Author Archives: Clarke Morledge

About Clarke Morledge

Clarke Morledge -- Computer Network Engineer, College of William and Mary... I hiked the Mount of the Holy Cross, one of the famous Colorado Fourteeners, with some friends in July, 2012. My buddy, Mike Scott, snapped this photo of me on the summit.

The Madness of Crowds

In the introduction to his brilliant book, The Madness of Crowds: Gender, Race and Identity, British author Douglas Murphy, begins by saying:

“We are going through a great crowd derangement. In public and in private, both online and off, people are behaving in ways that are increasingly irrational, feverish, herd-like and simply unpleasant….”
“[Yet] the origin of this condition is rarely acknowledged. This is the simple fact we have been living through a period of more than a quarter of a century in which all our grand narratives have collapsed.”

“One by one, the narratives we had were refuted, became unpopular to defend or impossible to sustain. The explanations for our existence that used to be provided by religion went first, falling away from the 19th century onwards.”

“Then over the past century the secular hopes held out by all political ideologies began to follow in its wake. In the latter part of the 20th century we entered the postmodern era. An era that defined itself, and was defined, by its suspicion towards all grand narratives. However, as all schoolchildren learn, nature abhors a vacuum, and into the postmodern vacuum new ideas began to creep, with the intention of providing explanations and meanings of their own.

What makes Murphy’s observations so strangely poignant, is that he is not a professing Christian. Rather, he is an openly practicing gay atheist. Yet Murphy manages to highlight the following quote, by G. K. Chesterston, a Christian, who was also one of the most profound cultural critics of the modern world, back almost exactly 100 years ago:

“[The] special mark of the modern world is not that it is skeptical, but that it is dogmatic without knowing it.”

Chesterton had prophetic insight in his own day. Douglas Murray revives that same insight for where we are in the 21st century.

In The Madness of Crowds, Douglas Murray lays out what he sees is a new, post-modern religion, that has sought to supplant Christianity in the West. But it has only starting to emerge, with its full-throated dogmatism, somewhere within the past ten years or so.

I recall about ten years ago, when the controversial Mormon and conservative news commentator, Glenn Beck, cautioned Christians to beware of churches that promote diversity and social justice. “I beg you look for the words social justice or economic justice on your church Web site. If you find it, run as fast as you can. Social justice and economic justice, they are code words…

My response to Mr. Beck’s critique then, just as it is now, is that Mr. Beck simply does not understand what the Bible is talking about, when it is talking about “social justice,” or specifically, “justice.” As I had learned years ago, the language of “intersectionality” and “identity,” as interpreted through the lens of Scripture, were simply intellectual tools, to help us to understand the fallen world in which we live, and make sense of the lived, life experiences of those who face oppression or misunderstanding, who have yet to experience the full reality of being made new creatures in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17). As I have outlined elsewhere, the concept of “social justice” actually has its roots in the Bible.

But times have changed, and the pace of that change is unrelentingly fast. In particular, I have been increasingly learning, that words can alter their meanings over time, and such words can be spun very differently, in different contexts. What were once merely helpful intellectual tools have morphed into becoming ideological markers, whereby rationality is sacrificed on the altar of sentimentality, and justified on the basis of Neo-Marxist philosophy. When the Biblical concept of social justice gets uprooted from its essentially Christian, Scriptural context, a new religiosity gets formed, promoting a form of dogmatism, just as bad, if not infinitely worse than the most wooden, legalistic forms of Christian fundamentalism.

What is so scary about this, is just how pervasive it is in all levels of society. Take for example, this easy experiment that Douglas Murray shows in his book, as to how Silicon Valley has embraced this new religiosity, and smuggled it into our iPads and iPhones, without most of us ever knowing it. Type into Google’s search engine, “straight couples,” and look for images, and you will immediately notice that a large number of the top hits will be either gay or lesbian couples, with relatively few heterosexual couples to be found. On the other hand, if you type in “gay couples” instead, you will get exactly what you are looking for, countless gay couples, and no straight couples anywhere to be found. Nevertheless, we all know that “straight couples” far outnumber “gay couples” throughout society. So, why are the Google search results so skewed in favor of “gay couples” over and against “straight couples?”

This is “intersectionality” as an ideological project at work, going way beyond the more helpful notion of “intersectionality” as a tool. In oh-so-subtle ways, the world of social media is forming our minds, with the new religion defining the new dogmatism. The supposedly unbiased nature of machine learning algorithms, that tech giants like Google (and they are not alone!!) use to sort their search results, are being employed to further this post-modern agenda.

One could suggest, as Douglas Murray does at times, that such language of “intersectionality” and “identity” has always been rooted in non-Christian, Marxist ideology. Yet this would be news to the writers of the Old and New Testament, such as when Christians make reference to the fact that Christians have a new “identity” found in Christ, as taught by the Apostle, in 2 Corinthians 5:17, mentioned above. But we now live in a world where the new forms of social media, driven by Silicon Valley, available 24/7 on our smart phones, are causing a whole new generation of young people to lose those long held connections to a Christian frame of mind.

