Monthly Archives: April 2017

“The Bible Answer Man” Becomes Eastern Orthodox

Hank Hanegraaff, the “Bible Answer Man” on many Christian radio stations, has many evangelicals stunned and bewildered by his attraction to the “smells and bells” of Eastern Orthodoxy.

Hank Hanegraaff, otherwise known as the radio personality, “The Bible Answer Man,” recently converted to Eastern Orthodoxy. After two years of personal inquiry, Hanegraaff and his wife were chrismated and received into the Greek Orthodox Church, near their home in Charlotte, North Carolina, on Palm Sunday.

In the American evangelical sub culture, Hank Hanegraaff has been one of those influential personalities, known for possessing an encyclopedic knowledge of the Bible, where radio listeners have asked Bible questions from umpteen different directions, and Hanegraaff has had the ability to field them all live on talk radio. Absolutely amazing.

A number of evangelicals view Hanegraaff’s move to Orthodoxy as a type of betrayal, suggesting that he is no longer a true Christian. Others are confused, not knowing much about what is “Eastern Orthodoxy,” and why people are attracted to this ancient approach to Christian faith. Even the Christian satire site, the Babylon Bee, is poking fun at Hanegraaff, calling him “The Apostolic Tradition Man.”

Hanegraaff responds to criticism by saying, “People are posting this notion that somehow or other I’ve walked away from the faith and am no longer a Christian. Look, my views have been codified in 20 books, and my views have not changed,” according to an article in Christianity Today, the main source for this blog post. Hanegraaff recently posted a letter to ministry supporters reassuring them of his love for Jesus.

What does one make of all this? Continue reading

The Case for Christ: Easter for Believers and Skeptics

Leslie and Lee Strobel, 1972, back when they dismissed the Resurrection as a fraudulent delusion.

“He is Risen!” Historical event or fraudulent delusion?

If you are the type of person who has had questions about the veracity of the Christian faith, then go see this movie. Better yet, take an open skeptic with you.

The Case for Christ is based on the true story of an atheistic journalist, whose life is turned upside down when his wife becomes a follower of Jesus. Lee Strobel, an accomplished reporter for the Chicago Tribune, a “just the facts, ma’am,” type of guy, is desperately afraid of losing his marriage and family, so he begins a long journey to try to disprove Christianity in order to “save” his wife from the error of her ways.

The Case for Christ is a major, major step up from movies like God’s Not Dead, that ambitiously relies on the composite characterizing of atheists, unnecessarily fueling the fires of culture war rhetoric. Furthermore, unlike other recent film offerings, The Case for Christ does not get distracted by the logic of false dichotomies either. Instead, The Case for Christ, focuses on two themes: (1) making the case for the Resurrection of Jesus, based on the minimal facts argument, built on the consensus of evidence found in secular, historical scholarship, and (2) exploring how human prejudices interplay with the tension between faith and reason.

The Case for Christ is not for everyone, and I can think of two, very different types of people who fit within this category. First, if you are a skeptic, and you are completely opposed to considering the evidence for the Resurrection, The Case for Christ will absolutely frustrate you. But you probably will not like any other Christian-themed movies either.

Secondly, The Case for Christ will underwhelm the Christian who feels like they already have all of the answers, and who never wrestles with doubts. The film simply leaves open the question of why the different Gospel accounts are not 100% agreed upon the discrete events surrounding the Crucifixion and Resurrection of Jesus. Many a Christian evidentialist would reason that the existence of discrepancies between the Gospels enhances their historical credibility, instead of taking away from it, an argument that makes good sense to historians, but that will unsettle the most strict, biblical inerrantist. The evidence from textual criticism, that upholds the reliability of first century New Testament documents, will annoy the Christian who merely believes that the English Bible in their hand simply dropped straight down right out of heaven. But for believers and non-believers who are willing to ask penetrating questions, The Case for Christ is right for them.

