New Testament, the word “heart” (Gr.kardia) came to stand for man’s entire mental and moral activity, both the rational and the emotional elements. (15)

1. Moreland, J.P Love Your God With All Your Mind. Colorado Springs, CO: Navpress. 1997. 22-23.

2. Ibid.

3. Koukl. G. The Value of Philosophy. Retrieved November 9, 2007. Available at http://www.str.org/site/.

4.Os Guinness. Fit Bodies Fat Minds: Why Evangelicals Don’t Think And What To Do About It. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books. 1994, 18-19.

5. Gill, D.W. The Opening of the Christian Mind: Taking Every Thought Captive to Christ. Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press,1989, 30.

6. Moreland, 57-60.

7. Ibid.

8. Moreland, J.P and Craig, W.L. Philosophical Foundations For A Christian Worldview. Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 2003, 13.

9. Moreland, 57-60.

10. Groothius, D. Christian Apologetics Manifesto 2003. Retrieved November, 12th 2007 from Answers in Action. Available at http://www.answersinaction.org.

11. Geisler, N. Systematic Theology Vol 1. Bloomington, MINN: Bethany House Publishers 2003, 91.

12. Newport. J.P. Life’s Ultimate Questions: A Contemporary Philosophy of Religion. Dallas: Word Publishing. 1989, 4.

13. Craig, W.L. Reasonable Faith. Wheaten, ILL: Crossway Books. 1984.

14. Groothius, D. Christian Apologetics Manifesto.

15. W.E. Vine, Unger, Merrill F. and William White Jr. Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary Of Old And New Testament Words. Nashville: TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1985, 297.

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Tips in Picking a Worldview

Do you have worldview? 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:
Creation: 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?

The following tips here were adapted from the book Worlds Apart: A Handbook on Worldviews: By Norman L. Geisler and William D. Watkins

First of all, some advice on how not to pick a world view is in order. This common-sense advice can save a lot of time and headache, as well as heartache.

1. You cannot read everything: Life is not long enough to read everything on all these views. In fact, life is not long enough to read everything on even one of them, or even a significant fraction of the books on one view. You should read enough to understand the basic beliefs of each of them. Remember what a wise man of old once said: “My son, be warned: the writing of many books is endless, and excessive devotion to books is wearying to the body” (Eccles. 12:12). Sooner or later you must stop reading and start deciding.

2. Beauty is only skin deep: Most would agree that it is not wise to pick a spouse simply because he or she is physically attractive. Those who marry only for sex appeal sometimes find that even that loses its appeal after they discover that a wretched personality came with it.

“All that glitters is not gold” is also true of world views. You should not choose a world view simply because, on the surface, it appeals to you. Like sex, certain aspects of the world view may appeal to your desires but will not fulfill your total human needs.

3. What works is not always true: Simply because a belief system works does not make it true. Lies work very well for many people, but that does not make a lie true. Telling the boss that you’re sick might work at getting you the day off, but the result does not validate the lie. Expedience is not a test for truth. Surely we could not determine the truth (and innocence or guilt) in a court of law were the witnesses to take the stand and say, “I swear to tell the expedient, the whole expedient, and nothing but the expedient. So help me, future results!”

If a world and life view is true, it will work in life (if properly understood and applied), but simply because something works does not make it true. One cannot determine truth by desired results any more than he can pick the best golf ball on the basis of which one made the hole-in-one. Success does not necessarily mean truth. Even swindlers are successful. Truth is determined by reality, not simply results. The majority can be wrong. “All of my friends are doing it.” So what! Columbus ’s friends were wrong, too. The truth of a world view is not decided by majority vote. Peer pressure is strong, but if it is pressing in the wrong direction, it should be resisted. Any dead fish can float down stream.

It takes a live one to swim up stream. Do not fall prey to the reverse error either: “The fewer the truer.” “Everyone is wrong but me and thee, and sometimes I wonder about thee.” Something is not necessarily true because only a select “enlightened” few believe it. On the other hand, something is not necessarily false because most people reject it. Truth is “telling it like it is,” whether most people like it or not.

4. Difficulty should not prompt quick rejection: Experience reveals that what has value often comes with great difficulty. Ask any great athlete or artist for confirmation. All great Olympians and musicians practice long and hard for their rewards.It is true that some people fall into a fortune. However, many of them also fall out of it almost as easily. The fact that some discover the truth without difficulty does not mean that all will. It is a fact of life that truth is often discovered only after great questioning, conflict, and difficulty. Major court cases are sufficient testimony to this.

