Were the early Christians merely superstitious

“We aren’t talking about rocket science here; we are talking about the ramblings of a primitive Jew.” – Atheist on facebook – name withheld to protect the ignorant.

When you discuss the evidence supporting the New Testament Gospels as an accurate historical record (as we are reviewing with republished articles on our apologiafides site http://apologiafides.wordpress.com), you will often find an answer similar to that above: to wit, that first century Roman society was made up of people who were stupid, or primitive. But, just how primitive were they?

• Hero of Alexandria developed intricate machines using precise timing. Among other things, Hero developed the first known vending machine, the first known automatic door opener, the first animatronics, and the first operational steam engine. In fact, the Roman world almost began an industrial revolution; they likely would have crossed that threshold, if slave labor had not been so cheaply available at the time.

• For a long time, there has been an ongoing debate as to whether Newton or Leibnitz actually discovered calculus. We now know that Archimedes was using principles of calculus more than a thousand years prior to the birth of either of those men.

• The Jews, far from being primitive at the time, developed a highly and widely literate society.

In many senses, numerous moderns assume that technological and intellectual development travel in a straight line. But, this has been proven to be a false assumption. In many respects, the Renaissance was not (as it is often thought to be) a period of new discovery. It was actually a period during which European society rediscovered much that had been forgotten within the Dark Ages; often found in ancient texts.

As in all time periods, of course, the Roman world had its residents who were ignorant, However, one cannot argue that the early church was made up solely of the ignorant and superstitious.
• Luke’s gospel is written by someone who is a historian. As noted in a piece on our technical site (http://apologiafides.wordpress.com/2014/03/22/the-positive-case-for-christ-acts-1-liberals-zip/), the author of Acts and Luke was a historian of the first rank. This indicates that Luke was educated; that he had developed critical thinking skills. As a result, we cannot argue that he was merely superstitious.
• Paul is our other example. Even if we confine ourselves only to those elements of the Pauline corpus which are accepted by the theological left, it is clear that Paul is both educated, and a thinker in his own right.

Therefore, we must conclude that two of the major authors of the New Testament cannot be written off as merely superstitious ramblers. Any thoughts?

Atheists and Mustard Seeds

Sometimes we hear expressions around us like, “I’m so hungry I could eat a horse.” Now, if we were interpreting this literally, we would immediately tell that person that he had committed a scientific error. After all, hunger is a feeling, brought about by chemical processes that are satisfied when the stomach is full enough to release another set of chemicals to send the “don’t eat any more” message. A horse is large enough that no person could possibly consume the entire animal, without causing his stomach and intestines to burst from the strain.

Or, rather than accusing him of a scientific error, we could understand the statement as it was intended. We all know that the person who states, “I am so hungry I could eat a horse” does not intend to make a scientifically quantifiable statement. He is using an expression called a “hyperbole” to state that he is very hungry, with a certain degree of color or flair. Hyperbole is the use of exaggeration to make a point, and as such, it is not to be understood literally.

So what is the point? One of the texts that atheists have used to attack Christianity is an example of a hyperbole being interpreted literally. Matthew 13:31-32 (along with parallels in Mark and Luke) refers to the mustard seed as the “smallest of seeds” growing into “the largest of trees.” Atheists will immediately state that the mustard seed is not the smallest seed known — and scientifically, that would be correct. The answer is that this is a parable. Using the mustard seed to denote smallness is actually a common literary device among rabbinic writers. Matthew 17:20 makes similar use of this imagery. Jesus was simply using the image as a proverb and using hyperbole to establish his central point (that the kingdom would grow from something very small to something very large). This type of expression was very common among first century Jews; Jesus used hyperbole in other places, as well. For example, the reference to a log in the eye, in Matthew 7:3, is a good example of Jesus’ use of hyperbole. The evidence to understand that this is hyperbole is the latter end of the expression: after all, the mustard plant is also not the largest plant, either.

So, unless atheists are also taking umbrage with references in modern society to the sun rising in the east, enough hunger to eat a horse, or other common idioms, they should perhaps choose a new proof text to argue. Otherwise, they are making “mountains out of molehills.”