The Case for Christ is not perfect, by any means. For example, as this Forbes magazine reviewer observes, the discussion about the Shroud of Turin was not very convincing. Plus, there is only so much you can do in a two-hour movie, as this review at The Gospel Coalition points out (check out these “The Case for Easter” resources). Because of the limitations of the medium, the events surrounding Lee Strobel’s journey towards faith and overcoming skepticism have been tightly compressed in the film, and this might confuse some. Strobel’s interviews with experts happened after his conversion to Christian faith, and not before, as depicted in the movie.

But overall, The Case for Christ does a very good job with making an apologetic argument for the Christian faith, based on evidences, within the context of a believable narrative, without getting too bogged down with the details. Get the book that the movie is based on, if you want to go to that level. If I had to recommend one movie that you can take a non-believing friend to see, without embarrassment, The Case for Christ would be it.

The Beautiful Gate: Holy Week, Ezekiel, Mary, and the Return of Christ

The Golden Gate of Jerusalem, that some identify as being the Beautiful Gate of Acts 3, where Jesus will return at the end of the age (credit: Wikipedia)

In Acts 3, some followers of Jesus met a lame beggar, at the Beautiful Gate, as the man was asking for alms of those entering the temple. Peter stunned the beggar by saying, “I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!” (verse 6). The man was healed, and Peter boldly proclaimed the news that Jesus was and is indeed the Risen Messiah, to those who saw this miracle.

The man was “leaping up” (Acts 3:8), anticipating that this is one of the signs indicating the beginning of the messianic age, as foretold in the Old Testament, as in Isaiah 35:6 (ESV):

..Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
    and the ears of the deaf unstopped;
then shall the lame man leap like a deer,
    and the tongue of the mute sing for joy.
For waters break forth in the wilderness,
    and streams in the desert;..

The Beautiful Gate is not directly mentioned elsewhere in the Bible, and unfortunately, scholars are divided as to the exact location of the Beautiful Gate. As the Temple Mount area was largely destroyed in 70 A.D., it is difficult to establish the location with much certainty. However, there are at least one (or two) theories, though I am hardly qualified enough to be sure of them, that tell very interesting stories.

Some say that the Beautiful Gate is the same as the Golden Gate, located on the eastern side of the Temple Mount, sitting above the Kidron Valley, across from the Mount of Olives. Though not clearly specified in Scripture, tradition suggests that when Jesus made His triumphal entry into Jerusalem, starting from the Mount of Olives, that He entered the city through this gate, on Palm Sunday (Luke 19:28-44), the beginning of what many Christians call “Holy Week.” Within that following week, subsequent events would lead to the Crucifixion and, finally, the Resurrection of Jesus.

Proponents of this theory also suggest that when Jesus returns at His Second Coming, that he will appear on the Mount of Olives again (Zechariah 14:4), and travel the same route he took on Palm Sunday, entering the city again through this same gate, into the temple area.

What caught my attention with this theory was something that you will notice about this gate. As you see in the photograph, the gate has been walled off, and sealed shut.

This Golden Gate was sealed shut in 1540-41 AD, by Suleiman the Magnificient, an Ottoman Empire sultan. The story goes that Suleiman sealed the gate, and even placed a Muslim graveyard into front of the entrance, in order to prevent the Jewish Messiah from entering the city.

If you are familiar with the Book of Ezekiel, you will know that Ezekiel mentions a gate or entrance to the city, on the east side, facing presumably the Mount of Olives (Ezekiel 10:18-19, 11:23, 43:1-5). But then in Ezekiel 44:1-2, we read a fascinating passage:

Then he brought me back to the outer gate of the sanctuary, which faces east. And it was shut. And the Lord said to me, “This gate shall remain shut; it shall not be opened, and no one shall enter by it, for the Lord, the God of Israel, has entered by it. Therefore it shall remain shut.

Many Christians have read this to believe that Suleiman’s actions were actually a fulfillment of prophecy, though he did not realize it. Then when Jesus returns again, the gate will be opened for the returning Messiah (Ezekiel 46:12).

