Tag Archives: Bible Study

How did universities reject the concepts of theological and moral knowledge?

I spent all day Saturday listening to fun lectures and an audio book, (“The Divine Conspiracy“), from Dr. Dallas Willard, a professor of philosophy at USC. (This is why I’m not responding to any of your e-mail or writing any long posts about courting and apologetics).

Here are a couple lectures he did in 2002 at Ohio State University about what it means to be human.

You may have to download them twice, I notice that the first time I try to download lectures that it gives me some short little 250Kb file which isn’t the whole lecture. The second time it works fine.

Anyway, he talks a lot about the work of a Harvard professor named Julie Reuben, who wrote a book called “The Making of the Modern University”. I hunted around and found a three-part book review that I have summarized for you below. The book review is by Mark Hansard at Christian Leadership Ministries, which is the faculty ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ.

Here’s part 1 of 3.


The first chapter, entitled “The Unity of Truth,” explains the educational philosophy of the early 19th century, and how it fell apart near the end of that century. What caught my eye was the robust view of knowledge that professors and university presidents believed at that time. According to Reuben, they believed not only that all knowledge in different fields could form a coherent whole, but also that its pursuit would lead to a good and more virtuous life. All knowledge led to better action. In fact, she says, university leaders at that time believed that the “the good, the true, and the beautiful were interconnected, and that successful education promoted all three together” (12). All knowledge inevitably lead to worship of God and an understanding of his wisdom.

Part of this 19th century construct was natural theology, which in this case was not merely the admission that design was detectable in nature, thus pointing to a Creator. It consisted of stronger claims such as: the harmony of nature reflected God’s wisdom, that the more we understand of nature the more we can understand God’s character, and that, as one professor put it, “the knowledge of God, derived from the study of nature, is adapted to add greatly to the impulsive power of conscience” (20). In other words, a study of nature would strengthen virtue in the student.

This is why the first scientists (and some today) are Christians. They were trying to find out something about God’s existence and character by looking at nature. They wanted to see what God was communicating to us through the natural world.

And one more:

But even more serious is the loss of belief that moral knowledge is possible. There is no wisdom (in the ancient sense which Plato and Aristotle discussed) in the universities today, because there is no way to know what the good life is, how life ought to be lived. Such things, since they no longer constitute part of the curriculum, have simply been lost. Is it any wonder there is so much moral confusion among us?

This is really what Willard is concerned about in the lectures. If there is no God to create and design the universe, then there is no objective way we ought to be. And when the university stopped doing theology (or insulated it from critical inquiry), they stopped having a foundation for robust morality. Morality is hard. It’s not the kind of thing you can do if you have to take it on faith. Sometimes, moral rules go against our selfish desires, and it’s those times where you really need to know if these things are true.

Here’s part 2 of 3.


According to Reuben, Darwinism brought with it a new, revolutionary view of science that viewed scientific knowledge as imperfect but progressive, always seeking to correct itself through further research and experiment. The new science relied on hypotheses, theories, even imagination as it attempted to explain the world, and a good scientific theory would have practical, measurable results.

[…]Eventually scientists came to view theology as a meddlesome interloper who made a priori pronouncements about truth that simply got in the way of free inquiry and scientific advancement. Theology would have to be abandoned if the new, modern university founded upon the progressive philosophy of science would be allowed to pursue scientific research unfettered. But how could this be done, while maintaining the importance of Christianity? According to Reuben, the solution of scholars and administrators “was to distinguish theology, defined as a mode of inquiry and a set of doctrines, from religion, which was left largely undefined as sentiment, experiences, ritual, and ethical values” (57).

Theology is a knowledge tradition, which purportedly carries authority because it consists of truth claims that carry weight in describing the real world. However, in teaching religion, the knowledge conveyed was not about doctrines of God, man and salvation, but instead a set of propositions about what religious people believed, how they worshipped. In short the study of religion conveyed knowledge about how religious people acted apart from asking the question of whether their beliefs were true. Theological knowledge, and with it moral knowledge, was permanently lost. Instead of strengthening Christianity with science, the new religious studies departments actually weakened Christianity by taking away its authority, an authority that is based upon knowledge. Not surprisingly, administrators could not get students to be interested in their new religion classes.

If Christianity is just a set of beliefs and rituals designed to make people feel good, act morally to please parents, and to have a sense of community, then it is worthless. As the apostle Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:14, “And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.”

Either Christianity is a knowledge tradition, or we are wasting our time with yesterday’s fashions. If Christianity is about our feelings, then it will die, because we can always to make us feel better. What will happen is that you will have people jumping around in church singing songs on Sunday morning, then having abortions and divorces on Monday morning.

Here’s part 3 of 3, but I didn’t find anything earth-shattering in it. It sounds like Christians were too authoritarian and dogmatic in responding to science’s desire for increased autonomy. You cant make an argument from dogma – it just makes people dislike your dogma. What we ought to have done is what we’re doing today: doing good science and good history without any pre-suppositions and seeing if what we find in cosmology, biochemistry, ancient history, etc. confirm or deny Christianity. The lesson to be learned here is that when you insulate your faith from rational inquiry, you reduce it to personal preference and you lose your authority – authority that comes from knowledge.

It’s interesting to think about how different things used to be just a few decades ago when people were not so different to throw off the constraints of knowledge and the obligations of morality in a desperate pursuit of pleasure in this life.

New Bible software takes Bible study to a whole new level

This story about a new Bible software called “GLO” was sent to me by one of my ex-co-workers from 13 years ago!

