Where I Am and Where I’m Going

Life consists of seasons. The book of Ecclesiastes reminds us that there is a time and a season for everything that happens under the sun. It seems like this is never more of a reality than when you are in college. This is the last semester of my senior year. As I approach a mere fifty days until I become an official alumnus, I have been busier than ever. Between class projects, research, and studying for my oral graduation exams, my plate has been a little too full to write as often as before. I do want to apologize to my readers for any inconvenience that may have caused. Now that I have finished orals (praise The Lord!) I am now in a position to begin writing again. In this update, I want to accomplish two things: ask you to continue praying for me, and to give you an opportunity to submit some input on the blog. If you have any questions you feel you lack answers to, or a topic special to you, I would love to hear about it, and may consider writing about it in the near future. Currently, I am considering taking up a series on the resurrection of Jesus, but again am open to suggestion. Thanks for your patience! God bless!

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Debate, Darwin, and the Denver Broncos

Anybody who has any sort of interest in sports was massively disappointed this last Sunday as the Super Bowl came to an end. Not only did the Denver Broncos lose the coveted Super Bowl Championship trophy: the lost it badly. In fact, according to ESPN.com, this was the third worst Super Bowl defeat in football history (see Note 1). One of the things that struck me about the game was the optimistic attitude displayed by Broncos fans going into the second half. “We still have the second half! We can still win this!” These were the chants given by the loyal fans. It must have made defeat all the more crushing.

As I watched the much anticipated debate over Evolution between Ken Ham (founder of Answers in Genesis) and Bill Nye (host of Bill Nye the Science Guy), I couldn’t help but feel much like Broncos fans must have felt. My hopes were high, I started out optimistic, but I was soon let down. In fact, by the time I reached the end of the debate, I had concluded that both debaters had lost. It was a let down. Originally, I had intended to post a summary of the debate including its format, high points, and ideas for consideration, but I feel like J.W Wartick has done that much more aptly on his blog. His article can be viewed at jwwartick.com. Instead, I want to offer some thoughts about what I thought was good about this debate, and what I thought went wrong.

Despite my disappointment with the debate overall, there were a couple of items that I felt went well. First, this debate has succeeded at bringing this topic (evolution) to the mind of the average American. Conservative figures estimate that about 750,000 people watched the debate online. That is a massive amount of exposure for a discussion on evolution and creation. I am glad at the news of this turn out. People need to be discussing this issue, and exploring the facts. Even if the debate didn’t, in my opinion, offer a wealth of material to convince anyone on either side, it has succeeded in getting people thinking, and for that I am thankful. Second, both sides made some good points. What I particularly liked about Ken Ham’s opening statement was the distinction he drew between observational science and historical science (forensic science), even if it is rhetorical. Ham also did a good job of defining his terminology. This was perhaps his shining moment in the debate. So it would be wrong to say that there was nothing to be gained from the debate.

Having sat through the entire discussion, it is hard for me to pick out a place where this debate went wrong. The most general thought I can provide is that this debate was a result of the apologetic method used by Ken Ham: presuppositional apologetics. His method dictates that the Bible is the starting point and sole source of his truth, and that was the statement he kept affirming over and over throughout the debate. As great as it is that he takes the Word of God seriously, presuppositional apologetics are grossly ineffective against those who reject the Bible. Second, I didn’t feel like either really addressed the scientific evidences cited by the other debater. This was a major weakness. The fact that neither dealt with the others objections left the debate in a deadlock: swinging back and forth between, “I believe the Bible,” and, “I believe in science.” This deadlock made the debate feel as though it went on and on without going anywhere.

Even with the failures of last night, I do not feel that, as a creationist, I need to run, hide, and lick my wounds. If nothing else, people are interested in this issue again. It is my hope that this debate will spark a thoughtful and informed dialogue between experts in this field that will open the eyes of the world to the truth of the Christian faith.