Murray’s point is well taken, in that much of the talk of “intersectionality” and “critical race theory” today is decidedly not Christian today, but rather unashamedly Neo-Marxist. In his 1960s “I Have a Dream” speech, Martin Luther King Jr. argued for a Christian vision of a colorblind society. “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” But Murray’s central contention in The Madness of Crowds is that the contemporary, ideologically-driven “social justice” movement has flipped King’s colorblind vision upside down upon its head, and freedom of speech has suffered as a result.

The silencing and bullying that seeks to suppress free speech is horrifying enough. The fact that such promotion of this type of “intersectionality” rhetoric shows very little, if any shame, only heightens the analysis that Douglas Murray displays in his prose. But it is not merely shameless, it is frankly unbelievable, or as the title of Murray’s book suggests… it is madness.

Perhaps the most troubling message in The Madness of Crowds comes in Murray’s chapter on “On Forgiveness.” In this new, ideologically-driven “intersectionality” movement there is no opportunity for forgiveness. Once someone has been identified as being a person of privilege, due to their gender, race, etc., the only “moral” way forward is to ally with the identified non-privileged. If such a person of privilege “sins,” in this religious paradigm, not even an apology is acceptable.  Even “sins” of the past can never be forgiven. Unlike the Christian faith, there is no opportunity for redemption. There is only condemnation. This new religion is a view of the world without hope or forgiveness.

The Madness of Crowds is not for the most squeamish. There were moments, when reading The Madness of Crowds, where the author was very explicit in matters delicate and morally degrading, to the point where I felt uncomfortable. But there is a purpose here. Murray is not gratuitous, for he chooses his words carefully to make his points, which are sadly necessary.

As an aside, in the Audible version of the title, Douglas Murray reads his own book. Just listening to the cadence and his British accent adds to the effectiveness of driving Murray’s argument home.

While The Madness of Crowds was not the most profound book I read this year, it is surely the best book I read that was released this year. Concerned and thoughtful Christians need to push this book to the top of their reading list.

I have Douglas Murray to thank, to help expose the elephant in the room, regarding how the post-modern phenomenon of political correctness and identity politics gone viral has poisoned the hearts and minds of so many in our day. Unlike Murray, I have not given up on what Murray calls “religion,” which I find to be the Gospel of Jesus Christ, as the true antidote to our difficulties today. Yet many Christians seem to be blithely unaware of what is being propagated, in much of the social media in our post-modern age. Sometimes, when the Church finds it so hard to figure things out herself, God can even raise up a gay atheist, to tell us the truth.

Get this book, and read it.

 

 


F.F. Bruce on Biblical Inspiration and Interpretation

On my to-read list is Tim Grass' biography of F.F. Bruce (1910-1990), one of best British biblical scholars in a hundred years.

On my to-read list is Tim Grass’ biography of F.F. Bruce (1910-1990), one of the best British biblical scholars in a hundred years.

What do we mean we say that the Bible is inspired? There are some, on one side of this question, who say that the Bible is inspired because it is inspiring.

Sorry folks, but that type of fluffy sentiment does not cut it. There are too many people in our churches who think of the Bible as a huge, oversized Hallmark card. There you will find inspiring thoughts, but are they merely sentiments born from human religious experience? Or are they truly the thoughts from a God who has spoken?

The Bible has been under intense scrutiny for a long time. You often hear these days that the Bible is an outdated, outmoded book. Has not modern science disproven the Bible? Has not the study of archaeology, history, and ethics rendered the Bible as obsolete? The Bible has been under serious attack, but thankfully God has raised up some really smart people who have helped to set the record straight, supporting the integrity and reliability of Scripture.

However, this does not mean that every defense has been a good defense. Unfortunately, there are those who so desperately want the Bible to be true, that they are afraid to ask tough questions. That does not cut it either.

F. F. Bruce was one of the premier evangelical scholars of the 20th century. During his era, there were relatively few who possessed such a deep love and reverence for Holy Scripture, who also championed responsible scholarship. The many students of F.F. Bruce today are now the senior members of the scholarly, evangelical community who love God’s Word, but who are not afraid to address tough issues. One of my absolute favorite seminary professors, Donald Hagner, received his PhD while studying with F.F. Bruce, at the University of Manchester.

Just recently, I glanced back at my highly annotated copy of one of Bruce’s last books that he completed before his death, Paul: Apostle of the Heart Set Free, that I read in seminary nearly twenty years ago. I tell you what… to this day, this guy still gets me really excited about studying God’s Word.