Check out these videos:

Cool. One thing I would add to this software is resources for allowing people to explain the Bible to their neighbors. Probably the most useful thing would be to evaluate major passages to see when they were written, how closely the passage is based on eyewitness testimony, whether it appears in other New Testament sources, whether it passes criteria like embarrassment and dissimilarity, and whether it is confirmed by archaeology or even non-Biblical sources.

Additionally, commenter Matthew has some concerns:

Translations? Only NIV, which is OK but far from exemplary. For $90 this needs every translation known to man, in most languages. And full text of all historic bibles as well.
Scholarship? An article found through google critiques Glo for not having a panel of scholars advise on the extra-biblical resources offered.

I don’t think this thing is meant as a scholarly resource – they are aiming for a different market.

Debates about the Bible

If you think that talking about the Bible with non-Christians is fun, you might want to take a look at these debates:

If you like seeing fringe historical skeptics of Christianity go down in flames, check out this post for some historical debates with evangelicals and radical skeptics.

Did the divinity of Jesus emerge slowly after many years of embellishments?

How early is the doctrine of the divinity of Jesus?

When I answer this question, I only want to use the earliest, most reliable sources – so I can defend them on historical grounds using the standard rules of historiography.

The 4 sources that I would use are as follows:

  • The early creed in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8, and 1 Corinthians 1
  • A passage in Philippians 2
  • Two passages from Mark, the earliest gospel
  • A passage from Q, which is an early source of Matthew and Luke

So let’s see the passages.

1 Corinthians

I’ve written before about the early creed in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8, which skeptical scholars date to 1-3 years after the death of Jesus, for a variety of reasons I covered in the previous post. Here’s the creed which definitely makes Jesus out to be more than an ordinary man. Ordinary men don’t get resurrection bodies after they die.

Here’s the passage: (1 Cor 15:3-8)

3For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures,

4that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures,

5and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve.

6After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep.

7Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles,

8and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.

Additionally, 1 Corinthians 1:21-25 talks about Jesus being “the power of God and the wisdom of God”. Paul is identifying Jesus with the divine.

21For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe.

22Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom,

23but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles,

24but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.

25For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength.

But it gets even stronger! You all probably already know that the most important passages in the Old Testament for Jews is the famous “Shema“, which is found in Deuteronomy 6:4-9. The Shema is a strong statement of Jewish monotheism.

Here’s the passage:

4 Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.

5 Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.

6 These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts.

7 Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.

8 Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads.

9 Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.

So how does Paul fit Jesus in with this strong statement of Jewish monotheism?

Paul alludes to the Shema in 1 Corinthians 8:4-6.

4So then, about eating food sacrificed to idols: We know that an idol is nothing at all in the world and that there is no God but one.

5For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”),

6yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live.

Holy mackerel! How did that get in there? Paul is splitting the roles of God in the the Shema and identifying Jesus in one of the divine roles! Jesus is not an ordinary man. That passage “through whom all things came” foreshadows John identifying Jesus as “the Word of God”, which “became flesh and dwelt among us”. Holy snark – did you guys know that was all in here so early?

The date for 1 Corinthians is 55 AD. It should be noted that skeptical scholars like James Crossley accept these passages, and you can check it out in the debate audio yourself.


Check out Philippians 2:5-11.

5Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
6Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
7but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.
8And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death— even death on a cross!
9Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name,
10that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

The date for Philippians is 60-61 AD. Still within the lifetime of the eyewitnesses, and written by an eyewitness who was in contact with the other eyewitnesses, like Peter and James, whom Paul spoke with numerous times on his journeys to Jerusalem.

Mark’s gospel

Mark’s gospel is the earliest and atheists like James Crossley date it to less than 40 AD, which is 10 years after the death of Jesus at most. When you read the gospel of Mark, you are getting the earliest and best information available about the historical Jesus, along with Paul’s epistles. So what does Mark say about Jesus? Is Jesus just a man, or is he something more?

Check out Mark 12:1-9:

1He then began to speak to them in parables: “A man planted a vineyard. He put a wall around it, dug a pit for the winepress and built a watchtower. Then he rented the vineyard to some farmers and went away on a journey.

2At harvest time he sent a servant to the tenants to collect from them some of the fruit of the vineyard.

3But they seized him, beat him and sent him away empty-handed.

4Then he sent another servant to them; they struck this man on the head and treated him shamefully.

5He sent still another, and that one they killed. He sent many others; some of them they beat, others they killed.

6“He had one left to send, a son, whom he loved. He sent him last of all, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’

7“But the tenants said to one another, ‘This is the heir. Come, let’s kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’

8So they took him and killed him, and threw him out of the vineyard.

9“What then will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and kill those tenants and give the vineyard to others.

And Mark 13:32, talking about the date of the final judgment.

32“No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.

And again, this passage is establishing a hierarchy such that Jesus is being exalted above all men and the angels, too. And the passage is embarrassing to the early church, because it makes Jesus look ignorant of something, so they would not have made this passage up. Jesus is not an ordinary man, he is above the angels – God’s unique Son.

The “Q” source for Matthew and Luke

Here’s Matthew 11:27, which is echoed in Luke 10:22:

27“All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.

22“All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows who the Son is except the Father, and no one knows who the Father is except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.”

Since this passage is in both of Matthew and Luke, but not in Mark, scholars believe that it is in the earlier “Q” source used by both Matthew and Luke. Q predates both Matthew and Luke, and so it is also fairly early (maybe 67-68), although not as early as Mark and Paul. Bill Craig writes that this passage is also embarrassing because it says that no one knows Jesus.

Learn more

You can learn more about the early belief in the divinity of Jesus by listening to a lecture by William Lane Craig and reading the related paper, and by listening to the debate between Richard Bauckham and James Crossley on that topic. The first link contains other scholarly debates on Jesus.