Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Trippin' 'Round the 'Sphere - 3/30 Edition

Ah...the freedom of not having a series to work! We'll see how long it lasts. I don't have any pressing issues, but will take my time getting to a decision.
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Christian Carnival is up at Weapons of Mass Distraction. This week brought 63 entries, and while I haven't gotten through them all yet, I so far have enjoyed The Doctor is In's view of the three men crucified circa 2,000 years in the past, and ireneQ's post talking about her church's new building project. Since my church is in the midst of such a project, this one hits close to home.
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Okay, a short trip today. I had no 'net connection for much of the day, and now have to head off towards Awana to help teach some wonderful kids the joy of God's word. Have a good evening, and catch you tomorrow (God willing!)

God bless!

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Biblical Reliability - I Sum Up

Okay, kudos to whomever identifies the movie alluded to in the post title. It's one of my favorite romantic comedies (shhhh...don't blow my "tough guy" image by spreading around the notion that I like romantic comedies.)

Over lo these many days I've laid out a number of arguments I hope show that believing the Bible is historically true is a rational position to hold. I have not talked much about the theological accuracy of scripture, though I think most readers would know where I stand. That is a discussion for a different day, although the historicity and reliability certainly play a part there as well. Nor am I discounting the need for faith. Even interpreting the evidence as I have done is a matter of some faith - I have to take the words of ancient authors for things I have not myself seen.

Finally, then, I'd like to "sum up" by touching on an area where application of the rational belief that the Bible is historically accurate is vital: the believability of the historical event known as the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Christianity is a religion built around one event, without which the sect of Jesus' followers would have drifted into obscurity. That one event, though, explains very well how a bunch of men who hid immediately following Jesus' crucifixion into a bold brotherhood who founded the church in the face of persecution and martyrdom. Without the resurrection, there is no reason to hold to Christianity. Paul himself says this in I Corinthians: Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.
But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.


There are easier religions, and a few without the historical baggage of events like the inquisition, the crusades and the Salem witch trials (overhyped as they may be by Christianity's critics, these were certainly times of atrocious behavior by those claiming our Lord's name.) It is also a religion that relies on a promise, one which cannot be honored if the resurrection did not happen. If Jesus is not alive, we have no hope of Heaven no matter what we believe in this life. We are really to be pitied more than all men.

But the Bible shows evidence of being a historically accurate book. You do not need to rely on faith despite a lack of evidence. Rather, you can rely on the truth of the Bible through faith and reason. The Bible is trustworthy in other matters of history, ergo it is not a stretch to believe it accurate in this most important matter. Christ is risen, and this is the reason for our hope. Not that He was a man who died, yet left a legacy of nice teachings and alleged miracles. No, He died, yet was raised so that we may live forever through His atoning work on the cross. You need not fear a need to check your brain at the door to come to this conclusion.

Trippin' 'Round the 'Sphere - 3/29 Edition

Take 3...third time I've had to retype this. I'm beginning to see why others are thinking about getting out of Blogger. Commentary is much shorter on this version than the first two. Plus I'm staging it in Notepad so I can just copy/paste instead of retyping.
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RazorsKiss has the new Vox Apologia up. The topic is a good one, IMO: The Ontological Argument: Strengths and Weaknesses. I'm really looking forward to the entries.
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Nick Queen has his showcase of new Christian blogs up. First time I've actually read one of the blogs, but am looking forward to reading two that I've not yet read.
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Christian Carnival will be hosted at Weapons of Mass Distraction this week.
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Rev-ed reminds us that we need to live as though Jesus is actually alive. It's too easy to pay this concept lip service instead of living it out.
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Catez at Allthings2all posted, for Easter, an interesting look at the crucifixion from the perspective of a modern newsie.
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Lennie has posted another symposium at XBIP, which touches on the Schiavo case.
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I've seen this truck around town. And no, we should never forget. (H/T: The Sheep's Crib for the reminder.)
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I like FiveChildren's "What I'm Listenting to..." list. Very good taste. Pretty good blog too...
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The LORD My Dad posts an interesting analogy. Never thought of myself in quite these terms before; it's just sad that I probably disappoing my Heavenly Father more often than my cats frustrate me. I take comfort, too, that He takes better care of me than I do my cats - who I do feed and care for daily.
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Eldest daughter was charming this weekend. Most darling wife was compassionate as ever, and when I was sick on Friday gave me some needed rest by taking the two girls to an eatery for dinner. Eldest liked her sandwich so much she asked for another. Surprised at the unusually large appetite of our soon-to-be-five-year-old, she said,
"you're going to make your tummy all stretchy." To which Eldest replied, "like Daddy's?"

The diet starts tomorrow.

Eldest also wanted to plant sesame seeds so sandwiches would grow. If only it worked that way.

(BTW, no editing since it's mid-60s in Minnesota, and I need to get out for a bit - alert me to broken links plz...not sure how well the staging worked.)

God bless!

Monday, March 28, 2005

Apologies All Around...

...but I took ill Friday w/nary the energy to get off the couch, let alone find my way to the computer to finish my series. Am catching up on stuff today (illness + hosting Easter + home shelving breakage = busy Monday) and so may not get to this today - but I might. If not, I'll be back tomorrow.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Maundy Thursday Reflections

Someone recently told me I was "too moral" to do something. If you want to stop the average Christian's heart for a beat, tell them that. It scares me that people might believe I am "too moral." If only people knew...
* * *

I was sitting in church tonight, partaking of communion and reflecting on many things. First and foremost, I was humbled that God Himself came down to save me from myself. By God's standard - absolute perfection - there is no way I can measure up. God never found me "too moral." God found me a rebel, a traitor to the cause, a sinner. I have sinned and fallen short.

Most reasonable people believe moral crimes, sin, must be punished. And indeed, the punishment from a perfectly just God is steep: eternal separation from God. But for some reason, God is merciful and loving and kind. He offered a way out of our punishment, and that way out is remembered this week. Jesus died so that I do not have to spend eternity away from God. Jesus was raised so death would be defeated.

God isn't looking to condemn us, or send people to Hell. He is looking to offer us salvation from ourselves. We chose something other than Him, He chose to pursue us and offer us Grace. The loving God isn't sending us anywhere: He is lovingly trying to call us back from where we are freely, foolishly going.

I contemplated this in light of what's going on today. Time is running out for Terri Schiavo. She will never again taste communion on this earth, barring a miracle. But by all accounts, she is a believer, and I hope fervently that she will soon taste communion with her Father. In some respects, her case is not unique. But it is instructive. We are a culture that is too eager to diminish life, to chase death. We legalize abortion, and in some parts of the world, euthanasia (or, in the case of the Groningen Protocol, infanticide.) Some people want Terri to die because they "wouldn't want to live like that." Her life isn't worth as much, it is thought, because of her physical condition.

But these thoughts on grace I had this evening apply to Terri. God loved her so very much that He made her. He gave her free will. He offered her His grace through the sacrifice of Himself. He offered her salvation because He knows she is fearfully and wonderfully made, intrinsically valuable no matter what her physical condition may be. He knows her and finds her worth much. He even knows what is in her heart, something the rest of us cannot possibly know. How can we say her life isn't worth living when her life was given to her by God? If He's willing to pay the price to redeem her, how can we determine she's not worth feeding and hydrating?

Because she is invaluable, she should be allowed to live. She is not a convicted murderer, or an enemy of the state. She is an innocent, by human terms, woman in a tragic state. There are also legal questions that, despite assurances by the courts so far, have not been answered nearly well enough. Starvation is cruel and painful. Her diagnosis is in dispute, and the husband who claims to love her is all but married to another woman. Adultery is not love. Breaking one's vows by hastening "'til death do we part" is not love. Starving your spouse is not love.

But here I cannot judge too much. God alone knows what's in Michael's heart. Michael Schiavo may sincerely think he is acting compassionately and lovingly. And I have too many planks in my own eye to worry about specks in his. No criticism so far leveled at him couldn't also be leveled at many of the rest of us. God loves Michael, and Jesus died, and was raised, for Michael. I am no better than he. God willing I will never be put in a position to make similar choices within my own family. I strongly disagree with what he is doing, and it is hard not to question his motives. But I have to remember that God loves him.