Here is a very appropriate selection from his autobiographical work that gets at how he viewed the Bible. As a student of the Bible, this is what I aspire to:

“I should not find the career of a Bible teacher so satisfying as I do if I were not persuaded that the Bible is God’s word written. The fact that I am so persuaded means that I must not come to the Bible with my own preconceptions of what the Bible, as God’s word written, can or cannot say. It is important to determine, by the canons of grammatical, textual, historical and literary study, what it actually does say. Occasionally, when I have expounded the meaning of some biblical passage in a particular way, I have been asked, ‘But how does that square with inspiration?’ But inspiration is not a concept of which I have a clear understanding before I come to the study of the text, so that I know in advance what limits are placed on the meaning of the text by the requirements of inspiration. On the contrary, it is by the patient study of the text that I come to understand better not only what the text itself means but also what is involved in biblical inspiration. My doctrine of Scripture is based on my study of Scripture, not vice versa. The question, ‘how does that square with inspiration?’ is perhaps asked most insistently when one part of Scripture seems to conflict in sense with another. I suppose much depends on the cast of one’s mind, but I have never been bothered by ‘apparent discrepancies’, nor have I been greatly concerned to harmonize them. My faith can accommodate such ‘discrepancies’ much more easily than it could swallow harmonizations that place an unnatural sense on the text or give an impression of special pleading. If the ‘discrepancies’ are left unharmonized, they may help to a better appreciation of the progress of revelation or of the distinctive outlooks of individual writers.”

–F.F. Bruce. In Retrospect (pp. 311-312).


Can We Still Believe the Bible? A Review

How can a 1962 film classic about the Korean War, help to teach us about  believing the Bible to be true?

This may sound like an odd way of introducing a book review, but hang with me….

In his 1959 novel, The Manchurian Candidate, Richard Cordon writes about an American serviceman, captured during the Korean War, who was brainwashed by the Communists. This former POW, and son of a prominent U.S. politician, was being manipulated to try to assassinate a U.S. Presidential candidate. The story was originally put to film in 1962, a classic starring Frank Sinatra.

Though fictional, The Manchurian Candidate was based on news reports of American soldiers, who were captured as Prisoners of War (POWs), but who refused to repatriate back to the United States, once a truce was agreed upon by both the United Nations and North Korea. Out of nearly 3,500 returning POWs, 23 Americans had chosen to stay in North Korea. Why did these 23 servicemen, in the latter category, defect?

In the 1970s, a study was done to try to learn why these Americans refused to come home, after the fighting had ceased. It was discovered that nearly all of these American defectors came from one, single United States military training camp. In that particular training camp, the military indoctrination trainers were teaching the troops that the North Koreans were evil to the core, that the North Koreans all hated Americans, and that they could not be trusted for anything. The experience in that camp was in contrast to the vast numbers of American POWs, who received either no indoctrination training, prior to capture, or whose indoctrination materials were more moderate in their description of the North Koreans.

According to author Peter Boghossian, in his How To Have Impossible Conversations, the research demonstrated, that when the captured American servicemen were actually treated with kindness and compassion, by their North Korean captors, the American POWs from the hardline indoctrination camp were far more likely to defect to North Korea, than were the vast majority of American POWs who returned to the U.S., who received either no indoctrination, or whose training was less extreme.

I call the defection of those American soldiers, to the Communists, an example of the “Manchurian Candidate Effect.”

Can We Still Believe the Bible? New Testament scholar Craig Blomberg says “YES!”

The Danger of Misrepresenting the Beliefs Held By Others, Who Do Not Exactly Hold Your Own Convictions about Christian Faith

In my years of doing Christian youth ministry, I have seen this scenario sadly played out multiple times: A worried Christian parent would tell me that they were fearful that their son or daughter was in danger of walking away from the faith, in which they were taught. In many of these cases, the parent’s concern was genuine, as harmful influences were indeed tugging away at the young person’s fidelity to their parent’s faith.

But every now and then, upon closer inspection, I would learn that the parent was teaching their kids ideas that misrepresented the character and/or beliefs of their child’s non-Christian, non-believing influencers. In some cases, such misrepresentations were even of other Christians, who were still orthodox in their Christian beliefs, but who held to particular views that were still out of step with what the parents believed.

Yet when the child began to learn that their agnostic, atheistic, etc. teacher, coach, or new friend, truly cared for them, and did not fit in with the caricature painted by their parent, this would inevitably raise questions in the mind of that child. The child would learn that not all atheists desperately hate God, or that their new sports teammate, from a Muslim home, was really a nice person, and not the terrorist that their parents imagined them to be. When that happened, the wayward child’s fidelity to their parent’s faith would begin to unravel. They would begin to wonder if their parents had mislead them about other, more fundamental teachings about the Christian faith, a form of doubt that would put their commitment to Christ in jeopardy.

Invariably, such misperceptions would also apply to other Christians, who might have read the Bible slightly differently from the child’s parents. For example, if the wayward child had a Christian friend, who adopted a different view of the age of the earth, or the historicity of the Book of Job, than that being taught by the child’s parents, the orthodoxy of the friend’s faith was viewed with grave suspicion, when in fact, the fundamental orthodoxy of the friend’s faith was never seriously in question. Again, like pulling a thread out of a nicely knit sweater, the complex structure of a rigid form of Christian belief would start to fall apart. This is the “Manchurian Candidate Effect” in motion.