Such interpretations are not without their problems. A long standing, older interpretation, going back to the early church, understands that the shutting of the gate in Ezekiel 44:1-2, is about something completely different.

A number of early church fathers saw this as Ezekiel’s prophecy regarding the perpetual virginity of Mary, a belief shared today by Catholics and Eastern Orthodox alike, that Mary was not only a virgin before the birth of Jesus, but that she remained a virgin her whole life, as taught here by Saint Augustine of Hippo, in the 5th century AD.

“It is written (Ezekiel 44, 2): ‘This gate shall be shut, it shall not be opened, and no man shall pass through it. Because the Lord the God of Israel hath entered in by it…’ What means this closed gate in the house of the Lord, except that Mary is to be ever inviolate? What does it mean that ‘no man shall pass through it,’ save that Joseph shall not know her? And what is this – ‘The Lord alone enters in and goeth out by it,’ except that the Holy Ghost shall impregnate her, and that the Lord of Angels shall be born of her? And what means this – ‘It shall be shut for evermore,’ but that Mary is a Virgin before His birth, a Virgin in His birth, and a Virgin after His birth.” 

But I recently learned that the Beautiful (or Golden?) Gate figures prominently in the apocryphal story of the Annunciation of Mary, to her parents (see below). Not too many evangelical Protestants would accept this particular interpretation today.

Well, there is a lot of speculation here, I must freely admit. Various Christians have long debated and will continue to debate the details on these matters.

Nevertheless, the momentous events during Holy Week, from Palm Sunday to the Resurrection, give us a lot to think about. The entire message of the Bible, from the Old Testament, to the very end of this current age, puts a laser focus on this very special week in world history. No matter where you land on the true meaning, location and history of the Beautiful Gate, where Peter healed the lame beggar, this gate points to the central themes of the Bible that are worth the efforts of our meditation.

Meeting at the Golden Gate, by Boccaccio, 1514-1515, at Cremona Cathedral. In the New Testament apocryphal literature, the Protoevangelion of James, the parents of the EverVirgin Mary, Joachim and Anna, met at the Golden or Beautiful Gate, after both received a visit independently from the Archangel Gabriel, promising them the birth of their child. Though not a part of the Bible, the Protoevangelion of James was a popular text in the medieval church, for thinking about the life of Mary, the mother of Jesus. (credit: Web Gallery of Art).

Egypt’s Coptic Christians, and the Unity of the Body of Christ

Palm Sunday terror in a blood-stained Coptic Christian church in Egypt, 2017 (credit: Agency France-Presse)

Tragedy gripped the world when Islamic State militants killed 44 Coptic Christians in Egypt, while worshippers gathered to celebrate Palm Sunday (New York Times). But a few of my Christian friends were probably wondering, what is a “Coptic Christian,” and are they really Christian?

Joe Carter, a blogger at The Gospel Coalition, has a great FAQ summary, explaining what happened, and who the Coptic Christians are. But I want to focus on answering some of the specific concerns of my friends. More importantly, I want to have you think about what it might teach us, for evangelical Christians. Continue reading

Why Different Christians Recite the Lord’s Prayer Differently

Thomas Cranmer, 16th century Archbishop of Canterbury, who guided King Henry VIII’s efforts to standardize an English version of the Lord’s Prayer.

Have you ever been a little confused when it comes to saying the Lord’s Prayer in a church service?

I remember when I first visited an evangelical church, that did not have a fixed, liturgical tradition. When it came to reciting the Lord’s Prayer, one group was still saying, “And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us….,” while the other group had finished their, “And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors…,” several seconds earlier. The “debtors” waited patiently until “trespassers,” like me, had finished, before continuing together.

So, why the cacophony of voices among Christians?

Protestant Christians have been known for having multiple methods of saying the so-called, “Lord’s Prayer,” what many Catholics call the “Our Father,” based on the first two words of the prayer. My Catholic friends often tease me for the endless varieties of worship among English-speaking Protestants.

But it really was not meant to be that way. Much of the story goes back to the period of the Reformation, in 16th and 17th century England. Continue reading

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