Tag Archives: The Church

What about all those other books that the Church left out the Bible?

Sherlock Holmes and John Watson are going to take a look at the data
Sherlock Holmes and John Watson are going to take a look at the data

You may sometimes hear the objection that there were lots of other gospels and books floating around at the time when the 27 books of the New Testament were standardized. The right way to answer this problem is to ask for a particular book that the challenger would like included and then to take a look at factors like the date it was written, who wrote it, and where it was written. When you look at these factors, it becomes obvious why the other books were left out.

Consider an article by Dr. Charles Quarles, who has written against an early dating of a “left out” book called the “Gospel of Peter”. Why was it left out? Because Christian are mean? Maybe there’s a historical reason why these books are not included.

Excerpt:

An impressive number of clues suggest that this gospel [Peter] postdates even the latest New Testament book and belongs to the mid-second century. First, a close analysis of verbal parallels shared by the Gospel of Peter and the Gospel of Matthew suggests that the Gospel of Peter postdates Matthew and utilized that Gospel as a source… an examination of the vocabulary, grammar, and style of the two documents strongly favors the dependence of the Gospel of Peter on Matthew. Robert Gundry, one of the most respected experts on issues related to Matthew’s style, called the phrase a “series of Mattheanisms” (Gundry, Matthew [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994], 584). Similarly, John Meier noted “when it comes to who is dependent on whom, all the signs point to Matthews priority. . . . The clause is a tissue of Matthean vocabulary and style, a vocabulary and style almost totally absent from the rest of the Gospel of Peter” (Meier, Marginal Jews, 1:117). This is consistent with a number of other Matthean features appear in the Gospel of Peter that all point to the dependence of the Gospel of Peter on Matthew.

Second, other features of the Gospel of Peter suggest that the gospel not only postdates Matthew, but even postdates the latest book of the NT canon, the Book of Revelation. For example, although Matthew indicates that the Roman guard sealed the tomb of Jesus, Gospel of Peter 8:33 adds that it was sealed with seven seals. The reference to the seven seals conflicts with the immediate context. Gospel of Peter 8:32-33 states that all the witnesses present sealed the tomb. However, a minimum of nine witnesses were present leading readers to expect at least nine seals. The best explanation for the awkward reference to the seven seals is that the detail was drawn from Revelation 5:1. This allusion to Revelation fits well with the Gospel of Peter 9:35 and 12:50 reference to the day of Jesus’ resurrection as the “Lord’s Day” since this terminology only appears in Revelation in the NT and first in Revelation out of all ancient Christian literature. The reference to the “Lord’s Day” in the Gospel of Peter is a shortened form that appears to be a later development from the original form appearing in Revelation.

Still other features of the Gospel of Peter fit best with the historical data if the Gospel of Peter was produced in the mid-second century. The Gospel of Peter assumes the doctrine of Jesus’ descent into Hades to preach to the dead. However, this doctrine first appears in the words of Justin Martyr around AD 150. The talking cross is a feature of other second-century literature. The Epistula Apostolorum 16 states that during the second coming Jesus will be carried on the wings of the clouds with his cross going on before him. Similarly, the Ethiopic Apocalypse of Peter 1 describes the returning Christ as coming in a glory seven times as bright as the sun and with his cross going before his face. In a similar fashion, beginning in the late first century, Christian texts describe Christ as possessing gigantic stature. In an allegorical depiction of Jesus’ supremacy and authority over the church, Shepherd of Hermas 83:1 described Christ as of such lofty stature that he stood taller than a tower. 4 Ezra 2:43, a portion of 4 Ezra dating to the middle or late third century, referred to the unusual height of the Son of God. These shared compositional strategies and features make the most sense if these documents and the Gospel of Peter were composed in the same milieu.

It turns out that Quarles has actually debated the views he presents in this article against John Dominic Crossan, the main proponent of the view that the Gospel of Peter is early. You can buy the audio on CDs here, or you can get the book. The CDs are highly recommended, but the book leaves out all the dialog, so I don’t recommend it.