5. The unexplained is not necessarily unexplainable
: We should not reject a view merely because it is difficult to understand or conceive. There are probably mysteries in all world views. No scientist rejects nature because of anomalies. For example, it is difficult to imagine how light can be both waves and particles, as physicists claim. Nevertheless, most scientists accept this as a limitation in our understanding, not a contradiction in nature. The lack of ability to explain fully how all the pieces fit together is not adequate grounds for rejecting a world view. Were the truth told, all world views (being constructions of human minds) have this same problem. The important thing is that the view be able to show that all the pieces can satisfactorily fit together.

6. Remember that all worldviews can’t be true since they hold mutually exclusive views on many essential points: For example, atheism and theism cannot both be true, for atheism affirms that “God does not exist” and theism affirms that “God does exist.” Likewise, God cannot be both finite (finite godism) and infinite (theism). Nor can miracles be possible (theism) and impossible (deism, atheism). The opposite of truth is falsehood. Hence, if one view is true, then the opposite must be false, unless, of course, one claims that there is no such thing as truth. But the problem with such a statement is that it claims to be true, thereby defeating its own claim that nothing is true.

1. Newport. J.P. Life’s Ultimate Questions: A Contemporary Philosophy of Religion. Dallas: Word Publishing. 1989, 4.
2. Ibid.

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The Challenge of Idolatry in the Life of the Christian

Counterfeit Gods: The Empty Promises of Money, Sex, and Power, and the Only Hope That Matters  -     By: Timothy Keller<br /><br /><br /><br />

If you haven’t purchased Counterfeit Gods by Tim Keller, please do so. Keller defines idolatry as:

” It is anything more important to you than God, anything that absorbs your heart and imagination more than God, anything you seek to give you what only God can give. An idol is whatever you look at and say, in your heart of hearts, “If I have that, then I’ll feel my life has meaning, then I ‘ll know I have value, then I’ll feel significant and secure.” There are many ways to describe that kind of relationship to something, but perhaps the best one is worship.”

Biblically speaking, we probably know Israel always had challenges with idolatry. Remember:

  • Idols are the products of human hands.

  • They have no power either to hurt or to help those who worship them.

  • Idols are supposed to mediate a deity’s presence and power.

  • The first commandment is to have no gods before God ( Exod. 20:3 ; Deut. 5:7). In addition, the construction of any images ( Exod. 20:23) or even the mention of the names of gods ( Exod. 23:13).

  • It isn’t wrong to have other loves, ambitions, or loyalties. But they can’t come before God.

Keller discusses some of these idols. Keep in mind, I agree with him that the key is to not make God’s gifts to us into ‘substitutes’ for God. Here are some of them. Note: I have added some of my own points and a few of my own.

Idol of Materialism

  • Our identity is in what we have and don’t have. “I am what I own.”

  • We worship at the altar of materialism which feeds our need to build our egos through the acquisition of more “stuff.”

  • Where we live/our net worth.

  • Remember, the saying, ”He Who Dies With The Most Toys, Wins”?  This is incorrect. ”He Who Dies With The Most Toys” dies as well. You can’t take your possessions with you!“  Remember the text, “Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away.”- James 4:14

Approval Idolatry

  • I am loved and respected by _____.” (Approval Idolatry).

  • The need to gain constant approval from  others.

  • The constant need to be affirmed.

  • Our identity isn’t in what God thinks of or approves of. Instead, it is in what others think of us.

Career Idolatry

  • Millions of men—and increasingly more women can end up spending 60-70, even 80 hours a week working.

  • We fool ourselves into thinking we are doing it for them, to give them a better life. But the truth is we are doing it for ourselves, to increase our self-esteem by appearing more successful in the eyes of the world.

Relationship Idolatry

  • Mr. or Ms. “Right” is in love with me.” (Relationship Idolatry).

  • I need to be accepted by the opposite sex and I am looking for this person to meet all my needs/emotional, physical, and spiritual.

  • God is the only one who can meet all your needs.

Political Idolatry

  • We think the politics/politicians can fix all the problems of our culture.

  • We assume if we get the correct politicians in office, they can change the hearts of people.

  • The Gospel is the only thing that can change the human heart.

Image Idolatry

  • I have a particular kind of look or body image.” (Image idolatry) If I don’t have this image, people won’t accept me.

