Archive for February, 2011

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A Christian Response to Tyranny

February 28, 2011

A few days ago Chaplain Mike over at Internet Monk provided as fodder for discussion an excerpt from a recent interview given by John MacArthur.

MacArthur was asked for his thoughts on the “revolution in the Middle East with protesters opposing authoritarian rule.” MacArthur’s responses included the following:

I think there are a lot of ways to approach that but if you just talk about a biblical thing, they are all in violation of a biblical command – to submit to the powers that be because they’re ordained of God.

… whatever the government would be, even if it was Caesar in the New Testament, that the believers are commanded to live orderly lives, peaceful, quiet lives, subjecting themselves to the powers that be because they’re ordained of God.

But biblically speaking, I would have wished the American government, which has a history of Christianity, would have risen up and said “this is wrong, this is forbidden for people to do this, this is intolerable.”

The full interview is here if you’re interested.

MacArthur seems to take the view that, irrespective of how brutal and despotic the governing authority, even rallying in opposition in an attempt to topple that authority is forbidden. And he’s got Bible verses to prove it.

The problem with trying to use the Bible to condemn the protesters is that you have to rely on a few verses while largely ignoring one of the major themes of the Bible, namely, God’s opposition to oppression and injustice. The OT is replete with condemnation of injustice. The prophets continually warned that if nations persisted in oppressing the vulnerable within them, God’s justice would see to it that their regime was overthrown, trampled, destroyed.

God didn’t suddenly stop caring about injustice and oppression when Christ stepped on the scene. From Luke’s standpoint, this Old Testament theme is the essence of Jesus’ ministry. In Christ’s inaugural sermon, he quotes Isaiah:

The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. (Luke 4:18-19)

Freedom for the oppressed is central to Christ’s Kingdom message.

But what about the passages that MacArthur alludes to? They certainly do sound as though they endorse a strict political quietism. Why does MacArthur’s response just feel so … wrong?

I’ll share with you my thoughts and I’ll let the biblical scholars out there tell me if I’ve missed the mark.

It seems to me that to understand Paul’s direction to live in submission to the authorities, you have to understand his eschatology. Paul was clearly persuaded that the end of the age was at hand. In a dramatic reversal, God was about to enter the fray, destroy the Roman empire and establish fully the Kingdom of God on earth. There was no need to fight or resist the Romans because God was about to overthrow their empire at any moment.

Paul’s expectation of an imminent end is on full display in his advice in 1 Corinthians 7. Don’t worry about changing your station in life. Don’t sweat being a slave. Don’t marry if you can avoid it. Why? At verses 29-31:

What I mean, brothers and sisters, is that the time is short. From now on those who have wives should live as if they do not; those who mourn, as if they did not; those who are happy, as if they were not; those who buy something, as if it were not theirs to keep; those who use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in them. For this world in its present form is passing away.

When Paul tells Christians to live in submission to the Roman authorities, he’s doing so from the perspective of one who believes that the whole order is about to be overthrown in any event. This is not a long-range perspective. It’s not that God suddenly decided that oppressive empires weren’t deserving of destruction. It was precisely because God was about to overthrow this unjust regime that Paul could recommend that God’s people just wait it out.

In fact, in Romans 13, after calling for submission to the authorities, Paul goes on to say in verse 11:

And do this, understanding the present time: The hour has already come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.

The NT ethic of submission to any and all authority arises in a context of temporary instruction for a people who are about to be given a total victory over their oppressors. That’s a sensible strategy if the hour of God’s intervention is near. It’s not such great advice if you’re living 2000 years later in North Africa with no sign of divine intervention in sight.

All of this reminded me of something I recently read in Thom Stark‘s book, The Human Faces of God. At pg. 227, he writes:

Time and again, the Christian commitment to justice has been undermined by the expectation of an imminent end. Generation after generation, those who suffer are told to wait it out; authentic justice is impossible this side of the eschaton, but there is hope to be had in the conviction that the end is nigh. Yet the end has never been nigh, and there is no reason to believe that it is nigh today. Meanwhile, human beings continue to suffer and many Christian institutions can do little more than to bandage wounds and send victims back into the very political and economic environments that wounded them in the first place. … That [charity] may be all very well when the consummation of the kingdom of God is expected to take place within a few decades, but with a two-thousand-year margin of error, such charity itself becomes an injustice.

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Guest Post by Bart Ehrman

February 26, 2011

Hello, Bart Ehrman here. Chris has graciously permitted me to write a guest post for his blog. I would like to take this opportunity to plug my upcoming book, Forged: Writing in the Name of God–Why the Bible’s Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are.

Alright, I made that up. This isn’t Ehrman. It’s just me. I’m pretty sure Bart Ehrman doesn’t even know I exist. And he wouldn’t appreciate me pretending to be him to lend greater weight to my writing. Neither would you. Neither would anyone. Which is pretty much the point of Ehrman’s new book.