Time is running short for Terri. I don't know what the courts will do, but I know God is sovereign over it all. He holds her future in His hands, and nothing that happens from here on out will surprise Him. I trust God to do what is right, and I do not trust any of us to be nearly so wise. Not even myself. God is in control.

This does not excuse inaction, and I must repent of not speaking out more loudly on the behalf of someone who cannot speak for herself. God is in control, yes, but He desires we stand up for the helpless, and help those who cannot help themselves. Insofar as I have lacked in this area, I have disobeyed. I am grateful for His mercy. It is more than I sometimes, in my humanity, wish to offer those who would end Terri's life. Being reminded of my own failings, changes my heart though. I pray for wisdom for the judges, for right thinking and compassionate hearts. I pray for Michael, Terri's parents, and everyone else involved in the case. I sometimes find myself at a loss for words (readers of this blog may not believe that) and trust the Spirit who prays for me. I pray and I hope, but most of all I trust.

I feel the spiritual battle around us so acutely in all this. How blessed we are that God is sovereign and has already won the war.

And He is merciful. Avail yourself of His mercy. Trust in Him. He loves Terri, and He loves Michael. And He loves you.

Pray for the family, the courts, the legislators and the executives. Pray for peace, and if it's inevitable, that her death be peaceful.

But also pray that we would all fall upon His grace and return to the One who is in control. Life isn't only about Terri, although her case rightly consumes much of our attention and prayer. Life is also about God, and our relationship with Him. He gave up everything for us. Let's accept that gift, offered at Easter circa two millenia ago. And then let's fight for all those of intrinsic value, namely every other person for whom God Himself paid the debt accrued through sin.

Biblical Reliability - Canonicity

I want to touch on the issue of canonicity, briefly as I can, before I wrap up my series (God willing, tomorrow.) This is an issue of some importance because we need to have a general understanding of why some books are included in the Bible and others are not.

This site talks about the importance of canonicity better than I could. Basically, it is important because what is included in the Biblical canon is considered, by Christians, authoritative. If it's not "in" then it doesn't carry the same weight that the Biblical texts carry. There is sound reason for this. For one thing, if any book describing Jesus were to be considered authoritative, we would run into the problem of comingling legitimate texts with heretical texts; blasphemy would be considered on equal footing with the truth, at least from the orthodox Christian perspective.

So how do we "know" that these texts we have are, in fact, the ones God wants us to rely on as His authoritative word? The article above touches on that from a spiritual perspective. We don't so much "know" as we "trust." We trust that the Holy Spirit guarded these works and guided those early church leaders who compiled the canon (for specifics on how the OT canon came to be, see here, and for the NT canon, see here.) These leaders also relied on the earliest church leaders to vouch for which NT books were considered authoritative, as these men were in direct lineage of the Apostles themselves. Again, a matter of trust that the church fathers knew whereof they spoke. (This is a reasonable assumption, I think, but it is an assumption nonetheless.)

This trust was built on the Holy Spirit, of course, but also developed through a rational examination of the arguments for/against a given text's inclusion. This doesn't mean that the decision was applied universally (cf the Apocrypha, for instance), but for a given church, the process for arriving at the canon chosen was not a matter of preference, but of rational analysis and trust in the faithful transmission of authority from the Apostles themselves.

During this series, I have touched on the reliability of the canon we have. The fact that it appears, rationally, to be reliable is a testament to how well the leaders of the early/middle-age church did their job insofar as the canon is concerned.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Biblical Reliability - A Note on Consistency

Looking over my initial checklist, I think I've touched on the arguments favoring Biblical credibility that I intended to discuss. However, as I think I've hinted, there are a couple of other areas of concern I want to address before summing up the series this Friday. The first is the oft-argued issue of Biblical consistency (i.e. is it chock full of contradictions?) The second is the issue of canonicity and the politicization of putting the Bible together. This last area of concern I'll address tomorrow.

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One of the most common questions I hear in regards to Biblical reliability is about "contradictions." I don't as often hear many criticisms aimed at the arguments I've put forth already in this series. So why did I put this one off? First of all, the intent was to show that believing as I do is rational in matters of historicity; contradictions aren't necessarily about historicity. Second, I wanted to put this one near the end because I am rather fond of answering questions on the topic. In a manner of speaking, answering challenges to consistency is usually more an educational process than an argumentative one. Sure, there are some who defy reason, but most people, once we start discussing the "contradictions" start to see that what appeared at first wasn't necessarily so.

In my experience, those who believe there are contradictions in the Bible are generally unable to name more than a stock few, usually the top ones listed at skeptic Web sites. This isn't a knock at the critics; we Christians make use of stock answers too. It's one of the advantages of debating questions that have been tossed around for a long time. But as with the other arguments put forth in this series, I think it's rational to hold that there are no contradictions in the Bible. In fact, it is, I think rather irrational to focus on claims of contradiction while ignoring the overall coherence and consistency of a Book written over hundreds of years by multiple authors from diverse backgrounds.

Why is this important? Well, for one reason, skeptics often insist that any contradiction is prima facie evidence that God isn't behind the scriptures. This removes the authority behind scripture, leaving the skeptic free to ignore or minimize the Bible as an authority in how to live. For another reason, apparent contradictions distract readers from actual study of the Bible, and resolving them generally adds to one's understanding of the texts themselves.

Okay...maybe it's important to discuss, and perhaps it's rational to believe there are no real contradictions (or at least problematic ones) in scripture. How do I argue that there are, though, no contradictions? If it's rational to believe in scriptural consistency, what evidence do I use to reason through to my conclusion?

Fair question, glad I asked it. Well, as I noted above, this stuff has been argued about for a long time. And there are very well reasoned articles, books and dissertations written to address nearly all alleged contradictions. The basic argument is that before crying, "Contradiction!" one needs to actually look into the text and see what it says, in context, and in the original language/culture. What appears to be a contradiction in an English translation of Greek text, 2000 years later than the events in question may not have been a contradiction in the Greek when read as someone who lived in that culture. Additionally, many alleged contradictions are really nothing more than a misunderstanding of common literary devices, or of different literary forms.

Another item of note. It is possible to believe that there are no contradictions in the Bible without likewise believing that we know the resolution to all apparent conflicts. All that is necessary is to show that there is at least one plausible resolution that removes the contradiction. It doesn't have to be the "correct" resolution since for some of these questions, we may never know the best answer due to incomplete knowledge of the time at hand. Now, this does not excuse the apologist from doing legitimate analysis; really, the offered solution(s) must be plausible or reasonable. But as long as it can be shown that there is not necessarily a contradiction, we have removed the impediment to disbelief based on the notion that there is a contradiction.

This post is getting long, so I'm not going to address specific examples here. However, I will point to a few Web sites that touch on the topic and "debunk" some contradiction claims. Happy reading, and God bless!

ChristianAnswers.net touches on a few contradiction claims.
A Tecktonics article addressing the validity of harmonizing different (apparently contradictory?) accounts.
Inerrancy.org, appropriately enough, addresses many common "tough" questions on the Bible from an inerrantist point of view.
Three NT contradictions addressed in a fairly typical argument structure.
Apologetics Index has this handy list or resources.

Trippin' 'Round the 'Sphere - 3/23 Edition

Christian Carnival is up at A Nutt's View with, as I SWAG it, 50 or so entries. Should take me the rest of the week to go through, but the synopsises (synopsi?) look like it could be an interesting week.
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Dory has an update on Terri Schiavo. I am truly at a loss with this. It's been a while since I've felt so prompted to pray. Will probably blog about this later today.
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Kristen posts again on cults and from my own personal experience with this particular group (first at the U of M and second with in-laws) I can vouch for much of what she's saying. It is a good thing to be filled with fervor for God; it's an area where, unfortunately, cults often outpace the orthodox church. However, controlling to this extent, and basing spirituality on a "quota" - a spiel I was given, that turned me off to the group soon after encountering it - is beyond harmful.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

My View Can Beat up Your View

Lennie has offered up another symposium. The approach this week is to offer up two statements, then ask three questions regarding said statements. Without further ado, let's see where this takes us...

