The Huntington Apologetics Team

the HAT: Protect Your Head

Friday, March 17, 2006

Ben Witherington and Dan Wallace Tackle Bart Ehrman's Misquoting Jesus

Bart Ehrman, a "former Christian" and professor at UNC, has released a popular volume called Misquoting Jesus. This book has made the New York Times bestseller list and has won Ehrman great acclaim. In the interest of keeping everyone informed on apologetic issues, I will link to a post to Dr. Ben Witherington's blog that contains both his critique of Misquoting Jesus and that of Dr. Dan Wallace. Enjoy!

Wallace and Witherington critique Misquoting Jesus

HT: Victor Reppert

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Did Jesus Promise to Meet Our Every Desire?

I was recently directed to an interesting website called "Why Won't God Heal Amputees?" The site and the book by the same name were written by Marshall Brain, of "How Stuff Works" fame. The purpose of this project, however, is to demonstrate that "the Bible is nonsense." I was asked to read the first chapter of Brain's book and provide a Christian response.

Brain claims that the death of Neva Rogers, a teacher who was murdered by a student in the classroom, shows that a few statements made by Jesus in the Gospels about prayer are wrong. The statements in question are:

"Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours." Mark 11:24 (ESV)


"If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it." John 14:14 (ESV)

Does Brain succeed in proving the nonsensical nature of the Bible? I do not think so. I think the problem Brain presents really rises from our desire to force modern standards for communication on an ancient document. Jesus wasn't an idiot. Being a 1st Century Jew he would be quite aware that the Old Testament has many examples of faithful men and women praying and receiving a 'no' from God. Jesus was using a common means of communicating a point: hyperbole. Jesus' statement about casting down the mountain is meant to demonstrate that.

We must view Jesus words with the words of James 4:3 in mind:

"You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions." (ESV)

If we make requests selfishly then we are not asking in faith. Then, hyperbole or not, it is meaningless to invoke Jesus' statments in Mark 11:24 and John 14:14. There is more to asking something in Jesus' name that just saying, "...I ask this in Jesus' name."

Someone will probably say, "Do you mean to tell me that someone praying for their own lives to be saved can be praying selfishly?!?!?"

Yes I do. And that is where many people will throw up their hands and call me crazy or foolish (if they haven't already). I think that is a result of the deeply different perspectives we hold. It's a tension that we must live with, I think. So my answer is probably not satisfying on an emotional level for many people, but I honestly didn't intend for it to be.

God bless.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

How Aslan Challenges Popular Assumptions About God

The evangelical Christian community has been in a furor over the release of The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe. Whether you love C.S. Lewis or hate him, these days he's probably on your mind. Though I do disagree with him on a number of issues, I do consider myself a bit of a fan of his. There is one thing that I particularly enjoy about Lewis, and that is that he challenges popular conceptions about the nature of God.

This past Sunday I eagerly chatted with some fellow Christians about our favorite parts of Chronicles. I don't think that mine was a common choice, but everyone I talked to recognized the power of my scene. If you have seen the movie you will probably remember the scene I have in mind.

Just after the White Witch and Aslan struck their deal for Edmund's life they emerge from Aslan's tent. The Witch confidently walks to the throne she was carried in on and turns toward him. "How do I know you'll keep your promise?" she asks. Aslan's response was a single, mighty ROAR that sat the queen down in her seat and prompted cheers from his followers. The moment brought tears to my eyes.

This may seem very strange to those of you who read it, but the reason is simple. In that moment C.S. Lewis demonstrated something that is missing from today's popular concept of God. It is in the Bible to be sure, but not in many passages that people like to preach from today. In that moment the character of God (Aslan) was challenged. He did not respond with a tender, tearful discourse on how his love makes him trustworthy, though God is tender toward those He loves. Aslan responded to the White Witch in a manner not entirely unlike the way God responded to Job's challenge.

Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind and said: "Dress for action like a man; I will question you, and you make it known to me. Will you even put me in the wrong? Will you condemn me that you may be in the right? Have you an arm like God, and can you thunder with a voice like his? Job 40:6-9 (ESV)

In essence, God's response to the challenge of Job was like Aslan's response to the White Witch: Sit down and be silent. God did go further in Job and demonstrate the fact that Job did not have the right to challenge Him, but the result was the same.

What possible apologetic impact does this have? In a way, the Job passage can be considered a "problem passage" in that the content is generally unpalatable to our non-Christian friends. The point of this essay is to remind everyone that the God we worship is not the same God that our unsaved friends have pictured in their heads. In an age where postmodern tolerance is promoted as the highest good the God of Job, and Aslan as a picture of that God, do not fit into the zeitgeist. It is incumbent upon us to acquaint ourselves and our friends with this side of the God of the Bible. It may not make them comfortable, but the truth can be hard. And do not worry about the impact these passages will have on evangelism. You may risk your popularity, but the results of evangelism are up to the Holy Spirit. Share the truth and trust in His power to save.

What's That I Hear!?!?

Ah, it's the click-clack of fingers dancing across a keyboard. We have returned to the internet with the goal of putting out more helpful apologetic content for popular consumption. We all apologize for the the long silence, but we're back. Hopefully this has been last of such silences. Meaningful content is coming soon.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

I Will Be Sanctified: Understanding the Deaths of Nadab and Abihu

Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it and laid incense on it and offered unauthorized fire before the Lord, which He had not commanded them.  And fire came out from before the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord.  Then Moses said to Aaron, ‘This is what the Lord has said, “among those who are near me I will be sanctified, and before all the people I will be glorified.”’  And Aaron held his peace.  (Lev. 10:1-3, ESV)

The Vital Lesson of Leviticus
Leviticus is perhaps the most often ignored book of the Old Testament.  Few preachers care to wind through the maze of legal requirements and narratives for fear of 1) putting their congregations to sleep and/or 2) rousing the specter of legalism by emphasizing a book that speaks so much of the Mosaic Law.  However, even in his worst moments any preacher would acknowledge that every book of the Bible is useful for the building up of the saints (2 Timothy 3:16).  Leviticus is no different.  In fact, the book of Leviticus carries a message that today’s Church is in dire need of hearing.
     The Church needs Leviticus.  Not in the sense that we need to return to the keeping of the Mosaic Law.  That question has long been settled.  No, a study of Leviticus will reveal in no uncertain terms what Christians only think they understand:  God is holy.
     Few passages are more effective in hammering home the holiness of God than Leviticus 10:1-3, which recounts the death of Nadab and Abihu, the sons of the high priest Aaron.  On the surface, this passage looks very much like one a preacher would avoid.  God consumes two young men for offering unauthorized fire?  That is not exactly what most evangelical Christians like to hear preached from the Sunday pulpit (or lectern or podium if you prefer).  Worse still, many would try to explain it away by saying, “That was the wrathful God of the Old Testament, not the gracious God of the New Testament!”  Ignoring the fact that this sounds like a statement straight out of a skeptic’s attack on the Bible, I would direct such a person to Acts 5:1-11, the account of Ananias and Sapphira.  It is neither needful nor useful to make such distinctions in the character of God.
     Faithful Christians must seek a true interpretation of Leviticus 10:1-3, even if it is an uncomfortable process, and even if we do not care for the results.  Why would God, who had graciously saved the Children of Israel from slavery in Egypt and delivered them at the Red Sea, now take the lives of two men who were attempting to serve Him?  Let us first examine the underlying assumptions that lead us to ask this question.