Even the most conservative of biblical scholars would acknowledge that during early church history (1st and 2nd century A.D.) many writers falsely attributed their works to someone other than themselves, typically someone famous within the church, such as Paul or one of the disciples. By claiming that your work was written by an apostle, you improved the chances that it would reach a wider audience and be treated as authoritative. Falsely attributing your work to another is known as pseudepigraphy.

Where the problem gets a little sticky is the discovery that several of the texts that made it into the NT canon are likely pseudepigraphal.   If you’re new to the subject, it may come as a surprise to learn that scholars are largely agreed that texts such as 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus, and 2 Thessalonians were not written by Paul, nor was 2 Peter written by Peter. Many other NT books are the subject of similar debate as to authenticity.

Some scholars have downplayed the significance of pseudepigraphy in the NT by contending that such practices were considered acceptable in the 1st and 2nd century context. Ehrman’s disagrees. In Forged, he musters evidence that false attribution was as condemned in the ancient world as it is today.

My motivation for this post was James McGrath’s very thorough review of Ehrman’s book. Be sure to check it out.

Given that the primary consideration for canonicity was apostolic authorship, what are we to make of these books that seem to have snuck in under the radar? Are they deserving of less weight than the authentic epistles? Are they still useful as evidence of the beliefs of an early Christ-following community? Are they inspired, and if we maintain that they are, would God inspire pseudonymous attribution?

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Wretched Theology

February 25, 2011

As much as I don’t agree with the approach of Ray Comfort, he does strike me as a fairly humble and pleasant fellow. Meet Ray’s ugly stepsister, Todd Friel. Friel started out with Comfort’s “Way of the Master Radio” and eventually branched out on his own with “Wretched Radio” and a related TV show. Friel takes Comfort’s Kindergarten-level theology and adds to it heaping doses of self-assured condescension.

In the following clip, Friel’s target is William P. Young, author of The Shack:


 
What’s abundantly clear from the above clip is that Friel has no grasp of the distinction between universalism and inclusivism. Universalism holds that all will be saved. Period. Inclusivism, on the other hand, holds that while salvation is through Christ alone, it is not limited only to those who come to a knowledge of Christ. From the inclusivist perspective, it is possible for people who have not heard and accepted the gospel to be saved. This is why Young keeps bringing the interviewer back to the fact that salvation is accomplished through Christ’s work on the cross, not through a person’s choice.

Several times throughout the radio interview, Young makes it clear that he is not a universalist. He thinks some belief/acceptance of God is required. Yet, because he isn’t certain what that belief/acceptance must look like, he doesn’t purport to know with certainty the ultimate fate of every non-Christian. This is what gets Friel all hot and bothered. In his black and white world you either confess Jesus as your Lord and Savior or you’re doomed. He accuses Young of being slippery like the devil, when in reality Young just has a more cautious, nuanced soteriology.

Friel’s lack of theological depth is no more apparent than when he insists that if you don’t believe in penal substitution, you’re not a Christian. Wow. In one fell swoop, Friel has condemned the entire Roman Catholic church, the Eastern Orthodox church, and pretty much every Christian up until the Reformation. But that’s a topic for another day.

I’ll leave you with these words from Billy Graham:

I used to play God but I can’t do that any more. I used to believe that pagans in far-off countries were lost and were going to hell—if they did not have the Gospel of Jesus Christ preached to them. I no longer believe that … I believe that there are other ways of recognizing the existence of God—through nature, for instance—and plenty of other opportunities, therefore, of saying ’yes’ to God.

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This Gospel shall be preached to all pplz

February 23, 2011

Many thanks to one of my favourite bloggers, J.R. Daniel Kirk, for pointing out that an excellent new Bible translation is available.

A searchable version of the LOLCat Bible can now be found here.

Be sure to check out Kirk’s assessment of its hermeneutical approach. To give you a sense of the translation strategy employed, here’s a sampling from John 1:

1 In teh beginz is teh meow, and teh meow sez “Oh hai Ceiling Cat” and teh meow iz teh Ceiling Cat.

2 Teh meow an teh Ceiling Cat iz teh bests frenz in teh begins.

3 Him maeks alls teh cookies; no cookies iz maed wifout him.

4 Him haz teh liefs, an becuz ov teh liefs teh doodz sez “Oh hay lite.”

5 Teh lite iz pwns teh darks, but teh darks iz liek “Wtf.”

Word.

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Love Wins

February 23, 2011

I’ve never heard anything from Rob Bell that didn’t make me think. This video promo for his forthcoming book is no exception. Should be an interesting read:

HT: Mason at New Ways Forward

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Why the Rapture Should be Left Behind

February 22, 2011

There’s a moment of childhood panic that is familiar to many evangelicals. In fact, for some, the experience continues well into adult life. It’s the panic that ensues when you suddenly find yourself alone in a location where you would normally expect to find other people (e.g. your home, school, dormitory). Where is everyone? Why am I the only one here? The terrifying thought inevitably kicks in: they’ve been raptured and I’ve been left behind!