  1. Statement #1: All views have equal merit and none should be considered better than another.

  2. Statement #2: Jesus is the Messiah and Judaism is wrong for rejecting it.


Question 1: Is statement 1 true?

The short answer is no. The long answer is also no. The explanation of either version of the answer shouldn't take too long either. True views have more merit than false views, and truth should be considered better than falsehoods. I think the evidence for this argument is obvious: if truth were not better than falsehoods, we wouldn't bother with education, argumentation, debate, dialogue or morality.

Now as to whether there is, in fact, truth and falsehood (as opposed to all views being true and/or false depending on the observer - i.e. relativism), it is not logically possible for all views on all subjects to be correct. Some views are absolutely mutually exclusive, and it is logically impossible for such views to all be correct. For example, orthodox Christianity holds there is only one way to salvation. This view is mutually exclusive to any other religious claim - and there are many - that argue for a different path to salvation, or multiple paths to salvation. They can't all be true; by necessity at least one of these views must be false.

Unless you feel like playing the nihilist card, some values are better than others.

Question 2: Is statement 2 true?

I believe so, else I wouldn't be a Christian.

Question 3: Why did you answer both questions in that way?

Because this is what I believe:) Though to tie the two together is fairly simple. I believe that truth is more valuable and more desirable than falsehood. I believe that Jesus is the Messiah because I accept many forms of evidence that lead me to that conclusion. Since I prefer truth, I reject any competing views if/when I determine that the evidence shows them to be false. Until that point, I reserve judgment: to date I have not seen compelling evidence that Christianity is wrong, and I have seen compelling evidence that it is correct.

In this matter, too, eternity is at stake. This raises the value of the truth proposition. If I believe a false view regarding the afterlife, I am quite likely doomed to a rather bad eternity. That's a long time to spend pondering how I could have been wrong. So, I take such decisions much more seriously than the mundane decisions of daily life. When the importance of the question increases, so does the value of the true view. At times the difference in value between true and false may not seem so much, but at others it is very great indeed.

Biblical Reliability - Early Church View

While it is nice that there exists some external verification (from non-Christian writers and archaeology) that lend credence to some of the historical claims of the Bible, we need not forget that there are some Christians who can provide testimony to the NT's historicity, at least in part. Again, I'm not trying to "prove" the Bible is historically accurate, merely compiling arguments as to why it may be rational to believe so. The testimony of the early church is another block in that particular support structure.

This additional testimony may be thought to be more biased, ergo not reliable, in regards to providing evidence to the texts' accuracy. As far as arguments go, this one is likely to garner a sympathetic audience. We often cry foul when a study is funded by an organization that stands to benefit from the results - we're not huge fans of conflicts of interest, real or perceived.

However, this argument shouldn't really stand in our way from accepting the testimony of the church fathers as possibly being true. When evaluating an argument, it would be folly to disregard what is offered simply because of the beliefs of the person offering up the argument. Instead, the argument should be judged on its merits, with a person's credibility being but a part in the evaluation of evidence they put forth. As this relates to the issue at hand, I think it reasonable to put the burden of proof on those who'd claim the early church fathers were mistaken or lying. Barring that, there is no cause to dismiss their testimony simply because they were Christian. After all, perhaps they were Christians because they knew what the texts said was true.

So, assuming we can accept that the early church leaders can be credible in their testimony, what do they have to say about the authenticity of the Bible? As a whole, they do not add much to any evaluation of the OT. However, they do add quite a bit of evidence that the NT itself speaks truthfully in matters of history.

Polycarp was a disciple of John, the Apostle. Iranaeus was a disciple of Polycarp. These two men, who would have had access to a wonderful source of verification (John) quote 23 of the 27 NT books, and claim for them authenticity. Irenaeus even affirms the orthodox view of authorship of the four Gospels. This is important as discussed here because these four authors were eyewitnesses (Matthew & John), or had access to eyewitnesses (Mark & Luke). Polycarp and Iranaeus were also writing in the early 2nd century AD, and so were validating the NT historicity from very close to the times they described, being only one generation past the time in question.

In addition to Polycarp and Iranaeus, there are citations from NT books, or explicit declarations of their authenticity from men like Ignatius, Pseudo-Barnabas, Clement of Rome, Justin Martyr, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian and Origen, all dating from no later than the late 2nd century AD, and covering nearly every NT book (3 John being the exception.) In other words, the early church, who were much closer to the events at hand, and had much more reason to know which texts were authentic, accepted virtually the entire NT canon. Barring a smoking gun proving the early church was cooking up a nice little conspiracy, there is no real reason to discount their witness to NT historicity.

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More information can be found in this book, from which I drew the data above:

Geisler, Norman and Frank Turek. I Don't Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist. Crossway Books, Wheaton Ill (2004).

Trippin' 'Round the 'Sphere - 3/22 Edition

Vox Apologia is at RazorsKiss. Next topic is "Answering Objections: God's Way?" I can think of about four different ways to address that topic. Let's hope I have time to get an entry written!
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Dory at Wittenberg Gate has, among others, been doing a great job covering the Terri Schiavo case. I don't blog on it much because folks like Dory and Catez have done so well; I can't add to what they are already saying. Today's post by Dory, though, asks an intriguing question about our presuppositions.
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A different take on the Schiavo case which seems to ask if we may not have better ways to spend our efforts. I tend to agree in part with Bob's point, but disagree strongly at others. Take a look and see what you think. I found the comments almost as interesting as the initial post.
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Not much time left to get in a Christian Carnival entry for the week! (Will I make it? Dunno...the suspense is killing me!)
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Another of Nick Queen's Out of the Wilderness Showcases is up. Stop by and meet some new bloggers.
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Not Crunchy knows how to take a good picture.
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I suppose I'll be doing some thinking about the question of what this blog will be pretty soon...balancing school, work, family and this is not as easy as I make it look. (Ha, you say. Leave me to my illusions I reply.)
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I'm hoping to have my post in the Biblical Reliability series out this evening, and maybe one other on some topic I haven't thought about yet. 'Til then....

God bless!

Monday, March 21, 2005

Biblical Reliability - Non-Christian Witness

We're coming to the home stretch on my series on why it is rational to believe that the Bible can be deemed trustworthy as a historical document. Obviously we could hold the Bible to be 100% accurate in matters of history and still not believe in God. For instance, one could accept that a man named Jesus walked this earth some 2,000 odd years ago, taught using parables, garnered a following, was crucified, and left an empty tomb without believing that man was raised from God or was the same God He claimed to be. That last step of faith, from believing the Bible accurately portrays what ancient folk believed about God and Jesus to believing the same thing as those ancient folk, is really a matter of further evidences and (most importantly) help from the Holy Spirit. Be that as it may, I still think that the Bible is a significant piece of history, as well as theology, and that its historical value helps understand better the theological value of the Bible as well.

Now the Bible appears to be a fairly complete view of a nation's history (OT) and in ancient terms, a very complete (and early) biography of a human individual (NT). If this is the case, we would hope that we would find historians and biographers outside the realm of Israel and early Christianity who could substantiate at least some of the Biblical texts. Finding such evidence would indicate that the Bible is not purely the work of biased or imaginative folks trying to build a new religion. In other words, finding extra-Biblical, non-Christian literature confirming some Biblical events adds credibility to the Bible's accuracy. This is something akin to the 'neutral' party witness in modern times: we tend to trust more those who have less at stake in a venture. Now this is not to say that the Bible could not be true if we didn't have extra-Biblical evidence; if nobody wrote anything mentioning me, and all future generations had to go on was this blog, it wouldn't mean the episodes from my life described herein did not happen. But, if someone were to verify the events, independently, it would add credibility to my account.

So, is there some of this 'third-party confirmation'? Indeed there is. For example, this site notes 24 examples of non-Biblical references to Jesus. This site offers more detailed citations. While some of these authors obviously disagree with the idea that Jesus was who He claimed to be, they all confirm He existed. Some confirm He was crucified, others that He had a large following who believed He as a healer, rabbi, Messiah. Certainly they affirm the first-century beliefs of the church, even though they didn't agree with those beliefs themselves.