Apologetics “The Chicago Way”

One of the major debates with Atheists is the question of inerrancy. Now to be clear, I do not bring up inerrancy or inspiration when arguing with an atheist – inerrancy is a later theological conclusion derived from my faith, or to simplify further, I do not accept Christianity because I believe the Bible to be inspired, I believe the Bible to be inspired because I have accepted Christianity. The question when witness is not whether Scripture is inerrant, but whether it is historically accurate.

However, atheists make inerrancy a major focus of their discussion. This is fair, or would be if their arguments were on point. In most cases, they make statements about inerrancy that are based in a poor understanding of inerrancy. A number of years ago, based on these strawman arguments, a number of Christian theologians got together and stated a definition of what inerrancy is, the statement is called The Chicago Statement on Inerrancy, the text of which can be found here: http://www.bible-researcher.com/chicago1.html.

One of the key statements in the Chicago statement is this:

“So history must be treated as history, poetry as poetry, hyperbole and metaphor as hyperbole and metaphor, generalization and approximation as what they are, and so forth. Differences between literary conventions in Bible times and in ours must also be observed: since, for instance, non-chronological narration and imprecise citation were conventional and acceptable and violated no expectations in those days, we must not regard these things as faults when we find them in Bible writers. When total precision of a particular kind was not expected nor aimed at, it is no error not to have achieved it. Scripture is inerrant, not in the sense of being absolutely precise by modern standards, but in the sense of making good its claims and achieving that measure of focused truth at which its authors aimed.”

The problem with many arguments from atheists is that they are arguments that require scripture to be taken in ways other than intended. For example, metaphors are treated as if they are history, generalizations as if they are intended to be precise, and summaries as if they are intended to be direct quotations. In a sense, this is because most atheists have very little understanding of the literature of the Bible’s times, and most can’t be bothered with fact gathering to back up their positions – its much easier simply to insult the poster and move on.

While many atheists will therefore raise points that are of no actual value to the discussion because they are strawman arguments, it also means many will not listen to a reasoned answer. At best they will accuse Christians of playing with Semantics.

It also means that when Christians to answer certain questions will have to go beyond surface level analysis.

God’s Rules of Engagement – Pearls Before Swine

There are times when the spiritual rules of engagement indicate that we should not engage the enemy. We are commanded to always be prepared to give an answer – but we are also warned not to throw our pearls out before the pigs, because they will trample the pearls and attempt to rend us (Matthew 7:6). Sometimes this passage is considered controversial – cited, it can be discussed in terms of name- calling (you are referring to a person as a pig: an animal that symbolizes indulgence, laziness, etc). However, this is not what the passage is talking about. To those under the law, the pig was an unclean animal, but given the context, there is more to this quotation than even this.

Boars, whether wild or in captivity, are noted for their ill tempers; they have sharp tusks that they can and do use to eviscerate an enemy. Now, the person casting his pearls in front of the boar might well think he is doing something nice or kind for said boar. But, the reality is that all he is accomplishing is to attract the attention of the animal, which will immediately engage in boar-like behavior: it will charge.

A few months ago, an atheist who wrote on Ray Comfort’s facebook page “complimenting” the bravery of Christians who post on atheistic websites — and I cringed. Often, due to the fact that atheists posture themselves as being more intelligent and “enlightened” than believers, many seem to assume that it is easy to engage in a point-counterpoint argument. Actually, in my own experience, that is often not possible, unless the question actually is related to your intelligence; to whether your parents are “close relatives” or whether you are engaged in some kind of illicit behavior.

As I have noted elsewhere (http://thequartermasterstent.wordpress.com/2013/12/05/45/) the lunatic fringe of the atheistic movement, men like Richard Dawkins, have become icons, and their brand of ad hominem argumentation has become the norm. As a result, there are places Christians should not post a defense of the faith.

A few examples of when not to engage (from my own apologetic misadventures):

• When someone begins talking about your motivation, utilizing pseudo-psychological concepts such as homophobia (the Soviet Union used this tactic in dealing with dissidents).
• When your answer to a question is received with a response indicating that you are fabricating, or lying.
• When they continue to prod into points that you have already answered.
• When said answers are basically ignored and simply exchanged for new questions.
• When the general tenor of the site is ad hominem, (for a definition see our comment policy page).

