The Tragedy of Compromise

The study of Christian theology, perversely, is the study of our reactions to heresies. Heresies and false theories require us to analyze, question and evaluate them and how they relate to our beliefs. As a result, we are forced to better define the faith as questions arise. The study of theology then, includes the discussion of heresies.

In learning about heresies in the past, I have formed an unusual opinion: most heresies begin with the attempt to adopt non-Christian worldviews into the Christian faith. One of the central figures of early Church history in this regard is a man named Origen of Alexandria. When I was a student, it seemed to me that every poorly thought theological idea put forward during the fourth or fifth century, along with every heresy in some way, shape, or form traced back to Origen’s works. In my papers on historical theology, his name came up regularly.

Origen’s methodology, along with those of Clement of Alexandria and a number of other Fathers had one fatal flaw: they sought to adapt the common philosophical beliefs derived from Plato, something similar to what the earlier gnostics (a previous heretical group) had attempted to do. Similarly, modern Catholic dogma began when Thomas Aquinas sought to combine the Bible with Aristotle’s philosophical ideas. The modern theological Left began with an attempt to interpret the Bible within the context of enlightenment and post-enlightenment philosophers, most notably Hegel. All of these systems of thought perverted the Christian faith and the gospel.

In many ways, their attempts to adapt Christian beliefs to Greek philosophy was a violation of the first commandment: Exodus 20:3 – “you will have no gods before me”, or perhaps better translated, “…no gods in my presence”. The first commandment is not about replacing the worship of Yahweh with the worship of another god. It’s about the worship of Yahweh combined with the worship of another god, which was a common pattern in paganism. This is a more subtle form of idol worship, which often crept into the lives of God’s people. This is also why the Jews were warned against more contemplative religious ideas such as star worship and astrology (Deuteronomy 4:19).

Modern Christians are not often tempted to combine Christianity with ba’al worship or the worship of Molech, as were the early Hebrews. Unfortunately, modern Christians are prone to try to adapt Christian thought to that of modern and post-modern thought. This seems to be a trend that is particularly noted in the area of the study of origins and in areas of psychology. As a result, I want to discuss, for the next few sessions, why Christians should not adapt the faith to the acceptance of evolution. It has long been my conclusion as a theologian, that evolution is not a scientific idea, but a religious one. Similarly, many ideas in modern psychology are, or tend to become, religious, as well. To begin then, next time, we will discuss a proper definition of religion.

In Defense of Easter – pre-review

My original plan for today’s piece was to put out a final blurb noting that Da Vinci, the Templars and the Jesus Family Tomb is free today for one last day. However, When I went to Church last night, my friend Tim Chaffey was speaking on the resurrection. It was an excellent presentation, very similar in its structure to the series “the Positive case for Christ” I am re-publishing on our more technical site (http://apologiafides.wordpress.com). I laughed with him afterwards that he had poached one of my sermons on the topic, though the truth is my approach to presentation is more old fashioned (more of an older sermonic style, which is what comes most naturally to me), is a little more technically oriented and does not make as good a use of multi-media and most of us arguing for the resurrection are making similar cases.

Tim is someone I first met through my sister, Michelle Odwyer, and I sat down with him to discuss my weakness when it comes to this type of ministry (publicity and marketing), but we ended up having a very long discussion of theology and apologetics – it was a lot of fun for an old seminarian. He is currently the content manager for AIG’s Ark Encounter project. In many ways, he is doing what I hope to turn truth in the Trenches into – a ministry that effectively presents the facts surrounding the resurrection to call men to Jesus Christ because without the resurrection there is no hope.

Why spend so much time talking about Tim’s work? Because he has recently written a book, In Defense of Easter. I’m currently working through some of the works on the resurrection in review for an upcoming project, I’ve added this to the list, and some of these will be reviewed later, including Tim’s book, on this site. But I think you should consider getting it now.

Tim’s presentation, like the positive case for Christ and the works of others, doesn’t focus just on the underlying merits of the case. He focuses on why various other theories don’t fit the evidence we have. He discussed everything from the Jesus Family Tomb and the swoon theory to some of the odd theories put forward by the Jesus Seminar – an organization of extreme leftwing scholars who make up for the lack of evidence to support their theories with a large dose of imagination. It was a good presentation, and therefore, I assume it will be a good book. You can find the print edition here (http://www.amazon.com/Defense-Easter-Answering-Challenges-Resurrection/dp/0996008705/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1398103941&sr=8-1&keywords=In+Defense+of+Easter) or the Kindle version here: (http://www.amazon.com/Defense-Easter-Answering-Challenges-Resurrection-ebook/dp/B00JOOZUNA/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1398104026&sr=8-2&keywords=In+Defense+of+Easter).

Da Vinci, The Templars and the Jesus family Tomb

We’ve recently released our first pamphlet, Da Vinci, The Templars and the Jesus Family Tomb. Simca Jacobovich and his team invented a conspiracy theory in which a tomb in Israel (the Tolpiot Tomb or the Tomb of the Ten Ossuaries) is the final resting place of Jesus Christ. While this project has not garnered a great deal of attention, these types of projects tend to “come back around” as the Da Vinci Code recycled Holy Blood, Holy Grail. Over the past six months, I’ve also seen three or four atheists cited this “find.”