I wouldn't expect non-Christians to accept that Jesus was God. But it is certainly compelling that they repeated the claims of Christians, and described the early Christian faith (and noted Jesus' crucifixion) despite not holding the same belief. Not a confirming proof, but certainly another step in credibility for the Biblical texts.

Friday, March 18, 2005

Trippin' 'Round the 'Sphere - 3/18 Edition

Mark Lee of Third Day fame has a blog! Oh, happy day! I love the band, favorite song being Thief off the Third Day CD. A powerful song telling the story of one of the men crucified next to Jesus. Highly recommended listen, especially this upcoming Easter week.
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Ouch.
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No pressure...I'm now listed as a "My Favorite" on Not Crunchy's blogroll. Delisting to happen soon, I'm sure, as soon as I get too controversial in one of my replies to her ever-intriguing questions. And not because I got the plug (truly humbling, actually, that anybody finds my thoughts useful or interesting), but you should visit her site. Good photos of a recent trip. Methinks I need to visit Yosemite now.
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Interested in presuppositional apologetics? Write up your thoughts for this.
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Nick Queen is offering up some fun.
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Interesting blog from a liberal Christian view. I appreciate the tone, though I would disagree with Bob on some theological issues. The blog's made it to my rotation of sites to check, and will probably make my blogroll as soon as I get around to updating it.

One note, though, is that I would definitely disagree with Bob's assessment of Bill Moyers' journalistic talent, especially after reading Moyers' odd view on evangelicals and the environment. He may be decrying the Christian right, but he doesn't seem to understand it. I'd hope an "outstanding journalist" would do better.

Biblical Reliability - Archaeology III (Concl.)

So, Wednesday and yesterday I pointed to a number of articles raising both evidence for and arguments against archaeological support of the Biblical historical record. Tonight I wish to finish the thought, in preparation for next week where I anticipate completing the series. (Not sure if I'll start another series, or just post on random thoughts...but I'm open to suggestions.)

So what have we found? I think we can reasonably hold the following:

  1. There is some archaeological evidence that convincingly supports some elements recorded in the Bible (you'd think I'd stop here...but no quitting while ahead)

  2. There are gaps in what the archaeological record shows, which is to be expected when dealing with a science dealing with fragile/worn items lost for centuries/millennia.

  3. There are some areas of inquiry, especially in regards to the Exodus and Joshua's conquest of Canaan, that are still controversial. Not surprising, either, since much of archaeology (i.e. dating, translations of partial documents, etc...) is an inexact science.

  4. There are dangers in trying to ascribe value to archaeological finds since items of interest may turn out to be forgeries.



I'm guessing the next question, then, is how I can offer archaeological evidence up as support of Biblical reliability. Fair question, and the answer is similar to those I've already offered for other areas of evidence. There is no way to empirically prove the Bible is historically reliable within a laboratory. What we can do, though, is build evidence that argues for Biblical credibility and demonstrate that it is possible to examine the foundation for a religious faith in a rational manner. Whether one believes, ultimately, the Bible's claims is another question. But there is no reason to argue that belief in the Bible's historicity is irrational or "blind faith."

Archaeology lends enough credibility that I think it another mark in the Bible's favor. Even the areas where controversy reign include rational and well-reasoned arguments on behalf of those siding with scripture's accuracy. The field has more room for new discoveries, and doubtless many new finds will shed light on some questions currently unanswered. I look forward to the continuing discussion.

God bless!

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Biblical Reliability - Archaeology Part II

In yesterday's post I set the groundwork for discussion of archaeological support of the Biblical record by pointing to some articles discussing some finds that have, apparently, provided confirming evidence of the accuracy of some Biblical stories. However, archaeology is a field rife with dispute, and understandably so: we are interpreting evidence centuries and millenia old in a modern light, with only an academic understanding of the ancient world. Anyone interpreting the evidence will filter certain conclusions through the prism of the modern day.

So, today I will point to some areas of controversy in preparation for a summation of the topic tomorrow.

This article covers the recent history of the archaeology dispute, between conservative and "higher criticism" critics very well. It discusses the fact that these disputes have been around for a while, and are not new at all. Summary paragraph:
Sayce and Driver set the debate in Anglo-American scholarship concerning archaeology’s role and relationship to the biblical record. Sayce’s goal was to provide a challenge to higher criticism through archaeological data. His method was emulated by conservative scholars and theologians who activated archaeological evidence to buttress arguments against the theories of Wellhausen and his followers. Driver asserted that higher criticism had not been refuted by archaeology. He warned his readers that they must be on guard against confusing the facts of archaeology with the precarious inferences or hypotheses founded upon them. He understood the value of archaeology and provided examples of careful interpretation of archaeological data and its illumination of the biblical record.

National Geographic steps in with an article about some of the problems in using archaeological findings in support of a thesis, such as the imprecise nature of dating discoveries and the possibility of encountering forgeries.

This article speaks from the Christian point of view, while this one speaks from a critical point of view, both in relation to the problem of the Exodus (in addition to other topics.) This is a strong area of contention, from both the Exodus out of Egypt itself (and apparent lack of Egyptian documentation of the event) to the entry into Canaan some 40 years later.

So there is still some controversy around the role archaeology can play, or has played, in demonstrating the historicity of the Bible. Tomorrow, in the words of Inigo Montoya, "I sum up."

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Trippin' 'Round the 'Sphere - 3/15 Edition

Vox Apologia is up. The topic is humanism, which should make for some interesting reads. Joshua also announces some changes to the VA going forward in this post.
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Christian Carnival is here at Christ Web. I count about 43 opportunities for enlightenment - make that 42 since I have an entry:)
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Nick Queen's Out of the Wilderness showcase is up with three more new blogs about which you can learn! (Wow...did avoidance of the dangling preposition in that sentence feel awkward to you too?)
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Guilty of not (yet!) following this great idea. Well, I pray for some bloggers, but will endeavor to pray specifically for more. Blogosphere support donchaknow! (H/T: Rebecca Writes.)
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Why is it so hard for Michael to give up custody to her parents?

Biblical Reliability - Archaeology Part I

I am going to start pointing to some other resources that discuss the archaeological support for the Bible as a whole. Unlike some of the prior arguments, archaeology can add support to the credibility of the Bible as a whole, not just the Gospels or the NT.

With that in mind, here are some sites that touch on archaeology supporting the Bible. Tomorrow I'll add some information on some archaeological controversy, and on Friday complete the subject. Stay tuned...

This page from Facingthechallenge.org includes a summary of what archaeology can support:
There is a growing mass of evidence from archaeology that the Bible accounts deal with real people living in real places. But what can this evidence from archaeology do?

It might disprove something in the Bible documents. If the Bible was false, we would expect new archaeological discoveries to do this. In fact, there is no known case where archaeology decisively disproves the Bible. This itself is strong evidence for the truth of the Christian message.
It could provide direct confirmation of what the Bible says. We would expect that in many cases there is no direct archaeological evidence one way or the other, and this is what we find. However, there are some cases where archaeology does provide direct confirmation, and we have listed some of them on this site.
It can provide background information that helps us to understand what the Bible documents say.

The key quote here is that "there is no known case where archaeology decisively disproves the Bible."

ChristianAnswers.net provides information on some specific finds. Not a great deal of detail here, but some decent starting points.

Interesting article on Jericho by the Answers In Genesis folks. Also touches on something of a dispute in the archaeological community about dating certain finds.

An article on archaeological evidence for the Exodus.

Dr. Paul Maier includes a discussion of archaeology in this article.

This should at least provide a start. As I indicated above, the field is not without controversy, some of which I'll get into tomorrow.

Happy reading:)

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Biblical Reliability - The Gospels' Grasp of Culture

As I pointed out a couple of days ago, I was skipping one of my arguments for the historicity of the Gospels (which leads to a broader discussion of trustworthiness of the Bible). Specifically, I was skipping over a discussion about how the writing fits the cultural patterns of the day.

I want to get back to that today, leaving archaeology and testimony as my last two areas of discussion. These last three are the broadest in nature, too, and may be applicable to any number of other Biblical books.

