Monthly Archives: April 2015

Accessible Theology

The Lord Is My Shepherd

“The Lord Is My Shepherd” by Eastman Johnson, 1863

We enjoy sharing art on Veracity. Art inspires thinking in a way that connects with the soul.

After several months of workaday grind and spending way too much time in front of computers, Marion and I took an Easter weekend trip to DC for some rest and relaxation. We toured the Smithsonian museums and attended the Nationals opening day game. A particular highlight of the trip was our visit to the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Among the wondrous paintings on permanent display is Eastman Johnson’s masterpiece, The Lord Is My Shepherd, painted just after the announcement of the Emancipation Proclamation. Historians and art students have spent considerable energy interpreting this painting in the context of the struggle to abolish slavery in 19th century America. They cite Johnson’s sympathetic portrayal of slaves and Native Americans in many of his paintings, his abolitionist views, and his artistic, social, political, and Transcendentalist influences.

Regardless of the analysis, The Lord Is My Shepherd is an evocative portrayal of personal discipleship. However you interpret the historical and societal context, the painting depicts a man quietly reading the Bible. He is not reading the 23rd Psalm, as the title may suggest. He is at the beginning of the Bible—some have suggested in Exodus, given the theme of slavery. He is searching the Scriptures on his own. The title hints at his emotional frame of mind as he does so. Perhaps he is looking for comfort or reassurance in a time of great difficulty. Maybe there’s more to it than that. Maybe not. Either way, it’s personal discipleship.

In historical context, it used to be very difficult to study the Bible—even if you were among the privileged few who could read.

Accessible Theology

We have come a long way since 1863. Access to top-notch seminary classes is freely available—instantly. While a degree or certification may be out of reach for those who cannot afford the time or tuition costs, new Internet tools are available to help you if you just want to learn. For free.

Dallas Theological Seminary records an impressive volume of classroom teaching sessions by some of today’s best instructors and theologians. They serve the videos and transcripts of these classes in a large, online catalog that can be accessed from their mobile app. Entire courses on a wide variety of topics from Old and New Testament surveys, to Jewish history, to the Reformation, to just about every kind of doctrine and theological topic you can imagine. Want to study heaven or hell? How about inerrancy, the reliability of the manuscript documents and translations, eschatology, development of the canon of Scripture, apologetics, religious pluralism, world religions, and so forth? What are your thoughts on cessationism, annihilationism, creationism, evolution, Arminianism, Calvinism, sacramentalism, eschatology, covenant theology, dispensationalism, and Eastern Orthodoxy? How well formed are your doctrinal beliefs? Maybe you just have a simple but deep question, like “How did we get the Bible?” Thanks to Dallas Theological Seminary, you can now freely audit courses that will inspire and help shape your beliefs and thinking.

To get the app, click on the image below and follow the instructions. Play around with the menu and find some courses or presentations that interest you. This app is a prerequisite for our next post on how we got the Bible. There is a particularly good session from Darrell Bock, a Veracity Top Scorer Award winner, on the New Testament canon that I would like to share with you. But you’ll need this app first. Enjoy!

Dallas Theological Seminary App

The Groaning of Creation in Romans 8:19-23

Christians and the call to care for the earth.

Christians and the call to care for the earth (Image credit: Catholic Web Services)

Earth Day is coming up soon, and Christians who are called to engage the culture are faced with how to respond to the call to care for the earth. But what does the Bible have to say about it?

In what sense does the whole of creation; including plants and animals, cats and dogs, rocks and weather systems, await the complete fulfillment of God’s plan for redemption? The Apostle Paul appears to be addressing this issue in Romans 8:19-23 (ESV):

For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.

It covers a lot of areas related to environmental concerns, everything from the question of natural evil (why are there earthquakes and hurricanes?), to hot topics like global climate change, to the question of whether or not your pet dog will be in heaven. It is as though Paul is connecting God’s ultimate redemptive plan for humanity; i.e. the revealing of the sons of God, with the full revelation of God’s purpose for the created order. But before that day comes, the creation is subjected to futility. Hence, we will live in a world where the creation groans in frustration as in the pains of childbirth.

I have been working through Romans 8 along with our small group, and the passage just jumps out at me with questions. There is a lot of theology here for the thinking person, so please indulge me to ponder a bit on this blog post. As a little taste, I would like to refer you to part of the “Great Debate” between Young Earth and Old Earth Creationism feature on the John Ankerberg show, highlighted some time ago on Veracity, or you can simply skip the video and read on…

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Tim Keller on the Book of Romans

We have been studying Paul’s letter to the Romans in the small group my wife and I are in. Romans is loaded with great stuff, arguably the most “theological” of all of the New Testament.

Tim Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, is a favorite here on Veracity.  Years ago, Keller pastored a church in nearby Hopewell, Virginia, less than an hour from where we live, long before he wrote his highly acclaimed The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism. In my opinion, if you were looking for just one book that you could give to a non-believer today that effectively demonstrates the best apologetic argument for the Christian Gospel, The Reason for God stands at the head of the list.

Keller recently finished contributing to the God’s Word For You series from the Good Book Company on the Book of Romans(Chapters 1-7 and Chapters 8-16). I have not read Keller’s treatment in these books yet (here are some sample reviews, #1 and #2), but I appreciate what he has to say in the following three and a half minute video about why it is important for Christians to read the Book of Romans. Keller is very much “Reformed” in his theology, but not over the top. For example, Keller really likes C.S. Lewis. He is my type of guy…. gotta love the bald thing he has going, too…..

If you like that, you should look into Keller’s God’s Word For You study on the Book of Judges.

Was Jesus Really Crucified on Good Friday?

Plumb Line

I ran across the following comment not too long ago on an Internet forum: “The crucifixion of the Son of God as recorded in the Bible must have taken place on Wednesday, in order that THREE days and THREE nights or 72 hours be fulfilled. ‘Good Friday’ is just another untruth from romish delusion.”

These type of statements made by well-meaning people really puzzle me. It is important to try to unpack this as it demonstrates a major challenge in how some conservative Christians (thankfully not all) try to approach the Bible and apply what they read.

The first observation to make is the underlying concern that the traditional view in which Jesus was crucified on a Friday actually undermines the inerrancy of the Bible. In Matthew 12:40, we read that:

For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth (ESV).

This is the “Sign of Jonah” that prophetically draws on a parallel between what the prophet Jonah experienced and the crucifixion, burial and resurrection of Jesus. Some critics of biblical inerrancy cite this as a case where there is an error in the Bible. If you take a literal approach to the concept of “day” as consisting of both “a day and a night,” then you run into a problem since you do not have three full sequences of “a day and a night” between Friday and Sunday, where you only have two nights involved. In response, some defenders of biblical inerrancy contend that Jesus must have been crucified earlier in the week, either on Thursday or on Wednesday, as the Internet commenter assumes (Here are a couple of attempts to make the Wednesday case I found on the Interwebs: #1 and #2).

Now, there are surely scholarly cases to be made for Thursday or Wednesday, instead of Friday, following on some of New Testament scholar Brant Pitre’s research on the date of the Last Supper (Pitre is Roman Catholic, by the way… this Sacred Page podcast interviews him about his research). Frankly, it does not matter to me what day Jesus was actually crucified. If it really mattered that much, the Holy Scripture would be a lot more clear about the subject. Nevertheless, there are good reasons to uphold the traditional view. The important thing is that Jesus was crucified for our sins and then was raised from the dead, no matter what the exact chronology.

I consulted the blog of our friend Andreas Köestenberger, professor of New Testament at Southeastern Baptist Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina, as he had co-written a book last year on The Final Days of Jesus. Following a basic Scriptural principle that we must interpret Scripture with Scripture, Köestenberger notes that in Luke 24:7 that Jesus is to be crucified and then rise “on the third day,” which fits in perfectly with the traditional “Good Friday” thesis.

So, does this create a contradiction that undermines the inerrancy of the Bible? Köestenberger answers this difficulty by noting that the “a day and a night” reference to a “day” is actually an idiomatic expression. In other words, “a day and a night” could mean any part of a single day. If you accept such a biblical idiom, then you do not need to insert a third night in between the crucifixion and the resurrection. Otherwise, you have created for yourself another problem for your view of biblical inerrancy since you still have to deal with Jesus rising “on the third day” according to Luke 24:7, not after the third day according to the Wednesday theory. Read professor Köestenberger’s full and very probable explanation here.

A rough parallel to the use of such an idiom can be found in English. I am very much a night owl and so sometimes I do not get to bed until just after midnight. Sometimes my wife will ask me a question that late at night, and I might say, “I will talk to you about it tomorrow, OK?” Now, did I just commit an error and lie to my wife? After all, technically speaking, it is after midnight, and we are already into “tomorrow.” No, my use of “tomorrow” is simply another way of saying that I need to get a good night sleep before I try to answer her question. That is all. To try to read any more into that is just being persnickety.