This is also something of my coming back to my roots. Truth in the Trenches is the rebirth of a very low circulation newsletter called Apologia, and this was our first major series of articles, followed by the positive case for Christ that is now running on Apologia Fides.

Because this is good Friday, I’m releasing Da Vinci, The Templars and the Jesus Family Tomb for free until Monday the 21st, in honor of our Lord’s resurrection. It is available here: http://www.amazon.com/Vinci-Templars-Jesus-Family-Tomb-ebook/dp/B00JQLN64G/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1397839804&sr=8-1&keywords=Da+Vinci+the+Templars+and+the+Jesus+Family+Tomb

Rational Faith

…but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. John 21:31.

Our culture does not really understand the concept of faith. TV shows, movies, novels and other venues often present faith as “a leap in the dark,” believing something without or in spite of evidence. Sadly, this is not limited to modern media. Many atheists, and perhaps sadder still, many Christians, define faith in similar terms. How often, after all, do atheists or Christians alike discuss faith in terms of believing without evidence?

In reality, the term “faith” does not imply an absence of evidence. The author of John presents himself as an eyewitness to the Resurrection (John 21:24-25), and he presents his gospel as a matter of that which He has seen. As I note elsewhere, John’s eyewitness testimony appears to be reliable (http://apologiafides.wordpress.com/2014/04/09/the-evidence-and-the-gospel-of-john/), and he is giving an account of what he saw. Yet, John also notes his goal as compelling belief – that we should exercise faith because of his testimony. This implies that his own belief was based on his own experience of the gospel. Likewise, one of the terms for “miracle” is the Greek word for signs, and Jesus miracles are presented as evidence of His Messiahship, again indicating that faith is not contrary to evidence.

Likewise, Paul, the great apostle to the gentiles, well known as the great champion of salvation by grace through faith alone also discussed himself as an eyewitness (1 Corinthians 15), and as someone who has spoken with other eyewitnesses. He presents his conclusions about the future resurrection of the dead, based on the evidence of eyewitness testimony. So, apparently Paul, presumably an expert in faith, did not assume that faith was without regard to the evidence.

In reality, the conclusion from John’s statement above is that faith is not something that materializes in spite of the evidence, but that it is a definite response to the evidence eyewitnesses have presented. When someone is told about the eyewitness testimony of the Resurrection he is immediately faced with a choice: he can respond and accept Christ’s claims to be who He claimed to be; His sacrifice for what He claimed it was, and His rightful place as ruler — or one can reject these claims. Or, at least momentarily, he can investigate whether the eyewitnesses are reliable or not, although eventually he will have to come to a decision.

As Christians then, discussing the quality of the eyewitness testimony is of tremendous importance. If the Christian faith is based in the historicity of the gospels, and faith is a response to that historicity, then it behooves us all as a necessity to have some understanding of the evidence; why the eyewitness testimony appears to be reliable.

DaVinci – The Templars and the Tomb of Jesus – A sampling.

Waiting on some material from my proofreader, and decided to put some excerpts from our soon coming kindle publication, DaVinci, The Templars and the Tomb of Jesus – something I anticipate will be out this week.

The Introduction
During the recent debate between Ken Ham and Bill Nye, Ken Ham was asked the question, “What would cause you to change your mind about evolution?” While listening to that section of the debate, my own answer came immediately to my mind: “Find the body.”

By this, of course, I mean the body of Jesus Christ.

1 Corinthians 15:16-19 clearly connects the veracity of the Christian faith with the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. When it comes to a challenge to the Christian faith, I always begin my evaluation here. The division between most modernist theories concerning the New Testament and the underlying evidence is extraordinary.

There are good reasons to continue to believe the Bible. While numerous challenges have been raised to the Resurrection, most of these have failed, in some cases spectacularly.

One of the newer challengers to the Biblical record was made in 2007. The Discovery Channel ran a special by Shimi Jacobovich, entitled the “Lost Tomb of Jesus,” and a book, The Jesus Family Tomb, which was published soon after the film was released.

Both projects display a combination of poor scholarship, bad logic and the ability to tell a compelling story. While most of the work is questionable speculation with a veneer of sophistication referencing archeological study, science and mathematics, the presentation is well done.

Presentation skills can have an effect similar to marinating a freezer-burned piece of meat with barbeque sauce: it makes something that is of questionable value appear more appealing than it actually is by hiding the poor quality of the meat.

. . .

Lies and Statistics

The film and book explicitly claim “there is only a 1 in 600 chance that this is not the Jesus family tomb.” This statement, they say, can be restated this way “there is a 599 in 600 chance that this is the Jesus family tomb.” The film makers consulted a mathematician named Dr. Andrey Feuerverger to formulate the statistical probability. . .