At the same time, it is true that the forces that tug away at undermining Christian belief are constantly at work, and they do creep in and influence the church. Having discernment as to what properly constitutes those negative influences is essential. But like the hardline indoctrination received by those American defectors to North Korea, it is counterproductive to demonize other people in ways that completely misrepresent them.

There is no surefire way to prevent a child from abandoning the faith. No magic formula will guarantee that a child will adopt the faith of their parents. The obstacles to maintaining an orthodox view of Christian faith are extremely difficult, in a culture that is constantly bombarding believers with alternative messages. Biblical illiteracy is at an all-time high, even in many otherwise solid evangelical churches, and the attacks on Christianity, within the wider culture, only make the task of Christian discipleship all the more difficult.

Prayer is the key to see the Holy Spirit at work, but it is also deserving to have a fair look at why critics of the Christian Bible hold the positions that they do. A Christian can offer a reasonable defense, to such criticisms, without sticking one’s head into the sand.

What are the Top Questions that Critics Have About the Christian Bible?

Why is it that so many people today conclude that they can not believe the Bible? In the age of the Internet, social media, and the skepticism of popular scholars, like Bart Ehrman, such issues are unavoidable. I know that many of my Christian friends are not interested in these matters, but as I work on a college campus, I run into these type of issues, almost on a daily basis.

Here are some of the top questions that many are asking today:

  • Are not the copies of the Bible hopelessly corrupt?
  • Was not the selection of books for canon just political?
  • Can we trust any of translations of the Bible?
  • Do not the issues rule out biblical inerrancy?
  • Are not several narrative genres of the Bible unhistorical?
  • Do not all the miracles make the Bible mythical?

It is within the context of these questions about the Bible that Craig Blomberg’s Can We Still Believe the Bible?: An Evangelical Engagement with Contemporary Questions is a valuable resource for encouraging Christians to have a greater confidence in the Bible, as truly being the reliable Word of God. I bought this book at an apologetics conference five years ago, and I finally made my way through it just recently. In an age where godly, Scriptural discernment and responsible scholarship is sadly lacking in many corners of the church, Blomberg’s work is like a breath of fresh air and clarity, providing sound answers to all of the above questions.

Craig Blomberg is a professor of New Testament at Denver Seminary. For those readers unfamiliar with Blomberg, but perhaps familiar with the more well-known writings of Timothy Keller, it is helpful to know that Craig Blomberg is the “go-to” source for all of Timothy Keller’s research on the reliability of the New Testament documents.

There are a lot of areas where one could focus on the Bible’s trustworthiness, such as the Bible’s relationship to science, or the moral teachings of the Bible. But in Can We Still Believe the Bible?, Craig Blomberg focuses his attention on the six questions highlighted above. The passion out of which Blomberg writes is to defend the Bible against unbelieving critics, who would completely reject the trustworthiness and inerrancy of the Bible. We live in an age of relentless skepticism, and Craig Blomberg suggests that there are still good reasons to believe the Bible. Yet Blomberg finds dangers on the other side, advanced by those who contend for hyper-conservative views of the Bible, mischaracterizing more moderate voices, even to the point of labeling such moderate positions as “liberal” or “compromising.”

For example, some critics, like the famous agnostic Bart Ehrman, say that the New Testament we have today is made up of copies of copies, of copies, of copies, of copies, of copies, of original documents, that are completely lost to us today. This claim suggests that we simply have no reliable way to get back to the original New Testament documents, with the manuscript data we currently possess, making our degree of confidence in our English Bibles extremely low. Skeptical voices, like Bart Ehrman’s, dominate today’s media outlets, and percolates down to social media. But Blomberg demonstrates that such pessimism about the Bible is not the case. The plethora of New Testament manuscripts, available to scholars today, instead reveals an embarrassment of riches, demonstrating that we really can get back to the original writings, of say, Paul or Luke, with a very high degree of probability.

Likewise, on the hyper-conservative side, many King-James-Only (KJV) advocates strongly assert that modern Bible translations can not be trusted, as they are based on the false premise that the original Greek text, behind the New Testament of the older KJV translation, represents a more recent tradition, as opposed to an earlier tradition of reliable manuscript data. By misrepresenting modern Bible translations, this claim introduces a different form of doubt, in the minds of some Christians, who wonder if they can really trust their modern English translation. While such hyper-conservative arguments may succeed at keeping certain Christians within the KJV-Only fold, they may also trigger the “Manchurian Candidate Effect,” leading other Christians to distrust ALL Bible translations, and waver in their faith.

Again, Blomberg successfully shows how modern translations in no way take away from the fundamental teachings of Christian doctrine, such as the deity of Christ. In other words, if you use the ESV, or English Standard Version of the Bible, it is not the “English Satanic Version” of the Bible, as so many KJV-Only proponents claim. But rather, it is the result of years of faithful research into understanding how God has preserved the essential reliability of His Word, across the centuries.

