Wow. What a year.
As we approach Labor Day weekend, I have a few thoughts about this crazy summer, and absolutely crazy year we have been through so far. We have seen out-of-control fires from Australia to California, an extremely active hurricane season, the leveling of a large swath of Beirut, Lebanon, an earthquake in nearby North Carolina (a few hours from me), and a leading evangelical Christian college president asked to step down from his position, due to scandal. Wow. What more can happen??
Of course, the big news is the coronavirus, and this summer has taught us that we are in this for a long haul. The somewhat good news is that the pandemic, though still deadly and a real threat to the most vulnerable, has not turned out to be as bad as originally feared. Yet at the same time, the pandemic has managed to bring out the worst in people, including sadly a number of Christians.
From conspiracy theories ranging from irresponsible interpretations about the “Mark of the Beast,” (spoiler: taking the “Mark of the Beast” is a loyalty oath. Christians need not fear that, unless they plan on committing apostasy), to the Q Anon political conspiracy that fascinates right-wing leaning persons, it seems like far too many people are addicted to their Facebook feeds and reckless Twitter tweets, while a good chunk of the world economy is in partial lock-down.
… The Q Anon thing is quite concerning as it reminds me of the Satanic ritual abuse madness that swept through evangelical circles in the 1980s and early 1990s, that I got caught up in…. and it turned out to be an exaggerated hoax…. leading to dozens of false arrests and wrongful incarcerations…. and today’s obsession with Q Anon is likewise causing a younger generation to mistrust what Christians are saying about the Gospel.
Concurrently, very real and legitimate concerns and protests over police brutality and racism have tragically triggered a series of riots and violence, many have not seen since the 1960s. Much of this has been invigorated by and has invigorated a cancel-culture, driven by an ideologically-rooted critical theory worldview, surging from the far-left, a movement that has been slowly creeping into even some corners of the evangelical church. Free speech is under attack, along with mainstream science (!), propagated by this new quasi-religion that is infiltrating just about every Western cultural institution, where domestic terrorism against individuals and businesses gets strangely overlooked, rationalized by such mind-boggling calls for “defunding the police,” and now… get this…. “2+2 = 5“.
I feel like I am being sandwiched in by insanity from both sides.
Oh, yeah. We still are not done with 2020 yet. We have a Presidential election to get through.
Lord help us all.
I try to steer clear of politics on the Veracity blog, as much as I can. But I will put this out there just this one time: In case you have not seen this, Unity2020 is worth at least a look. Yes, it is crazy. Will it even work? Maybe….Maybe not. But can it be any crazier than the polarized divide we already have now? The key is to see if the proposed candidates might consider running, and if the plan might gain ballot access, in time for the election. If you are not interested, that’s fine. I do not plan on bringing it up again.
Despite the insanity, there is some good news to report, along with some other very interesting things I want to link to and post, some sobering, others encouraging….. I am lumping these odds-n-ends all in this single blog post. Some topics deal with current events, but other things are items that have helped me better understand the Bible, and more importantly, the God who authored it:
- The George Floyd shooting happen less than two miles from Pastor John Piper’s home, in Minneapolis. Consider how Christians like Piper have worked to revitalize urban neighborhoods, even in the midst of civil unrest.
- We have all heard about conflicts between church and state regarding public schools. Usually it is about schools allowing Christian groups to have a type of presence in public schools. But have you ever heard about public schools asking for having a presence in Christian churches? Well, according to a story from John Stonestreet of the Colson Center, that is exactly what has happened in Columbus, Ohio, in the age of pandemic. Apparently, the public school system in Columbus asked local area churches if they would be willing to provide additional space for in-person learning centers for children, since many schools are closed, due to the coronavirus pandemic. Churches in Columbus have stepped up to the challenge. What a wonderful way for Christians to help the local public schools out, in a good faith manner. What if more churches were willing to do this?
- Jean Vanier. Bill Hybels. Gilbert Bilezikian. Acts 29 leader Steve Timmis. Harvest Bible Chapel’s James MacDonald. John Ortberg…. even 20th c. Roman Catholic author Flannery O’Connor.…. Jerry Falwell, Jr. …. Just a few of the high profile names of Christian leaders/writers who have had their reputations tarnished over the past couple of years. Some offenses have been due to “poor judgment,” which should lead to restoration of such leaders. Others involve egregious behavior, and even flaunting it, in a manner that has seriously damaged their Christian witness. The scandals are irrespective of theology, impacting complementarians and egalitarians, Calvinists and Arminians, charismatics and cessationists, Roman Catholics and Protestants, alike. UK writer Heather Tomlinson writes about the Christian celebrity culture, and how the problem is really with us.
- J. I. Packer was one of the most respected Christian leaders, who has had an indelible influence in my life. Like the late John R.W. Stott, Packer is the type of man I aspire to be, even though I know that I fall short a lot! In a day and an age where so many high-profile Christian leaders have been exposed for their hypocrisy and other short-comings, the life and testimony of J.I. Packer is a breath of fresh air. We lost a mighty saint of the church this summer.
- Former evangelical mega-church pastor turned house church planter, Francis Chan, made waves earlier this year, after he indicated that in having conversations with evangelical-turned-Eastern-Orthodox Bible teacher, Hank Hanegraaff, that he has begun to realize that the real presence of Christ in the Lord’s Supper, is actually a more Scriptural way, and certainly a more traditional way of viewing the Eucharist. Does this mean Francis Chan is giving up on Protestantism? I doubt it. But perhaps this is a moment where evangelical Protestants can learn from their Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox friends.