First of all, I will acknowledge that this argument isn't necessarily compelling. When writing period fiction, for example, authors may achieve a feel and accuracy in writing about the period in question without having actually lived in that period. I'd suspect this is an argument many on the "the Bible is a nice book, but not really historically accurate" side of the fence would raise. I certainly wouldn't put a lot of stock into it were I not already persuaded by other areas of evidence.

That being said, cultural accuracy is a point in the Gospels' favor. If they were not accurate, in cultural matters or style, we would have less reason to trust them in matters like the resurrection. So I'm not so much advocating a strength as eliminating an area of potential weakness.

I'm going to attack this by linking to various Web sites which discuss this topic. Rather than ramble on as I've been wont to do lately, I figure I'll take advantage of the "linking nature" of the Internet to cover this topic. FYI, I don't fully buy everything written on every one of these pages. However, I generally agree with their views of the cultural accuracy of the Gospels (and where applicable, the NT as a whole.) This should also provide for additional perspectives on NT/Gospel/Biblical reliability overall as these articles address other evidences (some of which I've talked about as well.) Count this an exercise in "other views."

For a Fundamentalist view, see this article talking about Gospel authenticity. For cultural comments, scroll to the section headed "Inclusion of Facts That Only the Contemporaries of Jesus Would Have Known."

This article by pastor/Bible teacher Kevin King argues that, "one of the principal factors that has discredited the higher critics' theories concerning the origins of the gospels has been the sheer 'Jewishness' of the accounts, and the wealth of intimate historical detail they contain - accurately describing a cultural background unknown to the Graeco-Roman culture in which Christianity had taken root and at a level of detail unavailable to a later author." Examples are provided in his article.

A sermon talking about a cultural situation in the Gospels. This site is from a liberal church. I don't agree with much UCC theology but this sermon acknowledges that the Gospels got at least one cultural scenario right.

So, we see that folks from pretty much anywhere on the spectrum believe the Gospels accurately describe the culture, at least insofar as the surroundings in which Jesus et al found themselves were concerned. Again, this doesn't prove that the rest of the NT was historically accurate, but getting the setting right is at least another step towards credibility.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Trippin' 'Round the 'Sphere - 3/14 Edition

Catez has posted the Science and Christianity Showcase. Looks like 18 or so entries, which I'd consider a success. Nice job Catez!
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Long time coming.
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Stones Cry Out has more on Terri Schiavo. I'm at a total loss.
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For those of you interested in this whole Bible thing, Dr. Mark D. Roberts has a good series going on the TNIV controversy.

Biblical Reliability - Mandating Solutions?

For today's look at Biblical Reliability, I would look at a piece of evidence that lends credibility to the Gospels' historicity, although one I don't see mentioned as often as some of the others. This argument doesn't touch other Biblical books much, although to an extent it could be applied to most. The argument deals with formulating solutions to problems.

In NT times, as today, there was a great diversity of opinion on how to solve certain diagreements, or address certain questions. When a group at that time wanted to start a new faith, it would have been incredibly tempting to answer those questions dogmatically, via their "official" writings and teachings.

As we see in later NT books, the fledgling NT church had many questions to answer. Should new Christians be circumcised, or not? Can Christians support war? What is the role of women in this new faith community? What is the deal with baptism?

None of these questions are answered in the Gospels, at least not directly. Each of the Gospel writers included text that could be interpreted by those holding a different side to each question listed above. Jesus was described as coming to fulfill the law, but treated the law in a way not found by those thought to be the keepers of the law. So, how do we decide on the circumcision issue? Jesus said to render unto Ceasar, which could mean supporting the Roman military, but He also said, "Blessed are the peacemakers."

We even struggle with some of these issues today. For the leaders of the early church, some of whom (John, Peter, Matthew) had a hand in the Gospels (Mark was Peter's disciple, and it is not a stretch to think Peter provided much of the material for Mark's Gospel), it would have been simple to add a line like, "and Jesus said, 'lo, to follow me one must become circumcised.'" It would have saved them some headaches, and the integration of Gentiles into what was an originally all-Jewish faith was a major headache. But these types of easy answers to pressing questions are not found in the Gospels.

So what does this prove? Like all the arguments I'm putting forth in this series, not much by itself. All this does is indicate that the writers were not motivated by a desire to make their lives easier. The Gospels don't appear to be written as guidelines for a new religion so much as passing on information about the life of history's most compelling subject. Take it for what you will, but I find the lack of easy answers a marker in the Gospels' favor.

A final note. Some of these questions were addressed, if not answered, in Paul's letters. That is well and good, as it would be inevitable that issues of great social import would be addressed by the Apostles at some point. However, this evidence is towards the credibility of the Gospels themselves, and not the NT as a whole. Paul certainly left some questions unaddressed as well.

God bless!

Friday, March 11, 2005

Biblical Reliability - Flatter me not

In my never ending quest to keep this Biblical Reliability series on track, I went back to see how many of my original areas of evidences I have covered, and how many are left. From that post, I intended to start off by covering the following (items covered are linked in the list below):


  1. We have reliable copies of the texts

  2. The authors were in a position to report, accurately

  3. The writing was early enough

  4. The writers wanted to record things faithfully/accurately

  5. Oral traditions were accurate

  6. The writing fits the cultural patterns of the day

  7. The material isn't too flattering

  8. The material doesn't attempt to force closure to issues of the day

  9. Non-biblical testimonials generally confirm scriptural accounts

  10. Archaeology generally confirms scriptural accounts

  11. The early church testimony generally confirms orthodox views of scripture


If I were an orderly sort, I would probably address the cultural patterns evidence today. But I am actually going to address the "material isn't very flattering" argument instead, getting to cultural patters and language in a future post.
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I read few modern autobiographies. Perhaps this is something I should address, but I've found that the few I have read lately tend to either aggrandize the subject, or blame failure on others. I find this lessens the credibility of the authors; nobody is perfect (save God Himself) and pretending to be so makes me less likely to buy what the author is selling.

This tendency to elevate oneself in a piece of literature (either biographical or autobiographical) is not new. People for, well, ever have tried to strengthen their case by presenting flattering items more prominently and minimizing or hiding negative items. Ancient legends focus on power and heroic deeds, not on failings. The heroes do the work, make the discoveries, point out the flaws in others. The Gospels, though, are different.

The Gospel writers left in lots of things that were very unflattering, and the NT in general reveals many flaws in the leaders of the early church. For propoganda purposes, this would have been a suidical approach unless, in fact, the events were understood to be accurate.

For instance, James and John got a bit full of themselves. Peter, the man on whom Christ built His church, got a smackdown and later denied Jesus publically. Thomas was a doubter.

The Apostles weren't the first to find the empty tomb, which indicates truth telling as women were not considered credible witnesses at the time.

And the Gospels are not alone in reflecting truth over ego. Inter-church squabbles are aired for all to see in Acts 11 and Acts 15, for instance.

Taken as a whole, the authors come across as honest men trying to relate honest history. They did not take the opportunity to "clean up" the leaders of the early church or make them look special. There is no cover up, or shifting of blame to others. While not proving much of anything, it certainly adds credibility to the notion that these guys were trying to be accurate, not propagandists.

Euthanasia

Lennie's XBIP symposium is on the topic of euthenasia. As defined by Lennie, "[e]uthanasia is the act or practice of killing or permitting the death of hopelessly sick or injured persons in a relatively painless way for reasons of mercy called also mercy killing." It is also known by some as assisted suicide. This definition doesn't touch on "perimssion" by the person being killed, so I will assume in my address of the subject that we are talking about euthenasia for both those who've given permission (i.e. those who actively ask someone to help them die) and those who haven't (i.e. those who are killed without providing consent.)

This is a subject much in the news of late, with the current cause célèbre being the Terri Schiavo case. Terri's case has also been the focus of a number of blogs, such as Wittenberg Gate. While I don't wish to address the details of specific cases, Terri's is quite compelling.

The Schiavo case is not the only such case, though, as we see the Groningen Protocol rearing it's ugly ahead again. Then there's the Oregon assisted suicide issue coming up before the U.S. Supreme Court.