And you can read about two more rejected books, the Gospel of Thomas and the Gospel of Judas, as well. The authors of those two articles are Craig Blomberg and Craig A. Evans, respectively. Craig Evans is also involved in the debate I mentioned with Crossan. He was able to debunk another “lost book of the Bible” called “Secret Mark”, which turned out to be a hoax.

Does the church prepare people for the difficulty of evangelism?

Battle-scarred means battle-ready
Battle-scarred means battle-ready

This post over at Reason to Stand is the kind of post that I wish I had written.

Excerpt:

There is an old saying that “war is hell”. That saying applies as much to ideological warfare as it does to physical warfare. Sure, the pain and consequences are often (though not necessarily) radically different, but the brutality is no less real.

I am constantly amazed by other Christians who oooh and ahhh when I relay stories of past exploits where I’ve engaged people from various ideological backgrounds. They are usually enamored by such tailes and some even form a desire to join in such exploits themselves among the people they encounter on a daily basis.

But for far too many, it ends there. I never see them later and hear their grand tales of past exploits. They never take the steps to become a warrior.

Why is that?

And then he quotes a quote from Dietrich Bonhoeffer which has a special meaning for me. I know that quote very well.

This post really struck at the core of my frustration with the church. Basically, the biggest problem with church is that it is all about having fun and having your emotions tickled. There is no part of church that suggests the idea that being an authentic Christian might require any work at all. And certainly nothing to make you think that being a Christian might involve any conflict – like opposing atheism in debates, or opposing abortion, or even secularized public schools that teach evolution and sex education with taxpayer money.

I was recently listening to an episode of Unbelievable where an atheistic female politician was debating Os Guinness, who I consider to be a functional atheist. But forget about the debate. The main thing that was interesting was that the woman was quite a high ranking politician and she attended church because she enjoyed the beautiful building, the community of nice people dressed up, and especially the nice music and singing. But, her actual beliefs were atheistic.

I actually know a few women who are pro-abortion, pro-same-sex-marriage, pro-big-government, who also enjoy attending church for the singing, and such. And my point is that church, as Wes noted in his post, does nothing to tell people that there is anything more to Christianity than singing, pageantry and community. What matters is the show. In Catholic and Orthodox churches, the show is the liturgy. In Protestant churches, the show is the dancing and the singing and the talking about life having meaning and someone looking out for us who will give us goodies no matter what we do.

Do you know who gets left out of the church in this picture? People who actually think that Christianity is true, and who know how to talk about it, and how to live it out. It’s disgusting. Read Wes’ post and think about it. We need to be celebrating our warriors, not the pastors and especially not the worship leaders. The people who actually talk about Christianity outside the church. That should be the marker of authentic Christianity – not singing, and not talking about things from a pulpit in a sing-song voice.

What about all those other books that the Church left out the Bible?

You may sometimes hear the objection that there were lots of other gospels and books floating around at the time when the 27 books of the New Testament were standardized. The right way to answer this problem is to ask for a particular book that the challenger would like included and then to take a look at factors like the date it was written, who wrote it, and where it was written. When you look at these factors, it becomes obvious why the other books were left out.

Consider an article by Dr. Charles Quarles, who has written against an early dating of a “left out” book called the “Gospel of Peter”. Why was it left out? Because Christian are mean? Because we’re hiding the decline using Mike’s Nature trick to avoid losing billions of dollars in taxpayer money? Not quite.

Excerpt:

An impressive number of clues suggest that this gospel [Peter] postdates even the latest New Testament book and belongs to the mid-second century. First, a close analysis of verbal parallels shared by the Gospel of Peter and the Gospel of Matthew suggests that the Gospel of Peter postdates Matthew and utilized that Gospel as a source… an examination of the vocabulary, grammar, and style of the two documents strongly favors the dependence of the Gospel of Peter on Matthew. Robert Gundry, one of the most respected experts on issues related to Matthew’s style, called the phrase a “series of Mattheanisms” (Gundry, Matthew [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994], 584). Similarly, John Meier noted “when it comes to who is dependent on whom, all the signs point to Matthews priority. . . . The clause is a tissue of Matthean vocabulary and style, a vocabulary and style almost totally absent from the rest of the Gospel of Peter” (Meier, Marginal Jews, 1:117). This is consistent with a number of other Matthean features appear in the Gospel of Peter that all point to the dependence of the Gospel of Peter on Matthew.