- Fellow Veracity blogger, John Paine, sent me this about photo-realistic portraits of Roman emperors. Pretty cool.
- A fun little note reminding us how much times have changed. The last weekend of August marks the last time the New York Times will print television listings in the print version of their newspaper. That is an 81 year run. Move over broadcast television. It looks like Netflix, Hulu, and YouTube have their sights set on destroying you.
- Christianity Today had an interesting piece about Eastern Orthodoxy’s influence on the Reformation.
- The Museum of the Bible has taken a lot of flak from critics, when it was demonstrated that all of the Dead Sea Scroll documents they had on display were fake. Critics have charged the evangelical leaders behind the Museum of the Bible with allowing their cognitive bias to distort the way they do their scholarly research. But the criticism can also be landed the other way around. When journalist Ariel Sabar broke the story a few years ago how a leading liberal scholar at Harvard University got duped by a pornography-peddling salesman turned antiquities-con-man, it made me realize that just about anyone could be fooled. The extraordinary claim was that this Harvard scholar had received in her possession an ancient document that demonstrated that Jesus had a “Wife,” and that Jesus had made her one of his most intimate disciples. Sabar has written a new book about the story. It is a detective story like no other. (Brent Niedergall writes an interesting review of Sabar’s book). We can sometimes so badly want something to be true that we fail to heed sound warnings to be cautious.
- British pastor Andrew Wilson invited historian Carl Trueman to deliver this year’s “Think” lectures at the Kings Church London this summer, on the topic “Knowing God: Where Evangelicals Get the Doctrine of God Wrong and What To Do About It.” Trueman is one of the most penetrating Christian intellectuals living today. View the sessions here.
- In news related to Carl Trueman, fellow Mortification of Spin podcaster, author Aimee Byrd got booted off of the show, because of concerns in her recent book, Recovering from Biblical Manhood and Womanhood: How the Church Needs to Rediscover Her Purpose, about the church not taking seriously the voice of women. What makes this so odd is that Aimee Byrd is not an egalitarian, to the chagrin of some of her sympathetic egalitarian critics. She is a complementarian (though she does not like the term, due to the baggage she senses is present), who is critical of extreme forms of complementarianism. This is a loss for listeners of the podcast. Hopefully, the supporters of the podcast will realize their error and come to their senses. Her book has received some thoughtful critiques, but I would put her work in nearly the same class as Rachel Green Miller’s Beyond Authority and Submission: Women and Men in Marriage, Church, and Society, which is also a moderate complementarian critique of the excesses in certain wings of the complementarian movement. I think there could have been some improvements in both books, but we need more authors like this (see Rachel’s blog here). Here is a YouTube interview with Aimee Byrd herself.
- Apologist Alisa Childers writes about how reading Saint Augustine rescued her faith, when doubts swept in and nearly overwhelmed her.
- Are we held accountable to the sins of our forefathers? Kyle Dillon explores how the Bible deals with this topic.
- Sam Storms on whether or not we receive rewards, as part of the final judgment.
- Seminary president Michael Kruger gives a church history lesson on how popular the Christian movement was among women, in the early church period…. and how the church was mocked for it.
- Apologist Joshua Chatraw argues that we need to study both history and apologetics, in an age of doubt today (two topics that I am deeply passionate about!)
- Pray for pastor and author Tim Keller, who was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in June, 2020, who has found some moderate success with recent chemotherapy treatments.
- Here is a short podcast series covering N.T. Wright’s and Michael Bird’s new book and teaching series on The New Testament and Its World.
- I have been intrigued by the genuine friendship evangelical New Testament scholar Michael Licona has developed with agnostic/atheist scholar Bart Ehrman over the last few years. Ehrman invited Licona a few months ago to post his evangelical view of biblical inerrancy, on Ehrman’s blog, which makes for fascinating reading: Licona’s argument, Licona’s responses to questions and second argument, Licona’s third argument, a flavor of Ehrman’s writings. (some of Ehrman’s content requires you to be a paid member of his blog to read it).
- The pandemic has forced a number of apologists and scholars to produce some excellent video content, from their home libraries, which is really a gift to the Christian community. It is like getting a seminary level education for free. Here are a few great examples
- Sean McDowell interviews author Randy Alcorn, to review Bart Ehrman’s 2020 book about Heaven & Hell.
- Michael Licona interviews Daniel Wallace about Bible translations.
- J. Warner Wallace on Capturing Christianity, about the principles of detective work that help us understand faith better.
- Laura Martin analyzes the claim that women are more easily deceived than men, as has often been believed from 1 Timothy 2:14, which is a rather lame interpretation of that text. The main thing lacking in Martin’s case, however, is the only other place where Eve’s deception is mentioned by Paul, in 2 Corinthians 11:3, which is in context of Paul’s warning to the Corinthian church, that includes men as well as women. Complementarians (as I am, as a moderate) as well as egalitarians should be able to get on-board with skepticism about that lame interpretation.
- Jared August makes a scholarly and compelling case for a messianic interpretation of 1 Timothy 2:15, that I find very convincing. How will “the woman will be saved through the childbirth?” Most egalitarians would reject this interpretation, as would many complementarians. So, I feel quite at home with it!!
And finally, Veggie-Tales creator Phil Vischer released a follow-up video to his “racism” video that went viral this summer (View the first video here). Some tremendous food for thought, for an informed conversation about racism: