Archive | January, 2013

A Letter to (Some) Atheists

Santa-vs_-God

(please note: I did not create this chart so I am not responsible for misspellings!)

Dear atheist,

As I am sure you know, I am not an atheist. I am a Christian and I am very committed to my Christian faith. (I just thought I should over-communicate here to begin with!)

I have something I want to talk about. And my purpose here is not necessarily to convert you. So please keep reading.

Before anything else, please understand that I do empathize with your beliefs (or lack thereof). So many of you, I know, have long wanted to believe in God, but simply could not convince yourself that he exists. Many of you did not grow up atheists, but became so after a fairly significant battle, both intellectual and emotional. I know and believe that the Bible says “the fool has said in his heart there is no God,” (Ps. 14:1; 53:1) but I think in the context, it is not really talking about philosophical atheism, but the depravity that all people share deep in their heart. We have all said “in our heart” that there is no God, so we have all been fools. That is the point of the passage and Paul picks up on this in Romans 3. Nevertheless, I understand how one’s mind might choose the “there is no God route.” After all, he has seemed absent enough from my life so many times when I so desperately needed him. It might have been very easy for my mind to conclude he is not there (or, at the very least, that he does not care about me). I don’t have time to recount all the times when I have been at the door of your home. I have even taken a ride in that nice porch swing you have out there. So I understand why someone like yourself might lack a belief in God.

If I have your ear, I want to talk to you about something. In fact, I think I can help you become better atheists! Continue Reading →

Four Types of Faith

There are four different ways to define faith. It is incredibly important that we, as Christians, don’t go wrong here.

1. Blind Faith: Faith is a blind leap into the dark.

“Faith is a blind leap into the dark. The blinder the leap, the greater the faith.” Have you ever heard this? In the 1989 film Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, this mentality was put on the big screen. Indiana Jones was making his way through the caves through tests and trials as he attempted to retrieve the Holy Grail, which would bring life back to his dying father. The last test was a “test of faith.” Here Jones was challenged by a great chasm which separated him from the grail. But when he looked, there was no way across the chasm. The solution? A step of faith. After much hesitation, he closed his eyes, held his breath and took the blind leap. His faith was rewarded as a bridge, unseen to the naked eye, suddenly appeared.

Take something as simple as a chair. God is the chair. He is asking you to sit down (rest) in the chair. If faith were a blind leap into the dark, this is what it might look like:

Faith1

2. Irrational Faith: Faith as an irrational leap

In this view, faith is something we have in spite of the evidence. While everything may militate against our faith, we are to make the most irrational choice of all. The more irrational the faith, the greater the faith. Here is what it looks like with the chair (notice all the rationality is behind you): Continue Reading →

A Summary of Justo Gonzalez’s Visit to Credo House

I just sat down after a long day’s events. Phew! What a day.

As part of the “Converse with Scholars” series at the Credo House, our special guest for an entire day of festivities was Justo Gonzalez. For those of you who don’t know him, shame on you! Here is a list of some of his works available on Amazon. We started the day with our “Lunch with Scholars” (an event reserved for members of the Credo House), followed by two special sessions of Theology Unplugged (to be published in the next week or two).  After that, we moved to our book signing, called “Coffee with Scholars;” finally, we ended the day with our special main event, called “An Evening with Scholars.” Justo’s main topic was “How Heresy has Helped the Church.”

It was a great time. It was particularly special for Tim and me as we were able to meet and hang out with one of our great heroes. Justo is lively, light-hearted, and fun. I knew he was a great scholar, but these three characteristics surprised me. Moreover, it was a wonderful treat to meet his wife Catherine. I had no idea that she is not only a former church history professor, but quite the scholar herself. We had fun with the fact that she is a Presbyterian, while Justo is a Methodist.

