Thursday, April 30, 2009

A Variety of Links

=Logos is offering a 25% discount on base packages for two weeks. Follow the link for details.

=A little shameless self-promotion: 5 Tips to Improve Your Bible Reading
One of my posts adapted for Beliefnet.

=Nope, Same-Sex Marriage Won’t Affect Us at All
A rundown of the fallout so far.

=Hunger Has a Profile
The variety of people who are hungry today through the eyes of one volunteer.

=The many faces of Christ
A surprisingly moving display set to a really good song.

(HT: Ben Witherington)

=A final fun link: 10 Annoying Habits of a Geeky Spouse
So you can understand my wife's pain :)

Monday, April 27, 2009


I saw a license plate the other day that read “4 U LORD.” It was on a Jaguar.

I have trouble believing that Jaguar was really bought for Jesus.

A similar sight: You may have seen the bumper stickers that say, “Don’t let the car fool you, my treasure is in heaven.” Though I occasionally see this (as a joke, I presume) on a junker, it’s usually on a pretty nice car. I want to ask, “If your treasure’s in heaven, with what did you buy that car?”

I’m not going to pretend I don’t have my luxuries. Moreover, I spend a lot on convenience (e.g., pre-chopped veggies, paper plates). And I’m trying to figure out how much of that is appropriate.

How much can I spend on books in a world where many Christians don’t even have a Bible? How many toys can I give my girls when so many children need medicine? Can I justify paying extra for pre-chopped vegetables when millions would crawl a mile for any vegetable?

At the end of Schindler’s List, there is a scene where Schindler comes face-to-face with the realization that he could have done more. He rescued hundreds, but he’s haunted by the fact that he could have saved more.

At the end of our days, will we do the same? Most of us won’t have the rescued hundreds to console us. Will we go into the next world wondering how much more we could have done?

A Christian in a Lexus and Other Perplexing Thoughts
Are You Discerning in Your Generosity?
Government, Charity, and Jesus

Thursday, April 23, 2009

A Surprising Scripture on Anger

There are passages in the Bible that don’t say what we expect. They sometimes take us by such surprise that we don’t read them correctly.

One that I’ve been known to misread:
You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, 'Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.' But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, 'Raca,' is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, 'You fool!' will be in danger of the fire of hell.

Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that you have something against your brother, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.
Except that’s not what it says:
Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.
“Anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment,” so if your brother is angry at you, fix it.

Shouldn’t it read the other way? Only if the other soul isn’t important to you.

We are held responsible for our part in other people’s sin. Jesus warned against causing other people to sin (c.f., Mark 9:42), as did Paul (c.f., 1Cor 8).

We don’t like that idea. I don’t like that idea. We’re an individualistic lot here in 21st century America, but that doesn’t change the scriptures. As it turns out, I am my brother’s keeper.

Monday, April 20, 2009

America’s Schizophrenic Stance on Abortion

It’s a tragic story. A woman kills one of her children, tries to kill the other, and then performs a do-it-yourself abortion. “Authorities were awaiting the results of an autopsy before deciding whether she would be charged with a second count of murder in the death of her unborn baby.”

Apparently, if the fetus was pre-viable, she won’t be charged with murder; if it wasn’t, she will be. And yet it if this women had given Murder Inc. $350 for an abortion, she would have been exercising her legal right, and anyone who interfered would be a criminal.

We can’t seem to decide if the human fetus is a valuable life or a lump of tissue. Even the old “rule” that if a woman wanted the fetus it was valuable and if she didn’t it was tissue doesn’t seem to hold.

In the outrage over this incident, can we hope that some people will realize either every fetus is a valuable life or none are? Is it crazy to hope that America will realize its schizophrenia* and as a result come to its senses? Let’s pray that is the case. And while we’re at it, let’s pray for this family.

* Here “schizophrenia” is used in the popular, rather than the technical, sense.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Objections to the Resurrection 3

Was the resurrection spiritual?

I don’t think the resurrection was an illusion or a fabrication, but what if we have simply misunderstood – what if the apostles never meant a physical resurrection?

This doesn’t hold water for a number of reasons.

1. The earliest creed (from at least the early 50s, possibly the late 30s) clearly contrasts the burial of Christ with the resurrection: “…he was buried, he was raised on the third day” (1 Cor 15:4). An empty tomb – i.e., a physical resurrection – may not be explicitly stated, but it is clearly implied.

2. Christianity arose out of Judaism with its chief theologian a former Pharisee. If they didn’t share their notion of a physical resurrection (c.f., Acts 23), we should expect it to be explicitly stated.

3. The earliest recorded polemic against the resurrection (Matt 28:11-15) assumes an empty tomb.

4. The gospels record the resurrected Christ as touching people and things and eating food.

5. The earliest recorded sermon appeals to the empty tomb:
“David died and was buried, and his tomb is here to this day... [but Christ] was not abandoned to the grave, nor did his body see decay” (Acts 2:29-31).
This certainly doesn’t constitute proof that Jesus rose from the dead, but it should show that the apostles were not claiming any kind of spiritual or metaphorical resurrection took place. They were clearly teaching that He was physically present after He rose from the dead.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Easter Links

=Was Easter Borrowed from a Pagan Holiday?
"Anyone encountering anti-Christian polemics will quickly come up against the accusation that a major festival practiced by Christians across the globe—namely, Easter—was actually borrowed or rather usurped from a pagan celebration.... The argument largely rests on the supposed pagan associations of the English and German names for the celebration.... It is important to note, however, that in most other European languages, the name for the Christian celebration is derived from the Greek word Pascha, which comes from pesach, the Hebrew word for Passover."
Read the whole thing for more including how the antiquity of Easter celebrations precludes this alleged pagan origin.