My second observation and my biggest gripe with the Internet comment is how this person applies this “truth” that Jesus was not crucified on Good Friday. For the commenter, the “Good Friday Myth” is just another example of “romish delusion,” which is just another way of saying that Roman Catholicism is at the root of this error. Furthermore, it implies that anyone who goes along with “Good Friday” is guilty of perpetuating the “delusion” of Roman Catholicism.

This really is not the place to go into questions regarding Roman Catholicism. My objection is that the Internet commenter has taken a particular position on a controversial issue and applied it as part of wide-ranging polemic against an entire system of belief that is at odds with theirs without sufficient warrant. Right off of the bat, there are big problems with this. First, the “Good Friday” tradition extends back much further than “Roman Catholicism” into the early history of the church. The Eastern Orthodox community that goes back into those early years as well also celebrates “Good Friday,” and they do not accept papal authority. Secondly, the implication is that any Protestant who follows the practice of celebrating “Good Friday” is merely swallowing Roman Catholic “papist” practice and belief uncritically. The sixteenth century leaders of the magisterial Reformation would probably take issue with such a sweeping accusation.

If someone takes the position that the crucifixion happened on a Wednesday or Thursday, then there can surely be no harm in doing so in principle. However, I would argue that such a conviction may also indicate that there is another agenda going on that tears at the fabric of the unity of the evangelical church. If someone is wondering why the topic of “biblical inerrancy” comes under such needless scorn, one need not look any further than the misguided attempts of some who wish to deconstruct the “Good Friday Myth.” How you present your argument is just as important as what the argument really is.

Additional Resources:

Ralph Woodrow, a Southern California evangelist, at one time embraced the idea that “Good Friday” was merely a product of the so-called pagan roots associated with Roman Catholicism, opting for the Wednesday view instead. However, after further reflection, Woodrow changed his view and has since adopted the traditional “Good Friday” view of when the crucifixion happened. Woodrow is an interesting figure in that he wrote Babylon Mystery Religion in 1966, a stridently anti-Catholic book based on the pseudo-scholarship of Alexander Hislop, introduced here on Veracity. However, in 1997, Woodrow, who is still an evangelical Christian, published a different book, The Babylonian Connection?, that publicly refuted his earlier work when he learned that Alexander Hislop was not really a reliable historian. It takes great courage for a man to write one book and then publicly come out later and say that he was wrong. In this essay, Woodrow argues that the heart of the earth in Matthew 12:40 is actually a symbolic reference to the city of Jerusalem, and it is not necessarily a reference only to the time period of Jesus’ death. If Woodrow is correct, then this further negates the need to contend for the Wednesday crucifixion view in that it is quite clear that Jesus faced his greatest trial and humiliation for three days and three nights in the city of Jerusalem, starting on Thursday with Judas’ betrayal of Jesus and ending on Sunday morning!

Did the Exodus Really Happen?

Is there any archaeological evidence to support the Exodus of the Bible?

This week, Jews all over the world are celebrating the Passover, the annual feast remembering God’s deliverance of the Hebrew people from the bonds of slavery in ancient Egypt. Is there a genuine historical basis for these events surrounding the Passover?

After the release of Ridley Scott’s movie, Exodus: Gods and Kings, and a new documentary film by Timothy Mahoney, Patterns of Evidence, which seeks to re-examine the archaeological evidence, there is a renewed interest in understanding how the exodus of Moses and the Israelites from underneath the yoke of slavery in Egypt might have happened.  This fascinating and highly recommended essay by Jewish scholar Joshua Berman explores the issue of the historicity of the Exodus. Berman takes a position similar to mine, in that once we dismiss the notion of a “massive” event involving 2 to 3 million people, that really should be numbered more in terms of several tens of thousands (see Numbers 3:43 for one additional piece of evidence that Berman cites), a lot of the intellectual hurdles to accepting the biblical story tend to fall off.

On the others side, over the years there have been a number of attempts made by some documentary filmmakers exploring these questions, often suggesting some rather controversial theories. How does one go about evaluating these different claims?

In a 2014 lecture, Egyptologist James K. Hoffmeier at Trinity Internation University and Wheaton College geologist Stephen Moshier consider some of the more controversial theories and review them in the light of Scripture and the available evidence.  As a follow-up to this previous extensive Veracity posting on this topic, you might find Hoffmeier and Moshier as providing a more modest perspective that nevertheless still honors the biblical record.  The bottom line: while there are a plethora of different proposals for resolving the questions surrounding the Exodus, there is enough evidence to rule out some of the more extravagant claims.

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