Here are some highlights from the day’s events:

Justo said that one of the greatest heresies happens when we believe that everyone else is a heretic. I found this very interesting and particularly profound, coming from someone of his stature. I certainly agree that doctrinal legalism leads to a snobbery that eventually, despite our best intentions, begins to shroud the Gospel with a dark blanket of obscurity leading to deadness in the church. We need to be very careful that we don’t draw our lines of doctrinal stability so tight that no one can fit inside those lines but us.

Cardinal Newman once said “To be deep into history is to cease to be Protestant.” Continue Reading →

Four Misconceptions About the Crusades: #2 The Crusaders Were Greedy Opportunists

Misconception #1: The Crusades Were Not Provoked

 

Misconception #2: The Crusaders Were Greedy Opportunists

One popular history textbook talks about the Crusades as the exploits of soldiers of fortune: “The Crusades fused three characteristic medieval impulses: piety, pugnacity, and greed. All three were essential” (Warren Hollister, J. Sears McGee, and Gale Stokes, The West Transformed: A History of Western Civilization, vol. 1 [New York: Cengage/Wadsworth, 2000], 311).

The idea that the Crusades can be boiled down to the exploits of greedy opportunists is slanted, narrow, and held by the credulous. Of course, every military endeavour has its stories. There are always going to be those who engage in war with passions motivated by personal and selfish gain. Therefore, there is no need to defend those who lost sight of the most noble objective (protection of the West and the capture of the Holy Land).

However, it must be understood that most of the Crusaders had to spend their own fortunes to embark on the Crusades. Plundering Muslim towns did nothing more than help finance the war. This was not anything out of the ordinary in those days. Even the wealthiest nobles had to trade most of their wealth to “take up the cross” of a Crusade. These knights, counts, and kings rarely expected to receive a flow of land and wealth from the east. In fact, the primary leaders of the first Crusade (Godfrey of Bouillon, Bohemond of Taranto, and the great Raymond of Toulouse) all swore an oath to Alexius, Emperor of Constantinople, that any lands won would be placed back into the Roman Empire (even if two of the three reneged on this oath after Alexius’ perceived betrayal). Raymond of Toulouse had everything to lose. He gave all of his lands to his son before he left. The financial risk become more severe as the Crusades carried on throughout the years. King of France Louis IX’s seventh Crusade, in the mid-thirteenth century, cost more than six times the annual revenue of the crown.

In short, the money flow was primarily from West to East, not from East to West. For most, the Crusades led to bankruptcy rather than wealth, which is why indulgences became abused and the Crusades eventually had to stop. Criticize the Crusades for many things, but to say that those who “took up the cross” were greedy opportunists evidences a naive indulgence in revisionist history.

Here is another great concise book about the Crusades that I suggest.

Bibleworks 9 Cross Reference Tools

bibleworks9

Here I continue on my short series of posts about BibleWorks 9, a Bible study software I have used for many years.

In preparation for any lesson, a teacher may have many epiphanies, ideas, and intriguing thoughts about what he may be reading in the Scriptures. Often, these discoveries are very exciting. Unfortunately, they can also be too good to be true. There is a verification process that a reader must go through in order to see if what they have learned is truly so. In bygone days, people used to call the comparison of Scripture with Scripture the “analogy of Scripture.” This is where a reader checked to see if other parts of Scripture verified his interpretation. This is simply cross-referencing across the Bible to get some good backing for your discovery.

Frankly, I don’t know how people cross-referenced before the invention of the computer. The labors that must have gone into so many good works such as Nave’s Topical Bible’s and The Treasury of Scriptural Knowledge!

One of the greatest advantages of BibleWorks is that it performs an incredible amount of cross-referencing in milliseconds just by the movement of the cursor over the verse in question. Notice here:

Bibleworks2click on image to increase size

The third column shows all the places in the Bible that speak about something similar to Romans 3:21. And one of the great things about this tool here is that the verses suggested are an aggregate of all the greatest cross-referencing works available, organized using BibleWorks’ incredible ability to determine which have the best chance of relating to the subject of the verse.