So the issue is timely, and far from settled anywhere it's been debated. Acknowledging the divisiveness of the issue, I'd like to get on with answering Lennie's specific questions.

  1. Should euthanasia be legalized? If so, under what circumstances and who should regulate it?

  2. Um, no. Euthenasia should not be legalized. I'm always hestitant to stick the old slippery slope argument in wherever there is an issue of contention, but in this case it fits. If euthenasia were to be legalized everywhere, it is far too easy to see where people holding certain philosophies would try to push the line further away from the terminally ill/in pain folks who are used as poster "children" for the practice now. Frankly, I just don't trust society once we open this particular door.

    And for those who think "slippery slope" arguments are flawed, remember that certain people predicted that the outcome in Lawrence v. Texas would lead to legalized gay marriage, and from there to legalized polygamous marriage. Agree or not, those who predicted in that case that opening one door leads, logically, to opening others were spot on. In the euthenasia case, I fear similar things would happen. It is hard to stop "rights" from expanding once they are granted by the courts.

  3. Will euthanasia lead to the killing of those with disabilities, genetic defects, etc.? If so, who makes the decision?

  4. Oregon already allows this, although I believe only with the express permission of the "patient." However, in the Groningen Protocol, children can be euthenized before even reaching an age where they are mature enough to understand the issues. I do believe that once we allow someone to start making "the decision" then we'll find that people will soon try to expand the list of those able to make "the decision" and try to find ways to override the will of the patient. This may just be an irrational fear, but I don't think so.

  5. Is this a State’s rights issue, a Federal Gov’t issue, or an issue to be decided by the courts?

  6. I'm not a Constitutional scholar...nor do I play one on this blog. But, as I would read the 10th Amendment this is a state's issue. Euthenasia is not addressed in the Constitution, ergo the words "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people" would seem to indicate the Federal Government should keep out of the discussion.

    Then again, if I completely understood Constitutional jurisprudence as applied to any given case today I would likely be the only person who did. It doesn't take much reading to find cases where apparent states issues are "converted" to federal ones via a creative reading of a Constitutional passage.

    (I am a cynic, and I do play one on my blog from time to time.)

  7. Should Christians oppose euthanasia in any form? If not, when should it be supported?

  8. I believe strongly that Christians should oppose euthanasia, and this for a couple of reasons.

    First, we are created in God's image. There is an inherent dignity to human life that is not tied to anything other than being made in God's image. Rich, poor, ill, healthy, sad, happy - our place in life, and the quality of our lives has nothing to add to or subtract from this dignity. When God's word tell us suffering isn't something to be avoided in all cases, who are we to decide we've had enough? Do we know better than God? When God tells us to have compassion on those who are suffering, does He mean for us to end their lives? I think not - Jesus' compassion was evidenced by His healing, not by killing.

    Second, God is to be sovereign over death. We don't have authority to usurp this role unless He grants it to us. Insofar as God has given any people authority to end another's life He has done so only in matters of war or justice - never "mercy killing."

    Finally, I think we need to be consistent. I am pro-life in matters not relating to war and justice (that is, I subscribe to a "just war" philosophy, and have not fully developed a stand on capital punishment - although I tend to be against it.) To be consistent in protecting the right to life I cannot oppose abortion yet promote euthenasia.

Now, all this being said, I must add that it is not sufficient to be "against" something. I take very seriously criticisms that pro-lifers do not care about women, for instance, and are just out to eliminate abortions. We need to do more than just rail against euthanasia - we need to support those faced with such a tragic situation and lift them up/encourage them in making wise decisions. We need to pray for and with them, and care for them as well as we can. Yes, we need to speak out against euthanasia - especially where, as in Groningent, it is applied against people who can't speak for themselves. But we also need to act compassionately and support people in hard situations.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Biblical Reliability - Oral History

In my on-again/off-again series on why I find the Bible to be a trustworthy historical document, I've touched on the age of our manuscripts, the intent of the Gospel authors, and the relatively short interval between the events of the Gospels and the writings of the books themselves. I'd like at this time to make a quick note about how the events were passed along between the time of Christ and the writings of the Gospels. Even were we to accept the most conservative dates for the Gospels (as early as 40's AD by some minority reckoning) we're looking at a gap of 10 or so years between the events and the writing. How do we know that the events were recorded accurately in the Gospels?

This seems a fair question to modern critics because we live in a culture that does not prize memorization. Instead of rote learning in schools, we tend to emphasize problem solving and research skills. We don't need to memorize because we can look things up. All hail the Internet!

However, two thousand years ago, the Internet didn't exist. Libraries were not terribly common. People learned through memorization. In fact, before students were even allowed to start asking about a text, they had to memorize it. Memorization was a skill learned early, and practiced throughout one's life. And this skill would have enabled events to be recorded much more accurately after some space of time than if we had to rely on it today.

Even in our time of little memorization we know that certain "helps" can assist in memory. We know, for instance, that using songs helps memorization. There are also many tools, various mnemonic devices that can aid people in remembering things long-term. And of course, people remember much more clearly when the event in question had a large impact on their lives. If these things are true today, how much more effective would they have been in a culture that prized/used memorization to pass along their entire cultural history?

In essence, memorization skills would have enabled the Gospel writers to have remembered events sufficiently to record them accurately enough (I'm leaving out the help the Holy Spirit would have provided as that would be akin to proving scripture's historicity by internal claims instead of other forms of evidence - but I think the Spirit definitely played a part.)

But we also have more than cultural importance of a culture that prized memorization skills. Paul, for instance, pass along what was passed to him. Creeds were used to communicate elements of faith, and would be easy to remember. There are some 41 creeds in the NT, evidence that such methods were used.

Additionally, it is not necessarily so that the Gospels were the first recordings of Jesus' life. Luke mentions other endeavors to record Jesus' life, and there are scholars all along the spectrum from conservative to liberal speculate that there were other written sources on which the Gospels themselves depend. It is likely that the Gospel writers didn't even have to rely on memory.

But in case they did, I'll return to my initial point and quote this from Dr. William Lane Craig:

"In an oral culture like that of first century Palestine the ability to memorize and retain large tracts of oral tradition was a highly prized and highly developed skill. From the earliest age children in the home, elementary school, and the synagogue were taught to memorize faithfully sacred tradition. The disciples would have exercised similar care with the teachings of Jesus."

There is no real reason to discount the reliability of the Gospels as trustworthy based on any reliance on oral transmission of history.

God bless!

Science & the Christian

This post is inspired on a convergence in the blogosphere. Not Crunchy posted a warning to, well, I guess Christians that we should not allow "pro-big-business Republicans brainwash you into believing that scientists have an

agenda." At the same time, Catez at Allthings2all is hosting a showcase of Christian "blogthought" (did I just coin a term, or has "blogthought" been used elsewhere?) on Christianity and science.

As regular readers of this blog (both of you) know, I've been engaged in a semi-regular running discussion with Not Crunchy (NC). I find her to be a delightfully open-minded and intelligent blogger. Please read her post starting all

this (linked above), which pleads for like open-mindedness from Christians. Fair enough, and I am more than happy to comply.

And well I should comply. NC has some very valid points, which at the very least Christians of the conservative ilk should consider if not accept. The first of which is when she says, "[t]he public becomes aware of scientific developments

through the filter of a non-scientific media - the hot science story of the day usually become distorted in fact, scope, and importance." We often make the mistake of confusing questions. It is easy to mistake questions of application and significance for science itself. We can't separate science from ethical considerations relating to application, but much of what we see on the nightly news isn't about science but rather about policy.

NC is also spot on when she says, "Christianity and trust in science do not have to be mutually exclusive." I touched on this Tuesday. I think most evangelicals agree with this statement. Many of us owe our livelihoods to the results of scientific endeavors. We love what science can bring to the world. Like the laptop on which I'm typing this post.

However (and you felt at least one "however" coming, didn't you?) NC's description of peer review and checks/balances within the scientific establishment is a bit idealistic. To her credit, she acknowledges this in the comments section of her blog. My experience, though, says that many others aren't as fair. To those I'd like to point out a few things.

