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?

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.

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?

Do Sexual assaults by professed Christians invalidate Christianity?

Unfortunately, my Alma Mater, Bob Jones University, has been going through a scandal involving sexual assault, the biggest issue dealing with a failure to report sexual assaults to the authorities. I believe that there is enough evidence to suggest that BJU has exercised a major failure in judgment in the way these matters were administered and I am encouraged that they have rehired GRACE to correct their response. But this brings to mind the number of Christian institutions that have had issues involving sexual assault that have been brought public in recent years, and allegations by atheists and others who claim that Christianity is somehow responsible. I want to argue that, while tragic, the existence of sexual assault cases does not invalidate the faith.

• At most, if we accept everything the atheists say, sexual predators who claim to be Christians are inconsistent monsters. To put it another way, the very act of sexual assault by a Christian is an act of hypocrisy (since the Bible clearly states that sexual assault is immoral, and in the Old Testament required the death penalty). For more on inconsistent monsters, see the articles written on our more technical site on the moral argument from atrocities here: http://apologiafides.wordpress.com. (Deut 22:25-27)

• The Bible itself does not present the assumption that, just because someone claims to be a Christian, he actually is a Christian. Jesus noted that the Kingdom of God (which I believe includes the Church) is like a field of wheat that is infested with tares – a weed that looks like wheat during certain stages of the wheat’s development. (Matt 13:24-30) There are similar indications elsewhere. Not everyone who claims to be a believer is necessarily a believer. Sometimes people join churches for the wrong reasons. For example, there are businessmen who join churches because they believe it might be beneficial for their images, and not because of a heartfelt conversion. Others call themselves Christians because they grew up in Christian homes, and this is simply “what they know”, but there is no direct evidence of actual belief in Christ.

• One thing we have learned in recent years about sexual predators is that they are extremely deceptive and adept at manipulating those around them, particularly their victims. The fact that sexual predators are adept at deception means that their claims of accepting Christian beliefs should be treated with extreme skepticism.

Given the above, these tragedies need to be answered. Like many grads, I believe my Alma Mater needs to perform better than they have in the past. But these tragedies do not invalidate the Christian faith. To the victims: we are praying for your healing.