Second, other features of the Gospel of Peter suggest that the gospel not only postdates Matthew, but even postdates the latest book of the NT canon, the Book of Revelation. For example, although Matthew indicates that the Roman guard sealed the tomb of Jesus, Gospel of Peter 8:33 adds that it was sealed with seven seals. The reference to the seven seals conflicts with the immediate context. Gospel of Peter 8:32-33 states that all the witnesses present sealed the tomb. However, a minimum of nine witnesses were present leading readers to expect at least nine seals. The best explanation for the awkward reference to the seven seals is that the detail was drawn from Revelation 5:1. This allusion to Revelation fits well with the Gospel of Peter 9:35 and 12:50 reference to the day of Jesus’ resurrection as the “Lord’s Day” since this terminology only appears in Revelation in the NT and first in Revelation out of all ancient Christian literature. The reference to the “Lord’s Day” in the Gospel of Peter is a shortened form that appears to be a later development from the original form appearing in Revelation.

Still other features of the Gospel of Peter fit best with the historical data if the Gospel of Peter was produced in the mid-second century. The Gospel of Peter assumes the doctrine of Jesus’ descent into Hades to preach to the dead. However, this doctrine first appears in the words of Justin Martyr around AD 150. The talking cross is a feature of other second-century literature. The Epistula Apostolorum 16 states that during the second coming Jesus will be carried on the wings of the clouds with his cross going on before him. Similarly, the Ethiopic Apocalypse of Peter 1 describes the returning Christ as coming in a glory seven times as bright as the sun and with his cross going before his face. In a similar fashion, beginning in the late first century, Christian texts describe Christ as possessing gigantic stature. In an allegorical depiction of Jesus’ supremacy and authority over the church, Shepherd of Hermas 83:1 described Christ as of such lofty stature that he stood taller than a tower. 4 Ezra 2:43, a portion of 4 Ezra dating to the middle or late third century, referred to the unusual height of the Son of God. These shared compositional strategies and features make the most sense if these documents and the Gospel of Peter were composed in the same milieu.

Read the rest here.

It turns out that Quarles has actually debated the views he presents in this article against John Dominic Crossan, the main proponent of the view that the Gospel of Peter is early. You can buy the audio on CDs here, or you can get the book. The CDs are highly recommended, but the book leaves out all the dialog, so I don’t recommend it.

And you can read about two more rejected books, the Gospel of Thomas and the Gospel of Judas, as well. The authors of those two articles are Craig Blomberg and Craig A. Evans, respectively. Craig Evans is also involved in the debate I mentioned with Crossan, and in the debate he also reveals that another left out book called “Secret Mark” is actually a 20th century hoax, and Crossan had no response to that revelation in the debate.

Drew explains what the church needs to do to reverse its decline, and I disagree

UPDATE: Everyone go look at Rebekah’s cute summary of the debate that Drew and I are having. It’s filled with adorable pictures that will make you smile!

Drew, who operates his own blog and also blogs at Laura’s blog Pursuing Holiness, comments on his own experiences in the church.

He writes:

But whereas Wintery Knight emphasizes the lack of apologetics in churches, I think the real problem is an overall lack of substance. In many churches, both the sermons and the music lack substance. And you have a better chance of winning the lottery than of finding a Sunday School class with meaty, intellectual teaching.

One problem is that lots of churches have given into the “seeker-sensitive” movement. This movement constitutes a corroding influence in Christianity akin to John McCain’s and Lindsay Graham’s influence within the Republican Party. That is, the movement tries so hard to please potential converts that it forgets to please God, and thereby cripples Christian churches from the inside. (In the long run, this dumbing down actually results in fewer converts.) The church where I officially hold membership, for example, has largely given way to this movement – to the point that it recently abolished Sunday School for all high schoolers. Apparently, learning is not a priority anymore!