Notes:

1. “Seahawks Dominate with All Around Effort,” ESPN, February 5, 2014, accessed February 5, 2014, http://espn.go.com/blog/statsinfo/post/_/id/84027/seahawks-dominate-with-all-around-effort.

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Posted in General Apologetics

From Death to Resurrection: Where Did Jesus Go When He Died (Part 2 of 2)

Freshman year was coming to an end. I had survived the grueling test of being thrown into the college world. As the year came to a close, I sat in my first Bible Doctrines class, eager to finish and get into the summer. On one of the last days of the class, we had a fairly brief lecture that I will never forget. The lecture was entitled: The Day God Died. Kind of an odd title, and a little unexpected coming from a Christian college. The thrust of the lecture was a discussion on where Jesus went after he died on the cross. At the time, I thought very little about the question: everyone here agreed with the professor right? Was I in for an eye-opener. That same night, I came out into the lobby of my dorm to find a whole group of people in heated debate. Tempers really began to flair as they argued over the very subject at hand: Where did Jesus go when He died? The fact that this is a question over which people, myself included, are prone to becoming so passionate leads me to desire to be very careful here. I don’t claim to have all of the answers when it comes to theology. People who are much more intelligent than I am, people from all across the theological spectrum, have disagreed with me. Nor do I expect that this one brief article on one small blog will convince everyone. What I do want to do is this: I want to be faithful to the Scriptures. I am thoroughly convinced that the Scripture is the final authority in all matters of faith and practice. So when answering the (theological) question of where Jesus went when He died, I want to attempt to do so from a sola scriptura standpoint. With that in mind, I will examine two texts that come up in most discussions of where Jesus went during his interment in the tomb.

The first text, and one that I am confronted with the most often is Acts 2:27. The setting in this text is Peter’s sermon on the day of Pentecost. At this high point in the discussion, Peter is at a place where he is defending the resurrection of Jesus. The text reads: “Because thou wilt not leave my soul in hell, neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption.” If that is all we had, it would seem to settle the question: Jesus went to hell. However, there is more to this text than first meets the eye. Peter is actually quoting from the Old Testament. Specifically, he is quoting David in Psalm 16:10. This particular text is, like much of prophecy, a double-reference text. This simply means that it refers both to David and to the person it is prophetic of: in this case Jesus. So whatever this text means, it is true of both David and Jesus. If this text is saying that Jesus went to hell, it is also saying that David went to hell. There is one further reason I think we can reject the idea that Jesus went to hell in this text. The Greek word Peter uses here is hades (Gk. ηδες). This is an interesting word in that it does not mean hell. The idea of the the word is similar to the Hebrew word shᵉol (the word David used in Ps. 16:10). This means that hades is the place where both the good, and the evil go when they die. It contained both paradise and hell. An illustration of this is found in Lk. 16. So the claim that Jesus went to hell based on this text is unsubstantiated, due to the fact that the text is not perfectly clear. However, it is safe to assume that it doesn’t mean that Jesus went to hell, because that would also mean David is in hell: a claim most would not be willing to make.

The second, and final, text that I would like to address is 1 Peter 3:18-19, which reads, “For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit: By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison;”. In part, what makes this text so interesting is the fact that it is so weird. It just isn’t super clear what the author is getting at. By way of brief treatment, there is one interpretation that bases itself on the idea that hades contained, at one time, the resting place of the good and the evil. This is the commonly accepted interpretation. It holds that, during his time in the tomb, Jesus’s spirit (referenced in vs. 19) went down to hades (this is according to Eph. 4:8-10). During his time there, in Abrahams bosom (Lk. 16), he declared (the meaning of the Greek word for preach) across the gulf to the spirits held in hell that he had won his victory on the cross. The work of salvation was complete and he was there to declare it, and to lead those in Abraham’s bosom out and bring them to heaven. There is a lot of basis in the text for this, particularly the cross references to the Ephesians text, coupled with the description of hades given by Jesus himself in Luke 16. This is the most plausible interpretation.