Christianity and the American Mentality
“I consider myself very spiritual, just not particularly religious.”  What statement is more common to the American religious vocabulary than this?  Many people recognize their need for God.  Their desire for contact with the transcendent is intact, but it has been strangely altered by the individualism we cherish here.
     American spirituality begins with the assumption that it is proper to pursue it individualistically.  We assume that God should be satisfied if we just take a stab at acknowledging Him every once in a while.  In fact, most are not particularly concerned over whether God is satisfied or not.  Spiritual life for Americans consists of exercises in self-fulfillment and self-actualization.  It is the religious corollary to the “if it feels good, do it” philosophy.
     Christians have proven to have no immunity to this trend.  We seem to be too concerned with being as much like our surrounding culture as possible to notice that we too have individualized our spirituality.  Many Christians have deemphasized the Church in favor of “quiet times” and “personal devotions.”  Do not misunderstand:  personal devotions are integral to the Christian life, but it is a severe problem indeed when Christians feel no strong ties to their local Church.  We have forgotten that God has given us the Church as His means of service.  This brings us back to Nadab and Abihu.
     Nadab and Abihu had been consecrated as priests.  They were to serve the Lord in His temple, and if you have read Exodus and Leviticus you know that His instructions were quite specific.  There were certain things that the priests were commanded to do in God’s service, and they were to do nothing else.  One such service was the burning of incense, as detailed in Exodus 30:1-10.  This is the command that the sons of Aaron disobeyed.
     What lead Nadab and Abihu to so quickly violate God’s command?  Was it carelessness?  It is difficult to say.  There did not seem to be an indication that they were consciously rebelling against God, but that was not enough to save their lives.  They disobeyed and explicit command of the Lord in how He was to be approached, and He made known His displeasure.
     How do we justify such an action?  The world may never understand passages such as this, but we as Christians must come to grips with them.  Why was it appropriate for God to take their lives?  Why not something like the temporary leprosy that God gave to Miriam in Numbers 12?  We must keep in mind that Miriam’s affront was primarily against Moses, while Nadab and Abihu were an affront to God Himself.  They did not act properly with respect to the means by which God commanded that He be worshipped.  They took Him lightly.
     Ultimately the only justification that matters is God’s own:  “Among those who are near me I will be sanctified, and before all the people I will be glorified.”  There were two reasons for God’s actions, and one actually enfolds into the other quite nicely.  The priests were the mediators between men and God.  They were to demonstrate the holiness of God.  This is why the rituals they performed were so closely scripted.  Through the rituals God meant to show everyone that He was not to be approached lightly.  If even the priests did so, what example was left for the people to follow?  How would God be glorified by the people of Israel?  In order to preserve His glory before the people and demonstrate His holiness and perfection, Nadab and Abihu had to die.  Such was the seriousness of their error.

Preachers who gloss over books such as Leviticus do a great disservice to the Church, as we have seen.  We must become acquainted with the holiness of God, and store in our hearts the truth that He will be worshipped as He desires to be worshipped.  No man can approach the Lord in his own way and hope to have any fate other than that of Nadab and Abihu.  Let this be an admonition to the Church today.  God is Holy, and He will be approached as such.  Take heed of the Lord’s commands, and do not let pride or carelessness sneak into His worship.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Christian Bloggers are Gearing Up for The Da Vinci Code Movie

I've noticed that a number of Christian bloggers have started to prepare for the pop culture storm that might surround the release of the Da Vinci Code movie. La Shawn Barber is trying to stir the rest of us up so that we will be present and accounted for when needed. See her posts here:

The Da Vinci Code Movie is Coming

and here:

Christians, Are You Ready For The Da Vinci Code?

Dr. James White of Alpha and Omega Ministries has also blogged on the topic:

Heads Up, Folks. It's Coming

Dr. Andrew Jackson of "Smart Christian Blog" second's Barber's call to action:

Are Christians Ready for the Da Vinci Code?

And readers with elephant memories will recall that the first substantive post on this site dealt with the Da Vinci Code movie:

The Da Vinci Code Movie: What's a Christian to Do?

Buckle down, Christians, and get ready for lots of questions!

Monday, October 17, 2005

You Will Be Called a Fool

Why do we do apologetics? What motivates the quest to answer each and every objection raised against God and His gospel? There are, of course, the Biblical answers. For instance, every apologist worth his or her salt knows 1 Peter 3:15:

...[B]ut in your hearts regard Christ as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you;

We must give a reason for our hope when people ask. Also, 2 Corinthians 10:4-6 show that we need to dismantle the arguments that men use to attack God and His gospel.