Meanwhile, the simplistic worship music of the modern era often tends to lack any real doctrinal substance. Or worse, sometimes the lyrics are so poorly thought-out that they actually promote false doctrines.

The reason I emphasize apologetics is because it addresses the question “is Christianity true?”. To me, even if you go into a church that emphasizes sound doctrine in the sermon and in the singing, it’s still doctrine. And doctrine that cannot be tested cannot be believed in. At least, that’s my view! So I don’t doctrine is the whole story, but it’s part of the story.

And as soon as young people who have been raised on doctrine alone go out in the real world and it may be as useful as apologetics when are tempted to jettison their beliefs in order to be happy. I think our beliefs needed to be grounded on evidence to help us to hold up under fire. Without an emphasis on truth, these sound doctrines are just our community’s preference claims, like flavors of ice cream! They are not regarded as true objectively unless they can be tested against the laws of logic and the external world.

When they get out into the real world and feel pressured to dump their beliefs to fit in or to be happy, they are not going to constrain their actions based on the preferences claims of a bunch of church people. If you teach them preference claims, then watch out when they leave you – they will develop new preferences in a new community. Like binge drinking and hook-up sex.

The only way that a person can constrain their behavior under fire is when they actually believe that they are rationally compelled to constrain their behavior. And rational compulsion is not under the control of your will. The only way to be rationally compelled is by taking time to study issues like the existence of God and the historicity of the resurrection. Then watch some debates. That’s how you determine what is true. And you will always act on what you really believe is true. NOT just what you have been taught is true, and not what you say is true when asked.

Drew continues:

But even mainstream churches that have resisted these movements often tend to suffer from non-intellectualism. For example, most pastors have gotten into the habit of preaching three-point sermons. I’m not going to declare myself the voice of God and suggest that three-point sermons are sinful, but they do create the opportunity for pastoral laziness. I think pastors frequently take advantage of this opportunity, and wind up presenting watered-down sermons filled with extrabiblical philosophy.

I know what Drew means here, but I wish that pastors did bring in professional philosophers to discuss issues such as:

  • the problems of evil and suffering
  • the problem of the unevangelized
  • the problem of religious pluralism
  • the problem of the justice of Hell
  • the problem of hiddenness of God
  • the problem of free will vs divine foreknowledge
  • the problem of moral relativism
  • the problem of consciousness, free will and rationality
  • etc.

Not to mention the evidential arguments from science and history! And all should be capped by showing or hosting public debates to the entire church. Sound teaching alone is not sufficient to reverse the slide of the church into postmodern relativist universalist feminization. Without assessing whether these sound teachings are true, you are again just sharing your preferences in a community whose purpose is happiness, not truth.

I’ll bet Drew will oppose me here. Do your worst, Drew. You can’t beat me up any worse than Rich and Rebekah have already!

I have found is that although apologetics-oriented issues that challenge faith are popular in the culture in books by New Atheists, Bart Ehrman and even fictional authors like Dan Brown or William P. Young, the church is not interested in addressing them. And the reason is simple: we think church is about fulfilling our needs, not about truth. We would never be so dismissive of truth concerns in any other area of life that mattered.

While the entire culture is being confronted by popular challenges from apostates and atheists, we just keep quoting the Bible to our congregations so that they can be really really clear on our spiritual preferences. But as soon as they step out of the church, they will be facing actual arguments in their workplaces, and classrooms. And you know what they’ll do? They will go silent. And God is not served by that silence.

Either we are going to put public, effective evangelism using apologetics first, or we are going to put our personal feelings and self-esteem first. Either we are going to drip tears onto our apologetics textbooks because studying is hard work, or we are going to make excuses that allow us to continue business as usual at church. The dimension that is never raised in these discussions is that people don’t want to do the most effective thing to defend God’s honor. Getting preached at on Sunday with sound doctrine is easy. Singing songs is easy. But engaging your co-workers with science, philosophy and history is hard. Which one has the most impact on the non-Christian culture? I say it’s engagement.