In these kinds of cases, it is best to move on to discussing matters with someone else. So do you have any thoughts on when not to engage?

Singing in the Mountaintops, engaging in the trenches.

I work at a job where I am blessed to be able to listen to music while I work. Tonight, while listening to some southern gospel, I found that blessing that I only find in that type of private worship. It was a mountain top experience. I grew up in the Detroit area, but in a church made up largely of southerners (such as my grandparents) who moved north to look for work in the auto industry. Thus southern music makes up a prominent part of my “playlist.” While I love the great hymns of the faith, it is the distinctive harmony of southern gospel music that is the expression of my worship at my highest moments, and that succors me at my lowest points. And like Peter at the mount of transfiguration, I would ask that I could stay on this mountain peak forever.

Yet, like Peter I can’t. Mountaintop experiences – as wonderful as they are – can’t carry me through life. Like all of God’s sheep, I must spend time in the valley where the grass grows.

The purpose of this site is to be an entry level material for Christian casemaking or as it is better known, “Christian apologetics.” In a sense, this is a “get in the game” site for Christians in relationship to answering the objections of the faith. I hope you have a deep devotional life. I hope you have those moments when your heart soars in worship and praise, and you deeply feel the profoundness of the Father’s love for believers. But I also hope you realize we cannot live only in our devotional life. This is why sites like mine are necessary.

Answering the questions of the faith are not merely an aspect of the Christian experience that we might find interesting, it is one that we must engage in. Peter tells us plainly that we are to always be ready to give an answer for those who ask of the blessed hope that lies within us. Yet the nature of the spiritual equipment we use demands thought in how to do this.

When we discuss spiritual warfare, the classic passage is the armor of God discussion in Ephesians. In this discussion, the word of God is described as a sword – the only offensive weapon in the panoply of faith. Swords were important weapons in the Roman world, but the soldier was required to spend an extensive amount of time drilling to use the weapon effectively. Apologetics is a part of the drilling – its about learning to use Truth effectively.

I hope you have a devotional life, but I hope you are engaged in the trenches as well – and paradoxically, if you study some apologetical material, I hope it makes your mountain experiences all the more exhilarating – I can tell you, that has been my experience.

Marital Economics

Recently, there has been discussion that marriage is an institution that benefits the rich but doesn’t benefit the poor, or various other discussions about inequality of marriage. In a sense, this is another attack on value of the institution of marriage like many others we have seen over the years. As Christians we see marriage as an institution created by God and man’s attempts to change or deviate from that institution are not relevant. All other sexual relationships outside of the bonds of a heterosexual marriage are morally invalid. As a society, we can create conditions that can economically dis-incentivize marriage, but that does not change the necessity of the institution for a stable society.

The current argument being raised is that fewer poor members of our society are marrying, then somehow marriage is an institution that is only attractive or beneficial to the wealthy.

But I want to raise a different possibility.

The most important work on individual wealth written in the twentieth century was Thomas J Stanley’s book The Millionaire Next Door. Stanley’s book (and its follow up The Millionaire Mind) was based on a series of interviews with millionaires, and his results were startling.

Here is an argument based on his findings:

1. 80% of millionaires are “first generation rich” that, is they made their fortunes themselves, and were not born wealth.

2. Of these 80% that were first generation rich, most of them were born into poor families.

3. From this, he established as a thesis that the habits of the rich were among the reasons for their wealth. Among these, 2/3rds of millionaires had their own businesses (as opposed to 20% of the general population) most of them made extensive investments – both into their businesses and in other investments, on average investing 20% of their income.

4. Economically, millionaires tend to have both a strong offense and a strong defense (ie they are extremely careful in their spending habits).

5. One of those habits is that the wealthy married before they became wealthy and stayed married. Stanley believed that these millionaire’s marriages were part of the reason why they had become wealthy because most of their wives had similar habits.

That being said, perhaps the problem isn’t that marriage is an institution that only benefits the wealthy – perhaps the changing views of our society are contributing to growing poverty. Marriage and the family has long been understood as a stabilizing force, and this stability includes economic security. Perhaps, this would all suggest that God’s ways still work.