Appreciating the Diversity of Literary Genre in the Bible

Perhaps the most contentious area that Blomberg addresses concerns the question of whether or not certain biblical narratives are historical. But Blomberg discusses the use of how different literary genres are employed throughout Scripture, even within otherwise primarily historical narratives, such as the Gospels. In particular, Blomberg argues that the trustworthiness of Scripture needs to be defined within the standards of antiquity, when the text was actually written, as opposed to arbitrarily imposing contemporary, 21st century standards upon the text.

Most Christian know that the parables told by Jesus are fictional in nature. Jesus actually, historically told these parables, but the parables themselves appeal to metaphor, and not observable history, to make their theological points. But are there other cases, where a mixture of literary genre exists within an otherwise historical narrative?

For example, is the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus, in Luke 16:19-31, to be considered as purely historical narrative? Since this is the only story told by Jesus, whereby Jesus gives names to the main characters, Lazarus and Abraham, in describing the afterlife, some contend that Jesus is describing a historical event, assuming a type of human eyewitness perspective. In other words, advocates of this view believe that Lazarus was a real, historical person who died, sometime before Jesus told this story to his followers, and Jesus is describing Lazarus’s experience in the afterlife, with the Rich Man, from the eye-witness perspective of sometime living in that afterlife world.

But since this story follows immediately after Jesus is telling his disciples three unambiguous parables, that are understood to be fictional, it is overwhelmingly likely that the Rich Man and Lazarus story is also a fictional account, designed to teach profound theological truth, just as the parables are designed to do.

Does the type of literary genre being used here by Luke in any way compromise the doctrine of biblical inerrancy? Craig Blomberg makes the most persuasive case that the answer is surely, “NO.” These are matters having to deal with the correct means of biblical interpretation, and they do not impinge on the trustworthiness of Scripture itself. Blomberg defends a more nuanced approach to the inerrancy of the Bible, that allows for scholars to hone in on a more accurate interpretation of the Scriptural data, without any compromise of inerrancy itself.

As a corollary to Blomberg’s discussion about genre, one might wonder if the story of Jonah and the big fish should be understood as a specific historical event. The great Oxford don, C.S. Lewis, had his doubts, as expressed in a letter to Corbin Carnell, dated April 4, 1953:

“….the question about Jonah and the great fish
does not turn simply on intrinsic probability. The point is that the whole
Book of Jonah has to me the air of being a moral romance, a quite different
kind of thing from, say, the account of King David or the New Testament
narratives, not pegged, like them, into any historical situation.”

C.S. Lewis, who is hailed as a hero by most evangelical Protestants today, undoubtedly did not embrace a strict definition of biblical inerrancy. Ironically, Lewis therefore would not be allowed to teach at many evangelical theological institutions today, that revere him so highly, partly because of his view of Jonah.

Yet perhaps the story of Jonah is indeed an historical narrative, but with a few metaphorical elements mixed in. Perhaps the metaphorical imagery of the great fish describes the calamity of Jonah’s being thrown overboard, and his miraculous survival, as opposed to asserting something like a massive whale shark, capable of supplying Jonah a ready supply of oxygen, for Jonah’s three day and three night underwater journey. Perhaps the great fish was a metaphor for Sheol, the realm of the dead, and the story of being vomited out upon the seashore testifies to how God rescued Jonah from death.

Craig Blomberg would not want to rule out the use of the fish as a fictional metaphor here, as an interpretive possibility. Jesus did attest to the story of Jonah and the big fish. But Jesus also used parables, which were clearly fiction, to teach essential theological truth.

Blomberg’s suggestion does not imply a flat-out skepticism of the miracles in the Bible, as a whole. Far from it. If one accepts the testimony of Jesus’ resurrection as an historical, bodily event, as one must to be a truly Bible-believing Christian, then that paves the way open to accepting any miracle story in the Bible as historical event, at least in principle. If we really are talking a great, non-metaphorical fish swallowing Jonah whole, then we need to be prepared to accept it. But it need not conflict with the possibility of God using something like the fish story, as a metaphorical image instead, to convey God’s Truth. The trustworthiness of various stories in the Bible need not be rejected, simply because we assume a particular way of reading, that would be alien to the intended literary purposes of the writer.

Interpretive decisions, regarding how one should read particular texts as metaphorical or non-metaphorical, must be made on a passage by passage basis, paying careful attention to the particular literary genre, and other elements of literary context. This is a nuanced, evidentially informed, sensible, and wise approach to the Bible. Blomberg’s work is balanced, a good example of how evangelical Bible scholarship has improved over the recent decades, avoiding the pitfalls of liberal critical scholars, who undermine the Bible’s authority, as well as hyper-conservative defenses of the Bible, that often invite ridicule. I wish I had something like Craig Blomberg’s book in my hands, when I was a 1980s college student, struggling with difficult questions about my faith, particularly regarding issues like biblical inerrancy.