Yes, peer review is supposed to act as a check against "bad" science. But peer review is performed by peers - most of whom I assume are human since I know relatively few feline scientists (though one of my cats likes to experiment with catnip.) (Sorry - that was lame.) Humans are fallible, and politics can enter the peer review process quite easily. While I don't know the wherefores and details of many particular cases, there is some anecdotal evidence that Christians have been kicked around in the peer review process for reasons I'd think have little to do with science or methodology. This can understandably lead to some justifiable suspicion in the Christian community writ large. As with all professions, arrogance is found aplenty among scientists. As often as we Christians are accused of being dogmatic, many scientists are equally dogmatic about the power of their discipline.

This is not to denigrate what NC says; in principle I agree with her ideals. But I don't fault some Christians a certain amount of the cynicism they have. Some discussion about such things are here, here and here.

Google would probably reveal more claims from what I've read so far. How widespread is hostility to Christianity among scientists? I dunno. Maybe not very in a purely numerical sense. But hostility does exist, and in enough places that it needs to be exposed. Fair criticism of research, methodology and results is fine; unfair critiques based on personal, philisophical or religious bias belies the honesty of the peer review system.

In reality all people have agendas. Even scientists. Believing in the purity of a system that is operated by people puts more faith in the system's ability to correct itself than is warranted by the experience of humanity over, well, all recorded history. I would agree with NC that most scientists' agendas are not hostile to Christianity. This is something that Christians do need to recognize. But there are scientists who are actively anti-religion/anti-Christian, and some of these hold "gatekeeper" roles high up in the scientific establishment. The reason so many Christians are distrustful of science - wrongly so IMO - is that those who let their agendas interfere with their fairness and objectivity are looked on as leaders instead of criticized for misusing their discipline.

We can't be so idealistic as to elevate science to a level of perfection that it can't attain, or turn science into a religion unto itself. Nor should we hold that, "[e]go and reputation keep the system honest." Seeking ego

stroking and reputation has led people to great failures as well as protected them from risking said rep's on deceipt.

Science is a tool, and any tool can be used for good or bad. This tool is used by humans, all of whom have agendas at some point in their lives. I do. The more open we are to acknowledging our own biases and agendas, and

the slower we are to accept that others are free of them, the better able we will be to judge cases on their merits, especially scientific cases.

What some scientists (and their apologists) need to understand is that Christians are as likely to be rational folks as the scientists - critique fairly and we'll give you a hearing. If you want us to be open-minded, treat us as the intelligent folks many of us really are, not the superstitious "brainwashed" some folks believe we are. Treat Christians as equals in the debate and I think you'll find that most aren't as anti-science as anti-misuse-of-science. That should be something on which we can all agree.

And what many Christians need to understand is that scientists aren't necessarily anti-religion. Any scientist, believer or not, is a person loved by God. We need to remember that, and not responde to any hostility we do encounter with hostility. We need to love scientists, even those who attack the faith, as God commanded.

This being said, I want to acknowledge another good point of NC's (and no, it does not pain me to say that - as I said, she's intelligent and I agree with the gist, if not the idealism, of her post): "No matter how careful one is, it is still easy to get the facts wrong when summarizing a large and complex issue." If you think I'm overstating my case, or misrepresenting reality, please let me know (and thanks in advance!)
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In truth, Christianity and science have been allied more often than not. Many prominent scientists through history have been devout Christians, and even our modern culture has its share of believing scientists. There is a diversity of interpretation of evidence among the Christian scientists, but most think science is a way to discover more about what God has created - either through 6-day creation or evolution. Here are some groups of Christians interested in things scientific:


God bless!

Guilty

I've been convicted. I need to do a better job of delivering my posts as I promise. While blogging is a relatively informal practice, I still believe that promises made need to be promises kept. It isn't fair for those who come here looking for, say, a post on Biblical Reliability only to find that my "series" has been postponed another day. Or two. Or...you get the idea. So, with that in mind, I am going to lay out my approach to blogging for the next two weeks, and hold myself accountable to this plan.

First, I will post on Biblical Reliability daily (M-F) until I complete the series.

Second, I will add another post or two daily which will either address a particular topic of interest, fulfill a request for more information, or qualify as entrance to a carnival or symposium of sorts.

Third, I may, as the Spirit moves me, post a summary of things I've found in my various trips 'round the (blogo)'sphere.

Then, after I finish my current series, I will think twice about starting any others I don't think I can keep after on a regular basis, and will certainly try to promise nothing short of what I can deliver.

In that vein, two posts today. One is on Christianity & science, in answer to both Catez's wonderful showcase idea and Not Crunchy's thoughts on environmental stereotyping. The second will come later, and address Biblical Reliability. Specifically, I'll talk about how important (and accurate) the oral transmission of material was in ancient societies.

God bless!

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Trippin' again

Stuff from around my morning trip around the blogosphere...

Christian Carnival is up at Belief Seeking Understanding. There are 19 entries posted as of this writing, with another 26 promised soon...so check back, and enjoy the reading. Early favorites of mine are Dory's post at Wittenberg gate on the idolatry too many folks face nowadays, and Joe Missionary's introduction to Arminianism.
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Nick Queen has another new blogger showcase, with three more bloggers for you to meet. I'm finding this to be a nice way to discover some blogs I'd not seen before.
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Happy (belated) birthday to this week's Vox Apologia hostess. Hope it went well Amy!
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Kristin has an Open Letter that I think would be worthy of a series in the future...not sure if I'll do it, but the role of women in the church is certainly an interesting question. Exegetical accuracy aside, the humility she models is of the sort I need to exercise more often my own self.
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I'm hoping to attend the GodBlogCon but am not sure I'll be able to swing it. There are some things going on that may make it not only possible, but convenient. I guess we'll see whether God wants me there as much as I'd like to be there.
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I'm suddenly happy about a 2005 Vikings move. Now we just hope this doesn't end up being a serious problem.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

The Return of Not Crunchy

Not Crunchy (NC) has more interesting questions. I'll be addressing these tonight and then will get back to the series on Biblical Reliability tomorrow. Unless I'm sidetracked again, say by commenting on this. And yes, I realize I'm stretching the notion of a blog series by mixing the posts up like this, but I appreciate that, as reflected by the lack of comments, you are patient with my lack of order.

For those of you new to my blog (welcome!), NC is a budding lawyer blogger of the agnostic sort, who has through the magic of the "Next Blog" button opened the door into this strange world of evangelicals. To her credit, she is attempting to learn whether the stereotypes of "the world" hold up as she gets to "know" some of us in the blogosphere. Our past discussions are here and here. I've been enjoying the discussion, and look forward to more such posts.

I must say I appreciate NC's concern about the amount of ridicule we evangelicals face in the MSM. For the most part, I have learned to ignore it; kind of a "forgive them, they know not what they do" kind of a thing. Most of the jokes I think are probably aimed at me reveal such a deep ignorance of what I actually believe that I pity those doing the mocking. This is not to say, though, that evangelicals don't deserve some level of critiquing, or satirical treatment. Insofar as we can be seen as a monolithic block of believers (a premise I'll address below) there is certainly much we need to fix. I have no problem with that being pointed out. But in an era of political correctness, any acknowledgment of the lack of respect evangelicals get in the MSM is welcome. (And yes, I realize we're not the only ones who are mocked - but from my admittedly biased view, we certainly receive more than our fair share.)

Now...on to the questions. In the order she presents them:

Are Fundamentalist and Evangelical Christians disgusted by their surrounding culture?

I can't speak for all of them, especially those who identify themselves as fundamentalists. I can say that I am personally disgusted by some things I see in the culture around me. I am also delighted by some things I see in the culture around me. Sometimes I am disgusted and delighted at the same time. For instance, I marvel at the things professional athletes do, yet find the "I am god" behavior of some athletes irritating. Some movies are disgusting, others are masterpieces of artistic vision. There is good, there is bad, and sometimes the two are found in the same cultural element.

Do they think that it is wrong to watch secular movies, read secular books, partake in an occasional alcoholic beverage, or swear?.