In conclusion, there is no compelling scriptural evidence that should lead one to conclude that Jesus went to hell. In fact, the opposite is true. There is plenty of evidence in the New Testament that would indicate that Jesus went to hades rather than hell, and there spent his three days leading captivity captive. I suppose though that the strongest support we have for the fact that Jesus didn’t suffer in hell comes from his own words to the thief on the cross in Luke 23:43, “…Today, thou shalt be with me in paradise.” Hell has been called many things, but paradise is not one of them.

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Posted in Theology

From The Death to Resurrection: Where Did Jesus Go When He Died? (Part 1 of 2)

Theology matters. A lot. Theology is more than the dogmas of one particular denomination; and, although it is often dogmatic, it is far more expansive than that. Theology is what we believe about God. Our theology shapes how we view the world around us, and how we relate to the divine. So whenever, as apologists, we speak of defending the faith, we must be careful not to neglect good, robust theology. It is in the context of defending the orthodox Christian position that I want to address a particular theological error that I have run into with increasing frequency. There is a theological position which states that, during the three days in which Christ was in the tomb, his soul was suffering in hell. In short Jesus went to hell. Can we really safely hold to a view like that? Is there even any justification for holding such a position? In this article, I will first address a phrase from the Apostle’s Creed which some have taken to mean Christ went to hell. Then, in part 2, I will follow up by addressing some of the main “problem-texts” that inevitably arise in a discussion like this.

The Apostles Creed (Latin: Symbolum Apostolicum) appears near the end of the second century, and again in a letter written by Ambrose, the Bishop of Milan. It was intended for use as a formulation of basic Christian doctrines that could be taught to new converts, (see note 1). The creed was probably written in Latin, but an early Greek version of the creed exists from about this time. This is the version I will address here. The phrase which may suggest a belief that Jesus went to hell is this: “he descended into hell.” Now, taken at face value, this would be enough to indicate that early Christians believed in Christ’s suffering in hell. However, on closer inspection this is not so clear. When read in Greek the text says: κατελθοντα εις τα κατω΄τατα. A literal rendering of this clause in English reads: “He went beneath,” or “he went to the downward parts.” This phrase is extremely unclear; but, as we will see later, has more in common with an interpretation different than one in which Jesus went to hell. In addition, even if this were to suggest that Jesus went to hell, we have evidence that indicates that this particular statement was added to the creed in the fifth century, (see note 2).

So an appeal to the Apostle’s Creed to support this view is dubious at best. To settle the issue with any sort of Theological clarity, we must build our case by addressing the various problem texts and synthesizing an exegetically sound interpretation. This will be the objective of part 2.

Notes:

1) “Apostles’ Creed – Historical Note,” Creeds of Christendom, January 16, 2014, accessed January 16, 2014, http://www.creeds.net/ancient/Apostles_Intro.htm.

2) The Constitution of the Presbyterian Church, Part 1, Book of Confessions (Louisville, KY: Geneva Press, n.d.), 1.

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Posted in Theology

Alvin Plantinga’s Modal Ontological Argument

In this video, the Modal Ontological Argument developed by Alvin Plantinga in his work, The Nature of Necessity, is explained in easy to understand terms. This video is used courtesy of Inspiring Philosophy. Subscribe to his YouTube channel at: http://www.youtube.com/user/InspiringPhilosophy?feature=watch

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Book Review: Killing Jesus by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard

It is hard to overstate the impact of the life of Jesus Christ. Regardless of one’s personal beliefs about him, his enduring impact has left an indelible effect on the course of human history. Doubtless, more books have been written about the life of this one preacher from ancient Palestine than any other man. It is one such book, Killing Jesus by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard, that I would like to consider here. I will present its successes followed by what I perceive as its failures.