To understand how they have compiled these figures, see figure 2. Once we remove the data connected to Miramne (for the reasons noted above), as Dr. Feuerverger did with the Matthew and Judah ossuaries, the statistical argument changes to a mere 1 in 3.8. Yet, there is an additional problem with this argument.
. . .
Conclusion
Once these other factors are considered, speculation is all that is really left of this titanic of a documentary.

We have some names that match the names of Jesus’s family; a number of names that do not match what we know of Jesus’ family and a lot of speculation to make the evidence fit the theory; I will give Jacobovich this much credit: he has quite an imagination.

Darwin’s Enigma

Sunderland, Luther. Darwin’s Enigma: Ebbing the Tide of Naturalism. Green Forest, AR: Masters Books, 1998. Reprint 2002.

Sunderland’s book is one of the older works in the Creation-Evolution debate. The work is technical, and spends much of its focus on the failings and gaps in evolutionary theory. The work, as recognized by the title, focuses on evolution in large part due to its relationship to modern atheistic philosophy. Sunderland’s work is solid and technical for its day. He spends a great deal of time explaining – not those comments made by Biblical creationism about evolution, but those outside of our camp have said on the matter – including discussions between biologists and mathematicians. Among other things, Sunderland has sought to acquaint himself with the persons involved in the various debates. For example, he notes questions about Stephen Jay Gould’s Punctuated Equilibria as being at least partially derived from Marxist revolutionary rhetoric.

Analysis: Southerland is a highly technical work. As my training is not in the hard sciences, I will not discuss his accuracy or inaccuracy. As the theory of evolution shifts regularly, this book, due to its age, may not be the best primary source. Southerland’s work was probably in production at the same time as Behe’s better known Darwin’s Black Box, so issues of molecular biology are not discussed in the same terms as Behe presents. Sunderland’s work also does not take the same steps to note when arguments are technical. However, Darwin’s Enigma hits the note of evidence and philosophy in the debate over evolution that many sources do not discuss: the question of the quality of the evidence. He notes this not only from the standpoint of Creationists’ argumentation, but he also notes prominent scientists who have likewise noted the evidentiary problems in the evolutionary theory. For example, he spends quite a bit of time on Karl Popper, one of the major names in Philosophy of Science. Popper is no young earth Creationist, but he refers to the theory of evolution as a metaphysical experiment – praising the experiment as a valuable one, but not calling it “science”. He also notes how many theories are related to evidentiary problems; for example, Goldberg’s Hopeful monster theory, or Punctuated Equillibria are precisely formed because the fossil record does not demonstrate gradual changes, but rapid change over a very short period of time. He goes on to note other issues that are outside of my domain, but these evidences alone are powerful information that the academics don’t tell their students.

Conclusions: If you are looking for an easy read or an introduction to the debate over evolution versus creation, this book is not for you. This book is useful if you are looking to expand your knowledge; if you already have a good grasp on what Creationism really is.

Camels in the OT

National Geographic has recently circulated an article indicating that camels were not in use in Israel until the ninth century BC, and concludes that this is solid “evidence” that the account of Genesis is incorrect. The difficulty is that this is a very old argument. Gleason Archer addressed this point in his seminal work on Old Testament introduction (Gleason Archer, for those who may not know, was a major evangelical scholar and one of the most important Old Testament scholars of the twentieth century). In reality, this is a recycled argument that has simply been given a great deal of publicity – more than the discovery itself deserves. Unfortunately, when it comes to popular level criticism of the Bible, sensationalism tends to be weightier than sound scholarship. The following facts are a few things you should know about this study:

• There is definite evidence that camels were in use before Abraham’s time, including evidence from around 2000 BC in Palestine, as well as a figurine of a rider from around 3000 BC, several works of art, and Camel bones buried under a home.

• The archeological survey involved is limited to a particular location: the area around Aravah; not the entire land of Israel, as the internet article suggests. The extrapolation to the remainder of Israel requires the assumption of facts that are not evident. The archeologists assume that camel use in Palestine began in Aravah, but they have done little to demonstrate that claim.

• Genesis does not describe the widespread use of camels in the Patriarchal period. The references to camels in Genesis are limited to those who travelled outside of Palestine. Abraham came to Canaan from Mesopotamia, where camels were almost certainly in use, and there are no references to his owning camels prior to his travel to Egypt. Likely, camel use actually was fairly rare in earlier periods, but rare is not synonymous with non-existent.

• There is substantial evidence to suggest that the Torah (including Genesis) was written before the ninth century. Many modern scholars assume that most of the Torah was written during the Babylonian captivity (this is called the Documentary hypothesis). However, this hypothesis has been open for challenge for some time. The Nuzi Tablets demonstrate that the Abraham narratives are accurate to the customs of the fifteenth century, customs long out of use by the time of the Babylonian captivity. Additionally, the discovery of the Hittites led to the additional discovery that the Torah is written in the format of a Hittite Suzerainty treaty. This form of literature was likewise out of use by the time of the Babylonian captivity, and most likely was forgotten, as well.

All said, I would suggest that the entire article should be listed as a massive overstatement of the implications of the study’s findings, and is much ado about nothing.