When Christians are presented with challenges to their faith in Jesus, and their trust in the Bible, by antagonistic critics of Christianity, it obviously can be disturbing to those who feel like they are not prepared to defend their faith. But it can be even more disconcerting when otherwise well-intentioned “defenders” of the faith, misrepresent the views of other Christians, who also believe the Bible, but who nevertheless find themselves being the object of scorn by supposedly fellow Christians. It often feels like living through the backstory of The Manchurian Candidate.

Can We Still Believe the Bible? is not an exhaustive look at the issues about the Bible, as the Bible is indeed a big book, and scholars continue to pour their lives into the faithful study of what God is continually revealing to His church, about the plans and purposes of God. But Blomberg’s fantastic work, while being a bit technical for the average, casual reader, is an incredibly helpful resource for those who study the Bible with the utmost seriousness and intensity, who nevertheless find themselves asking good, honest questions about Scripture’s reliability. Craig Blomberg presents enough case studies in his research to make a profoundly compelling case that, yes, we can still believe the Bible. He effectively steers a middle course, between an unbridled skepticism and an overzealous, anti-intellectualism. Blomberg’s work has received enthusiastic reviews, from some evangelicalism’s top scholars, such as Michael Kruger, and Dan Wallace. For those who are concerned about whether the Bible can still be trusted, I heartedly recommend this work by Craig Blomberg.

Craig Blomberg wrote a followup to Can We Still Believe the Bible?, which focuses in greater detail on apologetic concerns within the New Testament. The Historical Reliability of the New Testament: Countering the Challenges to Evangelical Christian Beliefs (B&h Studies in Christian Apologetics) is on my “to-be-read” list, as it taps into Blomberg’s particular focus area of scholarship, the New Testament.

Can we still believe the Bible? In walking away from my reading of Craig Blomberg, the answer is clearly, “YES!”

The following is a 2016 lecture Dr. Blomberg gave at Cornell University, covering the main themes of Can We Still Believe the Bible?:


Mister Roger’s Neighborhood

When I was a college student, on those days jam packed with classes, labs, and the stresses of deadlines, I would take a few minutes, towards the latter part of the afternoon, and veg out watching Mister Rogers Neighborhood. It was a few minutes of respite, and Reverend Fred Rogers was always there to bring me down to earth, before I had to run off to the library to read another 100 pages of assignments.

The new movie, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, starring Tom Hanks, has received a variety of reviews in Christian circles. Rebecca Davis’ review for the American Family Association tells us that “Mister Rogers Movie Gets Mixed Reviews,” noting on the positive side, a candid interview with Fred Rogers’ surviving wife, Joanne, while on the other side, observing that the film has some difficult material, including some mild language, and pointing out that “Everything about the film points to man’s goodness – the goodness of Mister Rogers and the innate goodness in all people – as the foundation for a transformed life. Believers know that type of transformation is contrary to Scripture, yet the faith-based promotion of the film may cause viewers to mistake goodness for the gospel.

While Davis’ remarks are theologically correct, it bears emphasizing that what made Fred Rogers, Fred Rogers, truly was a profound intimacy with God. In a post-Christian age, where orthodox Christian faith gets sidelined in the culture, we must not underestimate the potential for such a film to carry on Fred Rogers’ work, to “make goodness attractive,” as his wife, Joanne, says.

Ryan Pemberton, in his review for Christianity Today magazine, writes of “The Quiet Liturgy of Fred Rogers,” and observes that “Fred Rogers was a pioneer in recognizing television as a powerful vehicle of formation.” Pemberton reminds us that Rogers did everything he did with radical intentionality, allowing the message of the Gospel to penetrate the viewer’s heart, as opposed to merely appealing to the mind.

The challenge for those of us in the Internet age of the 24-hour news cycle and social media is see if God might raise up a Christian in this generation to realize the potential of these newer forms of media, to spark a spiritual transformation of people in our day. That is something to think and pray about.

 


Do We Still Have Apostles Today, in the Church?

Did the gift of “apostleship” cease by the end 1st century? The answer is yes… and no. But I need to unpack this to explain.

We know that there were apostles running around the Roman Empire, during the 1st century, when the New Testament was written. Folks like the Apostle Paul, the Apostle Peter, and the Apostle James come to mind, right away. But what about today? Are there still apostles? Well, it all comes down to what the New Testament means by the term “apostle.”

“Apostles” versus “apostles”??

The Greek word apostolos is used a number of times within the New Testament. The term generally means “one sent as a messenger.”  This more generic sense of “messenger,” “representative,” or “envoy” is found in 2 Corinthians 8:23. But it also has a more specific sense, that of being one of the divinely appointed founders of the Christian church. That latter, more specific sense, most probably refers to those who had seen the Risen Christ, and who were charged by Jesus Himself to authoritatively articulate the message of the Gospel, to that first century world. Think of the original twelve disciples, minus Judas (Acts 1:2, 1:26), as well as Paul, based on his encounter with the Risen Jesus, on the road to Damascus.