I found Killing Jesus to be a genuinely interesting book. It is brief, and because of this it reads fairly quickly. One of the greatest strengths of this work was its consistent application of secular history to the Jesus story. Beginning with Herod the Great, encompassing Julius Caesar, and ending in a summary of the lives of those involved in the Jesus story after the resurrection, relevant stories from history are carefully selected in such a way as to make sense of the world in which Jesus lived. I found this particularly insightful. By understanding the attitudes and actions of those historical figures who encountered Jesus, we begin to have a grasp of why they acted, or reacted, in the manner they did. O’Reilly’s accounting of these stories served to place the story of Christ into a broader Roman context. This was the books greatest strength.

Despite such a glowing success for the authors, I found several glaring errors that were frankly the result of unbalanced scholarship. To begin with, O’Reilly opens the book on page 1 by saying, “Of course we have the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and Joh, but they sometimes appear contradictory and were written from a spiritual point of view rather than as a historical chronicling of Jesus’s life.” The problem with this claim is that it is categorically untrue. In fact, the four gospels are written in the genre of Roman biography. The writers are so careful with their historical details that New Testament scholar F.F Bruce quotes Sir William Ramsey as saying, “Luke’s history is unsurpassed in respect of its trustworthiness. Luke is an historian of the first rank…He should be placed along with the very greatest of historians,” (Bruce 1981, 90-91). The accuracy of the gospel writers has led a majority of scholars to place them in the category of biography. As far as the claim of contradictory accounting goes Dr. Norman Geisler explains that, “divergent details actually strengthen the case that these are eyewitness accounts.” (Geisler and Turek 2004, 284). For more information on this, one should consult Dr. Geisler’s work I Don’t Have Enough Faith To Be An Atheist. So O’Reilly was wrong. These are trustworthy biographies.

Another shocking historical failure came when the authors asserted the the Philistines were the ones who captured the Northern Kingdom of Israel, when in fact it was conquered by the Assyrians in 722 B.C. This is a minor, yet obvious detail that was apparently overlooked in research. In addition to these criticism, I would like to point out that there are isolated instances in the work where it appears that the authors tried to maintain a level of modern political correctness. The instance I have in mind is from an explanatory footnote on page 147. Here the authors state, “Women often played pivotal roles in Jewish society……Women in Jesus’s time were considered equal to men….”. This claim is dubious at best, and directly contradicted by historians of the time. First century Jewish historian Flavius Josephus says in his work The Antiquities of the Jews 4.8.15, “But let not the testimony of women be admitted, on account of the levity and boldness of their sex.” What Josephus meant to say is that the testimony of women was considered inadmissible in court. Strangely, O’Reilly cites Josephus throughout the work, so I find it very odd that he was willing to make a straightforward claim about the role of women without even so much as a fact check with Josephus. In fact, the lack of citation is a problem throughout the book. There were several moments during my reading that I wished O’Reilly would have at least hinted at a source I could check his claims by. The lack of citation is a admittedly his greatest weakness.

All in all Killing Jesus is a worthwhile read. The authors were fairly accurate, despite some discrepancy. It’s reader friendly style and dramatic tone make the story come alive within its context. My only caution is that the reader take O’Reilly with a grain of salt. Happy reading!

Cited Sources

Bruce, F.F. 1981. The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable? Downers Grove, Ills.: InterVarsity Press.

Geisler, Norman, and Frank Turek. 2004. I Don’t Have Enough Faith To Be An Atheist. Wheaton, Ills.: Crossway.

Josephus, Flavius. 2013. The Antiquities of the Jews: Complete and Unabridged. N.p.: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.

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Posted in Book Reviews

Book Review: God or Godless? by John Loftus and Randal Rauser

Does God exist? On the surface of it all, the question sounds fairly simple. Yet in reality, it is perhaps the deepest, most important question that any of us can ever answer. It has far reaching effects, and should be considered with great interest. When it comes to theism, and Christian theism in particular, there are an abundance of good resources available to the seeker. That is where the book God or Godless?  by John Loftus and Randal Rauser shines. It provides a good resource with a fresh twist. The book is written in an informal debate style. With each chapter a new premise is introduced. Then each author has the chance to present their position, a brief rebuttal to each other, and a paragraph of closing remarks. This debate style keeps the discussion deep and yet readable. Through the course of their debate, the authors considered 20 premises that are rarely discussed in most formal debates; and each author had chapters in which they argued very strongly.