=Why does Easter's date wander?

=Either Way, Amalek Must Die: A Passover Meditation
"The Jews are instructed to kill off the tribe of Amalek, while every Christian must kill the Amalekite within him. Christianity wants each individual member of the tribe of Amalek to die to this world and be reborn into the nation of Israel, Amalek’s most hated enemy."

=Gratuitous self-linkage: My favorite pieces from last Easter
-Even Death on a Cross

-Silent Saturday

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Objections to the Resurrection 2

Did the witnesses lie?

If the witnesses to the resurrected Christ weren’t mistaken, perhaps they were lying. Maybe they just flat made the story up.

I’ve written before that the resurrection is a story no one in that period would make up, but let’s take the accusation seriously for the time being.

Why would someone lie about the resurrection of Jesus?

For personal gain
Various people have suggested that the apostles would have had good reason to make up a religion around a resurrected Christ – it would have made them money and given them loyal followers.

The problem with that explanation is that they were poor. Oh, there were certainly more affluent Christians, and they did reportedly share their possessions with the poor – presumably with the apostles, too, if need be – but there is nothing in any record that would suggest that the apostles got wealthy at the expense of their followers.

Given Paul’s emphasis on his not letting people support him as other apostles did, and his repeated mention of taking care of the poor, you would expect some mention of the apostles living a life of ease at someone else’s expense. There is no evidence; this is fantasy and slander.

The second problem with the notion that they would lie for personal gain is that they suffered for their preaching.

Truth be told, we don’t have much historical support for the idea that the apostles were martyred for the faith. There is no particular reason to doubt the church traditions regarding the apostle’s deaths, but the evidence isn’t very strong.

What we do have, though, is a trustworthy, relatively contemporaneous record of the persecution that the first generation of the church faced shortly after its birth. On at least four occasions – after the arrest and flogging of the apostles (Acts 5:17-42), the stoning of Stephen (7:54-60) and the resulting persecution (8:1-3), and the death of James (12:1-4) – it is reasonable to expect liars to stop and ask if they really wanted to continue a charade that was likely to cost them their lives.

For the mission
But maybe the apostles were willing to suffer for a lie because they believed in their mission. Maybe the whole story was designed to help them spread a message of peace and love that would change the world – something worth giving your life for.

There are two problems with that theory.

First, do you teach an ethical system based on a lie? The ethical system they taught was pretty demanding. And everything we have about them, limited though it is, suggests that they were truly sold out to that ethical system. They were the real deal. And they based it all on a fraud? That’s very hard to believe.

Of course, the second, and greater, problem with this theory is that they didn’t teach a message of “peace and love.” They taught a radical reliance upon and allegiance to Jesus. Yes, they taught about love and reconciliation and holy living, but it was always in the context of responding to and being empowered by the Spirit of the God who raised Christ from the dead. That’s why I think this “theory” is based on a misunderstanding – or rather the popular mischaracterization – of the teaching of Christ and the apostles.

One last thing
Last of all, if the apostles were lying, there was still that darn body. Whatever questions there may be, one thing we do know with some certainty is that the Christians became unpopular with both the Jews and Romans fairly quickly. Anyone basing their preaching on a risen Christ whose body was still in the ground would be found out pretty quickly.

What if the resurrection they preached didn’t involve an empty tomb, though? Maybe they were preaching a spiritual or metaphorical resurrection. We’ll look at that next time.

Do We Have Evidence?
Does Christianity Argue from Silence?

Monday, April 6, 2009

Logos Sale

Logos Bible Software is offering some good deals.

The Complete Works of Francis A. Schaeffer is available for $31.25. The Existence and Attributes of God for $19.98. Get the full details and full list of sale items here. This goes through April 10th.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Objections to the Resurrection 1

Was the Resurrection an illusion?

The other day, while driving on the freeway, I saw a large bird on the side of the road. It was just walking around ignoring the cars. As I got closer, I could see its little legs moving, and as I got closer still I saw that this was really a big bird – a turkey maybe. I didn’t think we had wild turkeys in this part of Texas, but this sure looked like one. I got closer still and saw that it was a plastic bag blowing in the wind.

It happens to everyone – our eyes see something, and our brain tries to interpret it. Because we automatically try to place things in familiar categories, our brains occasionally place something in the wrong category – even supplying the necessary details, like little bird legs (which were probably just grass), to make the category work.

A more relevant example: I saw my grandmother more in the first couple of months after her death than I had in the previous few years. We were not even particularly close, but everywhere I went I saw her, at least for a split second, in someone else. It was obviously an illusion – a trick of my mind – and at no point did I actually think my grandmother had returned from the dead.

Given the tricks our minds can play on us, could the apostles and other “witnesses” to the resurrected Christ have been mistaken?

The first argument against this notion is that Christ’s post-resurrection appearance were made to many people at the same time. We can accept that a person can make such a mistake, but a dozen all at once? Five hundred (1Cor 15:6)?

The second argument against this objection is that the witnesses did not just see Jesus across a room. They spoke with Him, touched Him, ate with Him (e.g., Luke 24:36-43). An illusion doesn’t break bread for you (Luke 24:30).

The third problem with this theory is that if the apostles were mistaken about seeing the risen Jesus, His body was still in the tomb. If they ran around Jerusalem preaching that Jesus was alive and making a general nuisance of themselves (c.f., Acts 4:1-22), we would expect the authorities to produce that body and snap them out of their euphoria. This didn’t happen. The earliest Jewish polemic against the resurrection (Matt 28:11-15) assumes an empty tomb.

It seems highly unlikely that the early Christians mistakenly believed they had seen a resurrected Christ. Were they perhaps lying? We’ll look at that next time.