I’ve even heard of pranks in Bible college dormitories where all the students, minus the target of the prank, empty out of the dorm early in the morning leaving clothes strategically placed on their beds. Someone blows a trumpet to wake the poor remaining student (and because Jesus’ return is to be announced by trumpets, of course). The poor student wakes up to find his worst fears confirmed. He wasn’t truly saved and now he’s going to have to slog it out through the tribulation with the rest of the heathen.

With the recent popularity of the Left Behind series by Jenkins and LaHaye, this distortion of the New Testament’s apocalyptic texts has probably become even more ingrained in the evangelical psyche.

Earlier today, John Byron posted the following helpful video in which Barbara Rossing explains the surprisingly recent origins of the idea of a rapture and why it’s an idea best left behind:

 

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The Genesis Code, Part IV

February 21, 2011

This is my final post in a series about the movie “The Genesis Code”. For earlier posts, see Part I, Part II, and Part III.

We’ve got one day left to go …

Day 6 (250 Mya to 6000 years ago/appearance of Adam)

Genesis 1:24-31

And God said, “Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds: the livestock, the creatures that move along the ground, and the wild animals, each according to its kind.” And it was so. God made the wild animals according to their kinds, the livestock according to their kinds, and all the creatures that move along the ground according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good. Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. … God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day.

As usual, the movie does not quote the relevant passage from Genesis, preferring to summarize it inaccurately as follows, “Day Six, the land animals become dominant and God created man in his own image.” As you will note from the above passage in Genesis, there is no reference to land animals becoming “dominant”. The land animals are made on Day 6. The reason for this slight of hand will become apparent momentarily.

The movie’s scientist character tells us that 250 Mya there was a mass extinction that killed 90% of all life on earth, “followed by a rapid repopulation, mammals, land animals predominating, and then the first hominids.”

The bit about the mass extinction event 250 Mya is correct. It’s known as the Permian-Triassic Extinction Event. The repopulation was actually quite slow, not “rapid”, but this is a minor quibble. The reference to repopulation by mammals is puzzling. The periods following the P-Tr Extinction Event were the Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous. In other words, it was the age of the dinosaurs, not mammals. During those periods, mammals were quite small. It was not until the Cretaceous-Tertiary Extinction event 65 Mya, which led to the extinction of the dinosaurs, that mammals finally had an opportunity to exploit larger body sizes and diversify into the position of dominance on land that the movie is referring to.

The real problem for The Genesis Code when it comes to Day 6 is the fact that Genesis describes God making all land animals on Day 6. The earliest evidence of land-dwelling tetrapods dates back to 395 Mya, with the recently discovered footprints in Poland. That is 145 million years too early for the time frame allotted to Day 6 in the movie. In fact, by 250 Mya (the beginning of Day 6 in The Genesis Code), the land was already teeming with life, including pelycosaurs, amphibians, therapsids, archosaurs, and cynodonts. Knowing that land animals were abundant long before their time frame for “Day 6”, the movie has to ignore the plain meaning of “God made … all the creatures that move along the ground” and substitutes the “land animals become dominant” reading of Day 6, hoping that no one has brought their Bible to the movie theatre.

Conclusion

The Genesis Code purports to demonstrate that the Bible and science can both be true. This is a laudable goal, but it cannot be accomplished by pretending that Genesis contains a coded message that accurately describes the history of the universe and life on earth. In order to make their case, the makers of this movie have repeatedly twisted the language of Genesis and grossly misstated the scientific facts.  It is telling that on the Endorsements page on the movie’s website, there doesn’t appear to be a single endorsement from a scientist.

The order of events in Genesis clearly does not line up with the scientific record. No matter what time frames are assigned to each day of creation, it’s never going to be the case that birds (Day 5) came before land animals (Day 6). It’s never going to be the case that fruit-bearing trees (Day 3) came before aquatic life (Day 5).

After walking us through his trainwreck of an explanation of the Genesis “code”, the movie’s physicist hero proudly proclaims that, “Science has proven what religious leaders have been unable to prove for thousands of years.” His sister chimes in with, “Science has just caught up with the truth of the Bible.” The irony is that, if one accepts that the account in Genesis is meant to be a scientifically accurate account of material origins, then the contrary is true: science has disproven the Bible. This is the danger in trying to use ancient texts for purposes for which they were never intended.

The sad fact is that thousands of evangelicals will flock to this movie. Given the big name actors and the high production values, they will assume that the producers must have invested equally in scientific quality control. They will walk away thinking that their faith in the Bible is well-placed because of the book’s prescient foretelling of the discoveries of modern science. This is particularly problematic for young people, who are thereby set up for a spectacular crisis of faith when they encounter credible scientific information later in life.

For anyone interested in how the Christian faith can co-exist with credible science, I would recommend skipping The Genesis Code and spending a little time with the resources over at the Biologos website.