Dr Rauser, the associate professor of historical theology at Taylor Seminary, had several chapters in this debate in which he shone very brightly. When discussing the premises “If there is no God, then life has no meaning,” “If there is no God, then everything is permitted,” and “The biblical God is ignorant about science.” In these chapters, Dr. Rauser excelled at giving coherent and legitimate arguments in defense of the faith. In my opinion, the chapter in which Dr. Rauser contends that if God doesn’t exist, then there is no meaning was his most powerful and well articulated case for theism. Because purpose is only a reality when there is transcendent grounds for that purpose, any “purpose” that might exist in an atheistic universe is ultimately subjective. Mr. Loftus’s only answer is that purpose is found in whatever makes a person happy. Ultimately subjective hedonism is the result of the atheistic view on this point. This is only one illustration of Dr. Rauser’s ability to expose the end result of an atheistic worldview that he demonstrates throughout the book.

That being said, there were a few areas in which I felt like Dr. Rauser was weak. The weaknesses of the book is particularly felt in Dr. Rauser’s willingness to concede a lot of ground to Mr. Loftus. This is seen primarily in the chapter “The Biblical Concept of God Evolved from Polytheism to Monotheism.” In this chapter, Loftus argued that the Pentateuch was written much later, during the time of Josiah. Because of this, the Pentateuch’s statements that there is only one God can not be taken as a reflection of early Israel. He argues that as Josiah reformed Israel from idol worship to worship of Yahweh only, the Pentateuch was written to reflect this new tradition of monotheism, meaning that Israelite religion evolved from polytheism to monotheism. Rather than really contending this, Dr. Rauser instead postulated that Biblical revelation has been progressive as God more fully revealed himself to his people. He allowed them to worship him as supreme above other gods for a time until he finally revealed that he is the only true God. This is a major concession; especially considering the fact that there are good reasons to believe that the Pentateuch was indeed written early by Moses. Loftus’s arguments hinge on a late date for the Pentateuch. So this concession was a major weakness.

Not only did Dr. Rauser present a strong case that was argued effectively, but Mr. Loftus argued well in some portions of the book. One of Loftus’s greatest strengths throughout the book is his total commitment to the atheistic worldview. He is honest enough to admit the less than desirable end of atheism in a few chapters. For instance, he willingly admits that if there is no God, then there is no objective meaning to life. He chooses to argue that the only meaning there is is the meaning we give to life. He frankly admits hedonism. In addition to honesty about atheisms end in many places, Mr. Loftus argued strongly in two chapters: “The Biblical God Commanded Genocide,” and “If There Is No God, Then We Don’t Know Anything.” So strong argument and commitment to atheism are his strengths.

But as a Christian, I can’t help but notice the overall weakness with which Loftus presents his total case. Despite his willingness to admit some of the less than favorable results of atheism, his total argument very weak. Despite all of the ranting about “genocide” and atheistic morality his argument against God is really only based on one issue “the problem of evil.” Everything else creates a purely rhetorical smokescreen for this one problem. He concludes the book by saying that the sufferings of the world create a case against an omnibenevolent God. But what Loftus fails to realize is that, in an atheistic world, there is no way to say that anything AT ALL is objectively evil. Objective moral values depend on there being a transcendent standard by which good and evil are measured. For there to be evil, there must be a contrasting good by which we know it. For there to be good, there must be an objective standard by which we measure good and evil. For there to be objective moral law, there must be a moral law giver (i.e God). The whole problem of evil fails to disprove God’s existence since a transcendent God is needed to support the idea of objective evil. So Loftus’s total argument is a failure.

All in all this book is a very stimulating a helpful read. The arguments that Dr. Rauser provides are brief and well thought out. Because of this, God of Godless? stands as a helpful resource for the apologist to read and consider.

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Posted in Book Reviews
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