Idolatry of Happiness

  • All that God wants for us to be happy!

  • It is true God wants us to be happy. But he wants us to be satisfied and content in Him.

  • God is more interested in holiness than happiness.

So what is the cure for idolatry?

KNOW YOUR TRUE IDENTITY!

The power of the resurrection comes to us everyday in Christ.. As Paul says in Galatians 2:19-20, “For through the law I died to the law, that I might live for God. I have been crucified with Christ; yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me; insofar as I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God who has loved me and given himself up for me.” Our true identity is in the one who died and rose again on our behalf. This identity isn’t dependent on other’s opinions and it isn’t built on any conditions. And it can’t be changed.  Mediate and chew on this truth daily

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Does the Bible Utilize One Type of Apologetic Methodology?

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Note: Thanks to No Blind Faith.com for the logo here.

Apologists can tend to be quite rigid when it come to apologetic methodology. We sometimes argue a lot over which form of apologetics is the most effective model for reaching the world for the Christian faith. The reality is when we glance into the Scriptures, there isn’t one form of apologetic methodology. So what kind of apologetics do we see in the Bible?

Evidentalism: It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that the apostles utilized an evidential model by appealing to prophecy and the resurrection as the basis for the evidence of Jesus’ Messiahship (Acts 2:14-32-39; 3:6-16, 4:8-14; 17:1-4; 26:26; 1 Cor. 15:1-8). F.F. Bruce says the primary way that the apostles established the fact that Jesus was the fulfillment of the promises of the Old Testament Messianic Promises was their appeal to prophecy and miracles (1)

Obviously the Apostles were speaking to Jewish theists (many modern Jewish people are not theists) and we need to understand the hermeneutics of messianic prophecy. But the point is that they did appeal to an evidential model.

Prophecy as a Verification Test

Also, when it comes to the history of Israel, God would continually speak through prophets to correct the problem of His people turning away from him towards false gods/nature deities. There are texts that support the God of Israel from other nature deities: For example:

“I am the Lord; that is my name! I will not yield my glory to another or my praise to idols. See, the former things have taken place, and new things I declare; before they spring into being I announce them to you.”-Isaiah 42:8-9

We see the following:

1. God will demonstrate his true omniscience by demonstrating he is the one talking.
2. He will do so by declaring in advance what the course of future history will hold.
3. This provides a verification test as to who the true God is and that such a writing is from him. (2)

God also challenged Israel’s ‘gods’ to do the same:

“Present your case,” says the Lord. “Set forth your arguments,” says Jacob’s King. “Tell us, you idols, what is going to happen. Tell us what the former things were, so that we may consider them and know their final outcome. Or declare to us the things to come, tell us what the future holds, so we may know that you are gods. Do something, whether good or bad, so that we will be dismayed and filled with fear. But you are less than nothing and your works are utterly worthless; whoever chooses you is detestable.”- Isaiah 41:21-24

To see more on this, see here:

There seems to be a pattern of how God works in the history of Israel. Every time he is doing something new in their midst, he confirmed what he was doing through a prophet. Signs are used to provide evidence for people to believe the message of God through a prophet of God. We see this is an important feature with Moses and Jesus:

1. God says to Moses, “I will be with you. And this will be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you” (Exod. 3:12).
2. When Moses asks God, “What if they do not believe me or listen to me?” the Lord gives Moses two “signs”: his rod turns into a snake (Exod. 4:3) and his hand becomes leprous (Exod. 4:1–7).
3. Moses “performed the signs before the people, and they believed; … they bowed down and worshiped” (Exod. 4:30–31).

“Sign”(sēmeion) is used seventy-seven times (forty-eight times in the Gospels). Remember that the prophet Isaiah spoke of a time where miraculous deeds would be the sign of both the spiritual and physical deliverance of Israel (Isa.26: 19; 29:18-19; 35:5-6; 42:18; 61:1). Also:

1. The word “sign” is reserved for what we would call a miracle.

2. “Sign” is also used of the most significant miracle in the New Testament, the resurrection of Jesus from the grave.

3. Jesus repeated this prediction of his resurrection when he was asked for a sign (Matt. 16:1, 4). Not only was the resurrection a miracle, but it was a miracle that Jesus predicted (Matt. 12:40; 16:21; 20:19; John 2:19).

4. Nicodemus said of Jesus “We know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him” (John 3:2).

5.“Jesus the Nazarene was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God.

What about Jesus?