I know some who feel this way, and others who are perfectly fine watching/reading anything. I am in the middle. There is a biblical principle I find very sound - and not just because it is echoed in my industry by the acronym GIGO: Garbage in, garbage out. According to Phillipians 4:8, we should guard against filling our minds with clutter and seek to fill our minds with what is true and good. I find it hard to disagree with the notion that we should seek that which is beautiful and edifying over that which is destructive or insulting. So where do I draw the line? Not at the secular/religious division. There is garbage on both sides of that fence, and each side owns a share of true art. It's a one book/movie at a time thing.

I also think that completely cutting myself off from "the world" makes it difficult to relate to those of a different mind. How do I reach people with Good News if I can't understand where they're coming from?

As to alcohol, I follow the Lord's lead and make my own wine from grapes growing in our backyard. I just don't do it as well, or as quickly. However, when I am with Christians who don't particularly care for alcohol, I abstain (not that I'm a heavy drinker anyway - the occassional glass of wine is about it.) There is no sense in becoming a distraction for others, or being a stumbling block.

Why do Evanglicals generally vote Republican? What would it take for them to vote Democrat?

I think it generally comes down to the "values" concerns. Evangelicals I know usually prioritize moral issues ahead of, say, economy issues. And when moral issues are concerned, the Republican party promotes ideas that are more closely aligned to mainstream evangelical ideals than does the Democratic party. Obviously this is a generalization - I've voted for Dem's and Rep's. Neither party speaks for me through all candidates. But within my church, for instance, the affinity for the Republicans is stronger than the affinity for the Dem's - though both parties draw some evangelicals. My advice to Dem's who want to attract more evangelicals is to align with evangelicals on moral issues more often. Though that goes for any party trying to attract any sub-group of voters.

(I also realize that economic issues can often be moral issues too - I'm using the terms loosely to make a distinction in priorities among classes of "issues.")

What do Evangelicals really think of science?

Every one that I know appreciates what science can do. Rather, what scientists can do when using scientific methodologies and practices wisely. Science can lead to better understanding, and to benefits for humanity. When used improperly, science can lead to things like, oh, biological weapons. Science isn't a problem for any Christian I know. Politicized scientific philosophy can be a problem, but science itself is not. I see it, for instance, as a way to learn more about the creation of God. Plus, it is a field in which my wife participates, and I have an appreciation for what she brings to our family as a scientist at heart.

Is there room in Christianity for evolving thought?

Yes. But...evolving thought cannot change God. The concept of the Rapture, for instance, is a rather recent idea, at least as formulated in the Left Behind books. And the term "Trinity" does not appear in scripture, though the doctrine developed over time in a manner consistent with the biblical teaching. The key is that the evolution of thought has to clarify truth, not replace it with a lie.

Are you typical Evangelicals?

This is where I get to address what I spoke of above. I'm not sure what a typical evangelical is, but this is probably as good a starting point as any. For some of these measures, I would answer as did the majority of evangelicals. For other issues, I would not. I share most of the same views as most of the folks who attend my church, and who attend my first and current colleges - but I also diverge from many of them on various issues. So, while I am probably "statistically typical" I don't think we can be easily bunched into one category. As with all groups, we are individuals, each unique but sharing some core commonalities too. And as with any sub-group of Christians, some evangelicals are nominally Christian and others are passionate, faithful followers of Christ.

God bless!

Ron

Monday, March 07, 2005

The Least of These

And the King will answer and say to them, 'Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.'Matt. 25:40 (NASB).


Before getting too far into this post, a confession. This is not a strong suit of mine. While I possess the recommended minimum daily amount of compassion, I don't often go out of my way to act upon it outside a narrow group of family and friends. And this is also an area where God is working on me as we speak. Er, write. Take this, then, realizing that I am working through this in practice - I want the theory to be actualized in my life.

Jesus was delivering the teaching about "the least of these" to his disciples, in something of a private session. The "least of these" are, as Jesus Himself points out, the strangers, prisoners, naked, poor and sick. In other words, the less fortunate. Today these would be the homeless, the elderly, those in hospice care, the orphans, the felons. Things haven't changed since the time of the incarnation. We are to care for those who are ill, poor, imprisoned or lonely.

One thing important to note about this teaching. Jesus was telling this to His disciples. He wasn't telling this to the governmental leaders, the rich, the powerful. He was telling this to fishermen, and other common folk. We have no excuse for not doing our part. This isn't something to be left to the government, nor is it something that we can ask only of the rich.

The first century church understood this. Acts 2:45 tells how they sold "their property and possessions" to share with those in need. James wrote that religion should include visiting the lonely (1:27), and clothing and feeding the poor (2:15-16).

But why, one may ask, must we pay so much attention to the less fortunate? Cannot the government more efficiently take on the task? Can't we let the church do it? First of all, Jesus did not allow us this out. This is the key thing which He's working on in my life. (Over the past couple of years He has worked with me on contentment, and though I'm not 100% perfect in that area, I am sufficiently content with the blessings He's provided that the next step is learning how to share those blessings.) Jesus was clear that we, as individuals, are to help those who need it.

Second, the most effective way to bring people to the point where they are ready to listen to our message of Good News is to meet their physical needs. As some may rightly point out, our long-term goal should be bringing people to an eternal salvation; the eternal is more important than the temporal simply because of the scope. This makes a great deal of sense to me, sitting in my living room, typing on a laptop, watching a relatively new TV. For those with an empty stomach, too few clothes in a Minnesota winter, or wondering where their next paycheck will come from, the eternal is too far away. They aren't interested in my Lord. The fact that I'd rather talk to them than help them indicates to them that I care little for them - this is the reality of humanity. Our temporal needs very often matter more to us than our eternal state. And in a sense, this is natural. God created us to desire life, to want health, and to seek security. I'd react the same way were I in another place.

Finally, we should care for others in general because we share in God's love. As He loved us, so we love others. By loving others, we also become a conduit through which He can bring others to know Him. And we also, as Jesus says, are showing love to God Himself when we love other people. It is an act of obedience and worship to a God who loved us enough to save us from our own rebellion.

So...yes, Mr. Northernburbs, we should take care of the needy. Thanks for the obvious lecture. Does this mean the government or church shouldn't take part? No, of course not. In a society like ours, there is nothing wrong with taking advantage of economies of scale in trying to help more people, more efficiently. (Idealism? Yep. I don't trust that many government agencies operate as efficiently as private charities, or individuals - but the theory is fine.) But the primary means by which the "least of these" should be cared for are through the individuals, by those who can build a relationship with the lonely, or who can feed the hungry.

I hope to continue to grow in this area. I want to share the love God has so graciously showered on me and my family. By American standards I am comfortable, but not rich. By the world's standards, I am wealthy beyond the dreams of all but a very few. I can't take "it" with me. I may as well use "it" to help bring other people with me.

Trippin' 'Round the 'Sphere Again

I hope to have a longer post later today, but thought I'd post some updates to other things going on in the meantime.

Vox Apologia is up and despite the deadline extension, I wasn't able to get something included. However, I find the topic intriguing, so will post my thoughts anyway. I believe the next VA is at RazorsKiss. Check there for updates.
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Challies.com is giving away another couple of books. Don't let the titles scare you off.
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XBIP's symposium this week touches on Euthenasia. Another one I hope to have time to enter...you'd think as a full-time worker, full-time student, and full-time Dad I'd have time oozing out my ears, but apparently that's not the case. Please feel free to toss in your own $.02 worth this week.
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Not Crunchy has more questions for us evangelical types, which I will get down to answering soon.
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Back soon...God Bless!

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Apologies...

...but God's been working, and some of the "workings" have kept me from the 'puter these past few days. For those into such things, I'd appreciate prayer for an eye injury that is forcing me out of my contacts and into glasses. Not a major inconvenience, but I have some corneal damage I'd prefer to heal rather than degrade and impact my vision long-term. Thanks in advance.

Coming up in the next few days, more on Biblical Reliability, a Vox Apologia entry (thanks for the extension Amy! - even though it wasn't for me specifically), and some more on some of the "God's been working" stuff. Thanks for the patience!

God bless!
Ron