A lot of Christians are very leery about acknowledging the presence of “apostles” in 21st century Christianity, and for a very good reason. The “big” apostles, like Paul, Peter, and James were accepted as being authorized to write the books of the New Testament. Only such apostles, or those who lived within that early apostolic circle, were recognized as legitimate writers of Holy Scripture. For example, Mark was not among the group of the named “big” apostles, but he knew Peter, who is the primary source for how we got the Gospel of Mark. Likewise, Luke moved around in that same, original apostolic circle, and thereby wrote the Gospel that bears his name, as well as Acts.

But we do not have writers of Scripture today. Contrary to what folks like the Mormons believe, there is no case to be made that there are to be any extra revealed books of the Bible, aside from what we already have in the Old and New Testaments. So, when you hear about movements like the New Apostolic Reformation, or other movements, commonly associated with some varieties of Pentecostalism, most evangelical Christians today are correct to cast a skeptical eye on such claims of apostleship. In this sense, there are no, capital “A” Apostles running around our churches today.

However, the New Testament does indicate that there were others in New Testament, who were described as apostles, but who lack that special sense of designated authority. For example, the Apostle Paul had several traveling companions or co-workers who were called “apostles,” either explicitly, or perhaps implied. Barnabas is explicitly mentioned as being one (Acts 14:14), and yet we have no indication that he encountered the Risen Jesus. Likewise, there are those like Apollos, Silas, and Timothy who served right alongside Paul in his ministry. Yet we have no reason to believe they ever had a post-Resurrection encounter with Jesus, in the same manner like Paul or Peter did. Then we have the case of a notable woman, Junia, who was considered “outstanding among the apostles” (Romans 16:7 NIV), according to Paul. Paul even names two other women Euodia and Syntyche, as co-workers, contending along Paul’s side, “in the cause of the Gospel” (Philippians 4:2-3). So, were all of these people, men and women alike, apostles?

At the very least, you could say that all of these co-workers of Paul, male and female, were what we would call today “church-planters,” which is consistent with the practice continued today, by many churches, to “send out” missionaries to go plant churches, as “messengers” of the Gospel, which is consistent with how the New Testament uses that Greek term, apostolos. In other words, they were little-a “apostles,” as opposed to being big-A “Apostles,” like Paul.

The argument from Scripture, therefore, indicates that we no longer have big-A “Apostles” today in the church. However, this should not be construed to rule out the existence of small-a “apostles.”

Surely, some will be concerned that the line between Apostle and apostle could become blurred, some twenty centuries after the New Testament was written. No one can write Scripture today. No one can supersede folks like the Apostle Paul, and claim the mantle of their authority. But most Christians I know surely acknowledge the presence of many, many gifted church planters today, who have been sent out as messengers, for the sake of spreading the Gospel, just as you read about them in the New Testament.

Simply put, you can not plant churches without church planters. Church planters exercise the gift of being “apostles,” in that they are sent out by Christian communities as messengers of the Gospel.

Therefore, some might feel more comfortable with speaking of such “lower case a” apostles as being “church planters” instead, in order to avoid confusion. In my mind, that is just quibbling with words, but I get the point. A distinction needs to be made. So be it. If refusing to call anyone today an “apostle” causes you grief, then go right ahead and come up with your own word. But the principle should be clear. In addition to the heavyweights, like Paul and Peter, the church of the New Testament had “lower case a” apostles, who were sent out to plant churches, built on the message of the Gospel. We still have those in that second category of “apostles” today.

Insight Into Yet Another, Thorny Issue That Divides the Church?

As a parallel, this distinction might help those who struggle with the whole question of having women preach or teach, in the local church. Many understand the Apostle Paul to say that women should not serve as teachers in the church, particularly where there are men present, according to 1 Timothy 2:12. Paul goes on to explain what he means by this in 1 Timothy 3, in describing the qualification for “overseers,” whom Paul calls “elders” in Acts 20.

But this directive of Paul’s should also be considered along with yet another directive of Paul, whereby men and women are to teach and admonish one another, in the local church, according to Colossians 3:16. In Colossians, Paul is specifically addressing his message to both men and women, and there is nothing that indicates that this message was limited to that particular church, in that particular time (Colossians 3:15-19). That all believers, including men and women, are encouraged to teach one another, is an idea that has universal scope and application.

The first type of “Teaching,” commonly associated with the authority of elders, or overseers, refers to the work of guarding against the infiltration of false doctrine, into the local church. This ties into the concept of “big-A” Apostleship, as the primary task of “big-T” Teachers ; that is, the elders of the church, is to make sure that the doctrine being propagated in the local church is in alignment with what was laid down by those first century “big-A” Apostles, who are responsible for our New Testament. As I have argued elsewhere, I would call this big-T “Teaching.”