While Jesus appealed to several methods, he most certainly utilized an evidential model. Jesus recounted the distinctive features of His ministry: “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor. Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me.” (Matt. 11:4-6; see also Luke 7:22).

Jesus’ works of healing and teaching are meant to serve as positive evidence of His messianic identity, because they fulfill the messianic predictions of the Hebrew Scriptures. What Jesus claimed is this:

1. If one does certain kinds of actions (the acts cited above), then one is the Messiah.
2. I am doing those kinds of actions.
3. Therefore, I am the Messiah.

We see in other Scriptures that Jesus continually appeals to His “works” as proof of His Messiahship (John 7:3, 21; 9:3, 4; 10:25, 32, 37, 38, 14:10, 11, 12, 15:24). These Scriptures appeal to the individual works of Jesus. The miracles “bear witness’” that He is the Messiah.

Natural Theology

Paul says that God’s existence and attributes can be “clearly seen” (Romans 1:18-20) since they have been “shown” to the unbelieving world through “the things that are made” (nature). Notice that Paul never posits that we can view God as a material object. But he does say that people should be able to look at the effects in the world and infer that there is a Creator. We should be able to look at the natural world and see some evidence for a Creator.

So what has been made (i.e., designed, created)? The laws of nature? The existence and fine tuning of the universe? The Genetic Code? Or, does nature and chance act on their own without any agency?

Does the Bible say people already have some awareness of the knowledge of God?

Even though there are cases for evidentialism throughout the Bible, do we see any case for a presuppositional approach? The answer is yes. But as I just demonstrated, it is not the only model.

“The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. (Rom.1:18-20).

According to Romans Ch1:18, the word “suppress,” means “to consciously dismiss in the mind,”to “hold down”, or to “hold back by force or to dismiss.”As much as humans try to suppress the truth of God’s existence, the human mind is still aware of their moral accountability to Him. In relation to this passage, Paul says God’s revelation says is not hidden or concealed. The reason this revelation is clear is because God shows it to him. In other words, God makes knowledge of Himself available to man! The creation gives a cognitive knowledge of God’s existence but not saving knowledge. However, according to Romans 1:18-21, man is not left in ignorance about God.

Former atheist J. Budziszewski says the following about the Romans passage:

I am not at present concerned to explore Paul’s general claim that those who deny the Creator are wicked but only his more particular claim that they are intellectually dishonest. Notice that he does not criticize nonbelievers because they do not know about God but ought to. Rather, he criticizes them because they do know about God but pretend to themselves that they don’t. According to his account, we are not ignorant of God’s reality at all. Rather, we “suppress” it; to translate differently, we “hold it down.” With all our strength we try not to know it, even though we can’t help knowing it; with one part of our minds we do know it, while with another we say, “I know no such thing.” From the biblical point of view, then, the reason it is so difficult to argue with an atheist—as I once was—is that he is not being honest with himself. He knows there is a God, but he tells himself that he doesn’t. How can a person explain how he reached new first principles? By what route could he have arrived at them? To what deeper considerations could he have appealed? If the biblical account is true, then it would seem that no one really arrives at new first principles; a person only seems to arrive at them. The atheist does not lack true first principles; they are in his knowledge already, though suppressed. The convert from atheism did not acquire them; rather, things he knew all along were unearthed. (3)

So can we tell people “According to the Bible, you already know God and you are suppressing the truth?” You can try this approach. Or, for that matter you can try the entire presuppositional approach and tell people they can’t make sense of reality without God as a starting point. But expect some challenges to this. I prefer to use abduction and point out that theism is a better explanation for what we observe than naturalism. Paul Copan does something similar to this right here.

Conclusion:

I once read Five Views On Apologetics. Most of the authors admitted we should allow a thousand apologetic methods to flourish and not to dogmatic about using one apologetic model. This is the approach I have taken over the years. I hope you will as well.