I cannot tell you how many times this tool has saved my time and furthered my insights into the theology of the Scripture.

How does this compare to Logos? Logos is my other great love and I have nothing but great things to say about that program as well. However, BibleWorks runs circles around Logos for this sort of thing, as the power of the program is so incredibly focused on the generation of such specific exegetical data. That is why I normally open BibleWorks first and if further resources are needed, then I open Logos.

Four Misconceptions about the Crusades: #1 The Crusades Were Not Provoked

It is very popular to have a completely negative view of the Christian Crusades that took place between 1095 and 1291. In fact, I have often heard people apologize for them. Why? I am coming to believe that there is a significant amount of revisionist history going on that has poisoned the well. In fact, until recently, I also bought into this tainted way of looking at them.

Over a few blogs, I am going to briefly give four misconceptions about the Crusade that I hope will add some perspective.

Misconception 1: The Crusades were not provoked

Often people will say that the Christian Crusades had no external reasoning behind them. In this, there is no blame that can be placed on the “peaceful” Islamic dynasties which were the innocent victims of ruthless Christians coming from the West.

However, any look at the preceding six hundred years of history will show that this idea cannot be sustained in any way. Notice the progression maps I have created to show a snapshot of world events:

Crusades-Map-1

Crusades-Map-2Crusades-Map-3

Crusades-Map-4Crusades-Map-6

 

Muslims had been on a conquest of the Eastern world for over five hundred years. Two-thirds of the formerly Christian lands were now ruled by Muslims. Muslim pirate camps were set up all over, threatening the East and the West. They were threatening southern France and Italy, coming as far as the island of Sicily. In 1009, a mentally deranged Muslim ruler, Abu ‘Ali Mansur, destroyed the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and ordered the destruction or confiscation of 30,000 churches. A Muslim Seljuk Sultan set up a capital in Nicaea, the site of the first great ecumenical Christian council in 325, just 125 miles from Constantinople.

Is it any wonder that Alexis I, Patriarch of Constantinople, called on Pope Urban II in Rome for help? Is it any wonder that Urban responded by calling on the West to come to the aid of their brothers and sisters in the East, who had long suffered the aggressive tyranny of Islamic invaders?

Far from being unprovoked, the call for the Crusades was one of the most just calls for war in all of history.

God’s Battalions is a great book on the Crusades. Get it.

What Happened to the Emerging Church?

What happened to the emerging church? I don’t know.

For many years, it was the talk of the town. From its advocates to its antagonists, the emerging church gave everyone fodder for conversation. Bloggers knew every day what they were going to blog about. Revolutionists always had a distinguished place in the world. Revisionists had many friends who would take up the same rifle and shotgun. Deconstructionalists all held their distinguished hammers. If you were an emerger, you were not alone.

However, today things have changed. No one blogs about it. No one claims the name anymore. No publisher would dare accept a book about the emerging “thing” that happened in the forgotten past. Why? because around the year 2009, the identity of the emerging church went silent and many (some enthusiastically) put a gravestone over its assigned plot. In fact, I even paid my respects.

What happened to the emerging church? Which emerging Church?

Defining the “emerging church” is as difficult today as it was in the bygone days. No one ever agreed. It touched so many issues: ecclesiology, soteriology, epistemology, anthropology, and sociology. You could “emerge” with any or all of these issues.  In general, the emerging church represented a disenchantment with the traditional methodology and beliefs, primarily within the Evangelical church. It was an ununified movement of deconstructing. Many deconstructed theology. Some deconstructed liturgy. Others deconstructed truth altogether. The key unifying factor was that people were disillusioned with the folk religion they had been given, and were willing to stand up as reformers in whichever area housed their ensuing bitterness. But there was not much unity with regard to their beliefs. They just did things differently. They believed differently than their parents.

What happened to the emerging church? Who was involved in this? Continue Reading →