The second type of “teaching,” such as is in the leading of Bible studies, giving an exhortation in a corporate worship service, under the supervision of the elders of the church, does not necessarily bear with it the sense of authority, generally attributed to elders. But it does recognize that there are specific gifts of teaching, that the Holy Spirit can give to men and women, that can be used under the oversight function of local church elders.

Some may object to the language of calling women as “teachers,” preferring other language such as calling women as “preachers.” But even the notion of women “preaching” might be too much for some. Others would prefer the terminology of the “passing on of information,” just as the Lord Jesus gave Mary Magdalene information to pass onto the male disciples, after the Resurrection. But despite whatever terminology is preferred, the principle remains the same, that both big-T “Teaching” and little-t “teaching” are part of every growing community of believers today.

Granted, this is a controversial idea for many in our #MeToo era, who bristle at even the thought of discrimination against women, when it comes to the office of elder and/or pastor in a local church. On the other side, many other Christians believe such little-t “teaching” can only be appropriate in an occasional or informal setting, and rarely, if ever, from a pulpit, or even an ongoing, adult Sunday school class, where men and women are both present.

Many evangelical Christians are divided over such issues.1  I would be hopelessly foolish to insist on being dogmatic. At the same time, it grieves me to think how we are quickly dividing the Body of Christ, when there is a modest, moderating alternative to the crisis of how churches should be governed, in evangelical circles.

Here I am suggesting a possible third-way through this impasse. It might be helpful to draw this parallel together, as I have done here, of contrasting big-A “Apostles” and little-a “apostles,” along with big-T “teaching” and little-t “teaching,” to give us a more thoughtful understanding of how we can see the gifts of apostleship and teaching at work today, in the contemporary church.2

Notes:

1. Southern California pastor John MacArthur set off a firestorm of criticism in October, 2019, at a conference, where he was asked to give a one or two word response to the name “Beth Moore,” a popular women’s Bible study teacher, in the Southern Baptist convention. He recommended that Beth Moore “go home,” which lit up the world of evangelical Twitter on fire. Pastor MacArthur explains his views here, in a sermon delivered shortly after the flair up.  MacArthur’s biggest exegetical error in this sermon, starting at the 54:23 mark, is by treating the topic of women praying and prophesying, 1 Corinthians 11:2-16, as NOT applicable to the context public, corporate worship, whereas Paul’s teaching later in the same letter, that “women are to remain silent,” in 1 Corinthians 14:34-35, is clearly applicable to the context of public corporate worship. The problem is that BOTH passages refer to the corporate worship life of the church, whether we like that or not, and we must deal with this tension accordingly. In 1 Corinthians 11:16, Paul declares that the orderly praying and prophesying by women IS within the context of public, corporate worship. To go against this is contrary to church practice. “If anyone is inclined to be contentious, we have no such practice, nor do the churches of God.”  The “churches” here, is from the Greek ekklesia, which specifically means the “assembly.” Nevertheless, like the perennial topic that persists and persists, and never goes away, there have been those on the other side of this, like on egalitarian theologian Scot McKnight’s Jesus Creed blog, who are greatly aggravated by MacArthur’s statements. Equally, on the more rigid complementarian side, bloggers like Grayson Gilbert have come to MacArthur’s defense.  A more, measured video response by International House of Prayer leader, Mike Bickle, can be found here. (For a slightly different view, that suggests that a complementarian can affirm women as a “pastor,” and not an “elder,” read Sam Storms here). On the other hand, I appreciate the more thoughtful, irenic dialogue between two different complementarian voices, Kevin DeYoung and John Dickson, regarding the topic of “women preaching.” The practice of those, like Tim Challies, who only allows men to read Scripture publicly in church, seems really over the top to me, and without sufficient grounding in the Bible. But other areas are more dicey, and less certain. My own response to those like Kevin DeYoung, who would not allow for women to lead adult Sunday school classes, on a regular basis, where men and women are present, even operating under the oversight of an all-male eldership, is for those who might be troubled by such practice can simply refrain from attending that particular Sunday school class, and attend a different class, assuming one is available. My main concern is that Christians should not interfere with the consciences with other believers, who hold to “disputable matters” that have brought about unnecessary division within our churches. The last thing we need is for yet another reason for churches to needlessly split, with egalitarian Christians on one side, and complementarian Christians on the other, or even a third-split, with yet moderate complementarians dividing from more extreme complementarians. Enough already!! We need to balance out the concerns of those who fear the increase of worldly feminism into our churches, while acknowledging the giftedness of women, as also taught in Scripture. For those interested in a more in-depth look at the “women in ministry” issue, see my 19-part blog post series, beginning with this post

2. I greatly appreciate the measured, irenic work of London-based pastor Andrew Wilson on the topic of “Apostles” versus “apostles”(see here and here). Wilson is thoughtfully consistent, principled, without being needlessly rigid, and fully rooted in God’s Word.  


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