For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete. [ESV]
Biblically we know why we do apologetics, but there is another way to answer this question that I want to explore, and then I will offer a warning to every apologist, and would-be apologist, who reads these words.

To begin, think back to the time before you knew verses like 1 Peter 3:15 or 2 Corinthians 10:4-6. Did you already have the "apologetic impulse?" I know I did. I wanted to be able to answer every objection raised against the faith, and I was ready to study and think deeply in order to do so. Before I had a Biblical justification, I think there were at least two layers to my motivation fo apologetics. Layer one of my motivation was a belief in the truth of Christianity. This, obviously enough, a good thing, and every apologist must believe similarly.

Layer two of my motivation is, however, a bit less honorable, and it is upon this layer that I will focus. The second layer to my motivation for defending the faith was a desire to maintain my intellectual credibility before men. I would not be surprised if this has played a role in the lives of many apologists.

What's Wrong With Intellectual Credibility?
It is natural to ask at this point, 'what is wrong with intellectual credibility?' The answer, of course, is 'nothing.' If we honor God with our answers and maintain the respect of the world, wonderful. However, if credibility is my true motivation for apologetics, what glory then goes to God? If, at the end of the day all I can say is that I have preserved my standing amongst my peers each answer I have given is nearly worthless because I have not honored the Lord (I say "nearly worthless" because the Lord can turn anything to His purpose, but as far as honoring the Lord, answers to defend only my credibility are worthless).

Please don't misunderstand; I am thrilled whenever evangelical scholars go toe to toe with liberal heavyweights and come through. I think this honors the Lord when it is done to defend Him and His word. The danger lies in motivation. If the scholar is motivated by a desire for his own intellectual credibility he is ignoring a major warning that came from the pen of the apostle Paul.

Folly to the Gentiles
In 1 Corinthians 1:23 Paul writes, "but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles". The Christian message makes no sense to the non-Christian mind. Most of us have probably interacted with atheists who are amazed that anyone in the Western world is a Christian. This is perfectly in line with what Paul had to say. We should not expect intellectual credibility because people are predisposed to think us foolish due to our message.

That brings me to my admonition for this week's post. To each and every Christian apologist out there I say, "You will be called a fool." Do not fear it. Do not be offended by it. It has taken me a long time not to care what people think of my intelligence and I still struggle with it occasionally, but I am comforted by the words of Peter in 1 Peter 3:14:

If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you [ESV]

So yes, you will be called a fool. I will be called a fool. My first impulse is to say, "get used to it," but you should do more than that. Embrace it. Revel in it. When we are called fools for representing Christ well we should cry out for joy, for then we know that He alone receives glory, and that in Him alone we find our satisfaction.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Lost Gospel Problems

Since the appearance of The Da Vinci Code, (and even before) many Christians have faced challenges from people regarding “lost gospels.” The Gospel of Thomas is usually a favorite example. It is held up as an example that early Christianity was not monolithic and that the Church Fathers suppressed the lost Gospels due to their prejudice and desire for power.

There are, however, a couple problems with this attack on orthodox Christianity. First, it assumes that all of the gospels have the same standing, when that is a claim to be proven. Even if the documents are as ancient as the four Gospels that does not mean that they should be given as much credence. If the Church Fathers sided with the four Gospels, why must we assume they were wrong to do so? It boils down to the fact that people like Gnostic teaching. It has a higher view of us as human beings. The guiding factor must be the teachings of Jesus and the Apostles. That brings us to the second problem with the “lost Gospels” attack.

What do we know about Jesus and the Apostles? For one thing, we know they were Jewish and their background lies in Judaism. Why then, would Thomas pen a Gospel that draws so heavily on Greek philosophy, not on Jewish thinking? Why should the Church Fathers be compelled to accept documents that are far from the Jewish context in which Christianity was born?

It seems to me that some people just don’t want the Bible to be true, and they will use whatever method they can to discredit it. So, Christian, don’t be dismayed when a critic says there are “lost Gospels.” The early Christians were wise to discard these overly Greek-influenced forgeries.