Drew, I want you to watch this debate online, if you haven’t already:

This debate was held at Purdue University in front over 3000 university students. It is a close debate – this was no blow-out for Craig.

Now I want you to leave me a comment telling me what would happen if every Christian who goes to church were to see this debate in their main Sunday sermon. What would happen if every Christian could defend their faith like William Lane Craig? Would God benefit from it? I don’t care how many people’s pride and self-esteem would be damaged by someone smarter than they are talking. Would God benefit from it?

What does Peter say in 1 Peter 3:15?

15But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect…

With respect to God’s purposes in the world, our happiness is expendable.

Watching debates is not even about who wins and who loses. It’s about whether Christian claims can be defended using public evidence in the real world. And if we don’t have confidence that the churchgoers should be made aware of the arguments for and against Christianity, (because we are afraid they will lose their “faith”), then we should just drop Christianity entirely.

Christianity is a fighting faith. The purpose of it is not to make people have happy feelings and community so they, (and everyone they should be evangelizing), can be comfortable on their way to Hell. It’s either true or it isn’t. And if it isn’t then we shouldn’t waste another second on it. Period.

What does Paul say in 1 Corinthians 15:12-19?

12But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?
13If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised.
14
And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.
15
More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised.
16For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either.
17And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.
18Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost.
19
If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.

Do the feminized churches believe that? THEY DO NOT BELIEVE THAT. No matter what they say, they do not really believe that at all. They may teach it as “sound doctrine”. But they do not believe that it matters whether the resurrection really happened. They don’t know or care to know if it really happened. And we know this by watching how little emphasis is put on the historical evidence for the resurrection in the church today.

Have you EVER in your entire life seen anyone speak from the pulpit about whether the evidence is good for the hypothesis that God raised Jesus from the dead? Ever? Anyone reading this – have you ever heard the resurrection addressed using mainstream historical approaches? A talk that DID NOT assume the inerrancy of the Bible, and that could have been delivered in a university classroom or in the workplace?

What are we even doing in church if not teaching Christians how to confidently defend the belief in the bodily resurrection of Jesus?

Am I asking too much?

Sorry to be so insistent and passionate, I hope you will take time before replying to be calm and realize that this is the passion talking, and maybe a little emotional distress, as well. I have been hurt by the church opposing me on this many, many, many times. And so have all my friends.

Please try to be charitable. I am not blaming you for this mess, but I don’t think sound doctrine alone is the answer.

Further study

Miss Marprelate reviews The Shack

If you are like me, then you are probably wondering where all the support for traditional Christian beliefs has gone, especially among Christian women.

Well, do I have a surprise for you! Meet Rebekah from the Miss Marprelate blog.

The Shack

Rebekah starts by talking about William P. Young’s book “The Shack”, which has proven immensely popular (Amazon rank: 7 in Books, 3527 reviews). It has been particularly popular in Christian circles, particularly with those seeking to re-imagine Jesus using their intuitions and emotions instead of performing a rigorous historical and theological analysis of the New Testament.

Here are some excerpts. (Quotes are from the book)

Part 1 of 6:

One of the first problems that people have with the book is it’s portrayal of the Trinity. God the Father is portrayed as a black woman, Jesus as a middle-eastern man, and the Holy Spirit as an Asian woman.

…On the gender issue. We are not called to be creative and inventive when it comes to the worship and understanding of God. Our duty is to live out what He has revealed in the Bible which is our source for truth. God is not masculine or feminine to be sure, but God is not a goddess. He reveals himself in the masculine and I don’t think redefining God for shock value is a good idea.