A start to answering emotional atheism

Last time, I raised a discussion regarding the emotional root of the problem of evil. The problem of evil (or “why do bad things happen?”) is, an intellectual question. However, when it becomes an objection to the faith it is in reality, an emotional response disguised as an intellectual argument. Because the challenge of evil is not an evidentiary case, from an intellectual standpoint, all that Christianity must do is to demonstrate that it is internally self-consistent (that is, we must be able to demonstrate that the problem of evil does not contradict the Christian faith, which it does not). However, the hidden reason that the intellectual argument is not satisfying is because the answer is something that unbelievers will not be willing to receive. My own God-given strength is the ability to answer questions intellectually. Obviously, a blog is not going to answer something as transient or as varied as either the human heart or the human experience. But, I believe there are some points we can present to initiate a basis for answering the question.

• While not always appropriate (because people will assume you are “blaming the victim”), putting the problem in the proper theological frame is helpful. The two types of evil involved in the question are either present in the form of nature (natural disasters, disease, and death) or man-caused malevolence (criminal assaults, murder, war, etc). Theologically, man has corrupted himself, and God has given men free will; the combination brings about the brutality of man committing crimes against man. God did curse the earth in response to the fall, bringing death, disease and disaster. While many may argue that this is not the best imaginable world, it may very well be the best possible world in which freewill exists.
• Because this issue consists of an emotionally fueled argument, then reminding people that Christ is with them through the disasters of life provides stability. Jesus suffers with them as they experience any trauma – and He desires to help.
• Remind them, as well, of the Bible’s teachings concerning the person of Christ. Scripture warns the unruly, but it also tells us of God’s mercy. Jesus said, for example, “Come unto me all you who labor and are overloaded”. While the problem of evil exists objectively, the Christian response is that we do not have to experience our trials alone.

Halloween Comes Early: An Emotional Objection disguised as an Intellectual One.

One of the biggest issues that Christian apologists deal with is the question of evil. In all, a reasonable understanding of Christian theology quickly answers this opposition to the faith. The real problem, however, is not that the Christian intellectual response to the problem of evil is insufficient, but that the objections to the Christian faith raised by the problem of evil in many cases is an emotional objection to the faith masquerading as an intellectual argument.

A few years ago, I was a pastor of a church and I was run out on a rail – I had not asked the right questions when I went to Wisconsin, and did not know the full history of the assembly I was pastoring. When it was over, I watched my wife, in tears, over the attacks on me by people we loved and I thought, “God, I was trying to serve you, how could you let this happen to me?” A little more than a year later, my wife and I lost our first child to an ectopic pregnancy, and we both still grieve for our Avery. In that case, I gave up hope for a while, until our pastor began preaching a series on 2 Corinthians, which he entitled “Down but not out.” Again, my questioning heart asked God “Why me?” The real challenge of evil is ultimately the problems of pain, hopelessness, and bitterness in the heart. The lost, perhaps, will not find what I am about to say compelling, but here are a few things we need to keep in mind when we face the conundrum of evil:

• Our internal objections to the trials of life are based in the assumption that we deserve better, or that we are innocent. Scripture is clear: we have inherited a sin nature; mankind is not innocent. Before salvation, we were not merely hell bound sinners; we were hell deserving ones. While the Christian has been regenerated, we still aren’t precisely innocent of wrong-doing. As believers, we have already received better than we deserve.

• God has not taken us out of the world – this universe was damaged by the curse, and creation groans. We cannot argue that every bad thing that happens to a believer or to an unbeliever is a direct result of an individual sin. However, Scripture never represents it as such: it represents the world as a broken paradise. As Ken Ham describes it, creation is like a gallery of ancient Greek statuary. Creationists admire the beauty of creation; the demonstration of God’s master artistry, while the atheist sees only that the statues have been broken over time.

• God is great enough, that He chooses to use the evil in this world for the believer’s good, and to woo the wicked to turn to Him. This reveals both His power and His love.

As a Christian, I believe that the problem of evil comes down, not to the failings of God, but to the failings of man. Any thoughts?