Sources:

1. F.F. Bruce, A Defense of the Gospel in the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1988), 74-75.).
2. Dennis McCallum, Discovering God: Exploring The Possibilities of Faith (Columbus, Ohio: New Paradigm Publishing, 2011), 10-13.
3. N. L. Geisler and Paul K. Hoffman. Why I Am A Christian. Leading Thinkers Explain Why They Believe. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House. 2001, 49

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Justice, Morality, and Human Significance: Conversation Starters with Protesters

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How can we talk to people in the midst of all the racial tension in our country.?  Just yesterday, while in a part of downtown Columbus, Ohio (see my display here), I saw two young girls with a sign that said “justice.” I asked them three things: “Why” do they care so much about justice and where does their concept of justice come from? “Why” do people matter so much? And, “why” do they feel so morally obligated to protest and fight for how humans should be treated?  Yes, they hadn’t thought much about it and by the end of the discussion I asked them “Don’t you think you should know “why” you are out protesting for justice? One thing is for sure: the concern over such a topic demonstrates that people live as if they care about justice, equality, and human rights. I plan on using this approach with many others.  Where am I going with this?

 

Why do people matter so much?

Given people are spending their entire lives fighting for what they consider to be inequality, justice and human rights. But, why do humans matter so much if all of reality is reducible to matter, chance, and the laws of nature? Biological reductionism, metaphysical materialism, and psychological behaviorism say that impersonal, physical, and valueless processes cause valuable, rights-bearing persons to be.Humans, therefore, can assign value to fellow humans by sheer choice. However, this assignment of value to human life is subjective, not objective. Assigning value to people based on personal choice leads us to ask, “What if someone doesn’t think a group of people are not valuable?” Rights, it seems, are linked to personhood. The Bible, for example, says that humans are made in the likeness and image of God, and that they are therefore intrinsically valuable. Rights come by virtue of who human beings are by nature, as opposed to function, productivity, or ‘usefulness.’ The two girls that I spoke to fell into some kind of postmodern individualism which says the grounding for human significance is based on subjectivism. In this outlook, significance is a matter of personal preference or is conferred by some external authority such as the state. This is why I asked them the following question: “What if Hitler doesn’t think people matter?” Maybe that is just his opinion?

 

Why are you morally obligated to fight for justice?

What is the justification for our moral knowledge? If God exists, then objective moral values are valid, independent of our opinions or preferences. The fact that we think we are morally obligated to speak out as to why many injustices are morally wrong establishes this point: we do believe in objective moral truths. Most of these protestors invest in activities that promote the kind of world they want. Many will admit they want to spend time making the world a better place. But who gets to define what “better” is? Most likely, people want a world of justice, equality, and for humans to be viewed with dignity and respect. But how do we know what the world should look like unless we have some standard as to what is just and unjust? People who fight for justice know how things ought to be, and they assume a standard of justice and goodness in order to bring to fruition their preconceived notions of a just, fair, and equitable society. On a secular worldview however, things happen either by “blind, pitiless chance” as Richard Dawkins says, or by the laws of nature. On this line of thinking, there is no grand plan or purpose behind the evil and injustice we observe. If there is no God, evil is just a social construct, and merely an illusion. I am asking these people the following: what is the grounding for the following three things?

Moral Values: are what matter to us (love, justice, mercy,  justice). They are what motivate our behavior. They ground our  judgments about what is good or bad, desirable or undesirable.

Moral Duties: indicates an oughtness of action; whether an act is obligatory. ‘’I shouldn’t do that, or you ought to do that.”

Moral Accountability: What difference does it make to you if  you just go ahead and disregard your moral obligations to  whomever?

I know many of us may say “That’s too much to think about?” My response:  I am happy to walk people through it.  This is a great opportunity to share how the Biblical worldview grounds the need for justice, morality and why  humans matter.

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Interview with Dr. Darrell Bock, Dallas Seminary

 

Here is our weekly apologetics meeting clip. Here, we interview Dr. Darrell Bock, professor of New Testament at Dallas Seminary.

I have known Dr. Bock for a while and he is very interested  in cultural engagement.  Dr. Bock has earned recognition as a Humboldt Scholar (Tübingen University in Germany), is the author of over 40 books, including well-regarded commentaries on Luke and Acts and studies of the historical Jesus, and work in cultural engagement as host of the seminary’s Table Podcasts. He was president of the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS) for 2000–2001, is a consulting editor for Christianity Today, and serves on the boards of Wheaton College and Chosen People Ministries. His articles appear in leading publications. He is often an expert for the media on NT issues. Dr. Bock has been a New York Times best-selling author in nonfiction and is elder emeritus at Trinity Fellowship Church in Dallas. When traveling overseas, he will tune into the current game involving his favorite teams from Houston—live—even in the wee hours of the morning. Married for over 40 years to Sally, he is a proud father of two daughters and a son and is also a grandfather.

We will discuss the deity of Jesus with specific emphasis on the Son of Man topic

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