Part 2 of 6:

“God’s voice, had been reduced to paper, and even that paper had to be moderated and deciphered by the proper authorities and intellects. It seemed that direct communication with God was something exclusively for the ancients and uncivilized, while educated Westerners’ access to God was mediated and controlled by the intelligentsia. Nobody wanted God in a box, just in a book. Especially an expensive one bound in leather with gilt edges, or was that guilt edges…” pg. 65-66

I think that any orthodox Christian would have to say that even if God does communicate on some level with people today, He does not contridict the Bible. If you claim to have some new revelation that contradicts a proper interpretation of the Bible, we call that a cult, not God’s voice.

Part 3 of 6:

“The Bible doesn’t teach you to follow rules” referring to things like “doing good things and avoiding evil, being kind to the poor, reading your Bible, praying, and going to church.” pg. 197

…Maybe I am too cynical but I think that if a man who was caught in adultery later writes a book in which he says that marriage is not an institution, there is no law, responsibilities and expectations ruin relationships, and no one is allowed to judge anyone else, well, I would just call it very convenient. I would not however want any prospective husband to think that way.

William P. Young cheated on his wife with one of her best friends. Do you think that had anything to do with his dismissal of the moral demands of Christianity? No one is perfect, but we ought not try to justify our sins by saying there are no moral standards. How is it possible that Christians just love this book? Is it because they don’t want moral standards to apply to their conduct? Why admire and patronize an unrepentant adulterer when you could be reading Lee Strobel or Bill Craig, instead? Where are our priorities?

Part 4 of 6:

“Are there any (People) who you are not especially fond of?” Mack asks Papa. “Nope”.

“I [God] am not who you think I am, Mackenzie. I don’t need to punish people for sin. Sin is its own punishment, devouring you from the inside. It’s not my purpose to punish it; it’s my joy to cure it.”

I’m no Biblical scholar but I am sure that there are bits of the Bible which reveal God’s wrath and judgment on people that He is not especially pleased with or fond of. Psalms 2, 5, and 58 to name a few from off the top of my head. Unless you want to say that abhor, destroy, cast out, derision, displeasure, vex, break them, dash them to pieces, perish, wrath, break their teeth, cut in pieces, vengeance, are terms of endearment.

Part 5 of 6:

There is nothing evil, there is nothing even close-minded about defaulting to a traditional way of understanding until you are obliged by overwhelming evidence to see that you need to change. To stand by what always has been is to acknowledge that you are not smarter than thousands of years of scholars and theologians. It is to acknowledge that seemingly small changes in doctrine or practice can have implications that we may not see for a hundred years.

Part 6 of 6 just contains links to podcasts and other resources.

My take on this (not endorsed by Rebekah!)

As Christians, we need to recognize that there are a lot of people who do not study apologetics. No matter what these people say, it will be harder for them to act like a Christian when they are tempted – because they do not know in the same way that they know other things for which they have evidence.

William P. Young has probably never even read the Narnia stories, far less for some of our top scholars. Therefore, to is going to be harder for him to avoid sinning because he simply doesn’t know whether Christianity is real. He’s never studied any evidence nor has he ever see the evidence debated, in my opinion.

This mistrust of evidence is standard operating procedure in the church. Christians spend years singing songs and then something bad happens and they dump their faith because no one ever told them how to defend against the problem of evil, (or any other commonplace objection to Christianity). Instead of becoming informed about the truth of Christianity, we emphasize emotional satisfaction. You can’t survive temptation and doubt like that.

The purpose of apologetics is not just to persuade non-Christians of the truth of Christianity, it’s also to persuade Christians of the truth of Christianity. How can Christians be expected to do the right thing when they spend no time at all deciding whether God is real, by studying and hearing both sides debate these issues. Our beliefs are not under the control of our wills – they change naturally when we spend time studying arguments, evidence and debates.

Christianity is a matter of trusting in what you know to be true, based on reason and evidence. Christianity is not squinting your eyes, clenching your fists and trying real hard to squeeze out some blind faith.

We need to get with the program. I recommend evidential, old-earth apologetics taught by Christian scholars from the pulpit in the main church service of every church, at least once a quarter. You may not listen to me now, but as more and more people leave the church, you’ll start to listen.