Category Archives: Apologetics

Reviewing Patterns of Evidence: The Moses Controversy Movie

This past week, I went to see Timothy Mahoney’s new film, Patterns of Evidence: The Moses Controversy. Following the relative success of Mahoney’s first film on the Exodus, Mahoney has been able to raise enough funds to put out this second movie, that seeks to defend the idea that Moses wrote the first five books of the Bible.

On the good side, Mahoney demonstrates that there is a certain critical bias among mainstream scholars, that tends to pooh-pooh the idea, that a man named Moses really had that much do with the the transmission of Genesis, Exodus, Numbers, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy, down through history. A lot of Christians are surprisingly ignorant of the fact that doubting the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch, has been pretty much the standard teaching in nearly all institutions of higher learning in the United States, for decades. So, Mahoney gets brownie points for urging Christians to engage more with critical scholarship. If you send your kid off to college, allow them to watch TV, or allow them to surf the Internet, it behooves the Christian to become aware of the challenges that confront a young person’s faith.

But the down side of the movie is that Mahoney leans heavily on the contrarian, and highly disputed theories, of Egyptologist David Rohl, to make Mahoney’s case that God essentially inspired the human alphabet system, that allowed Moses to write the Torah. The movie was basically a 2-hour slog, through a rather complicated apologetic argument, to try to defend Moses’ involvement in writing the first part of the Bible. Even Gary Bates and Lita Cosner, Young Earth Creationist apologists for Creation.com, found Mahoney’s alphabetic writing system proposal as “both unnecessary and unsupported by Scripture itself.

Why Mahoney leans so heavily on David Rohl, the latter who admits that he is an agnostic, is beyond me. In contrast, Egyptologist Kenneth Kitchen, an outspoken evangelical Christian, and highly respected by many of his agnostic and atheistic peers, dismisses David Rohl’s speculation as pretty much total nonsense. Kitchen, author of the exhaustively learned On the Reliability of the Old Testament, champions the so-called “late date theory” of the Exodus, that the film maker Mahoney casually dismisses twice in the movie, as having “no evidence” to support it. Rohl makes some legitimate criticisms of “late date theory” proponents, but his alternative solution fails to convince most scholars, believer and non-believer alike. I will spare you the details and simply refer the Veracity reader to ‘s fair and balanced review of The Moses Controversy.

I do not mean to pile onto Tim Mahoney, as he seems like a really likable, sincere guy, and I do commend him for addressing the topic. I think that his experience with doubt, and his journey in trying to resolve such doubt, should be treated with respect and sensitivity. Mahoney plans to put out another movie, addressing the apologetics of the Red Sea crossing. Let us hope that this next movie will be an improvement over The Moses Controversy.

Despite its shortcomings, I am very glad and thankful Tim Mahoney has put out a thought-provoking film, that will hopefully spur thoughtful Christians to actively engage the issues behind The Moses Controversy. Nevertheless, I am concerned that an uncritical examination of Mahoney’s claims will only confuse Christians, when they actually encounter peer-reviewed scholarship on this topic, making it harder to defend the faith before an unbelieving world.


Does Dark Matter … Really Matter?

Did you know that astrophysicists have found the “missing baryons?”  Why would a Christian care about such a discovery?

 

As Hugh Ross, an astrophysicist and president of Reasons to Believe, put it, this discovery helps to solve the mystery of “dark matter,” supporting the modern Big Bang theory, which points to a beginning of the universe. When the Big Bang theory was first developed in the mid-20th century, a problem immediately became apparent, as the theory predicted that there should be a great mass of matter (or energy) existing between galaxies, making up to about 70% or so of the universe. The problem was that researchers could never see it; hence, roughly speaking, the term, “dark matter.”

In 2017, two independent teams of researchers were able to develop a method whereby they could detect the existence of the “missing baryons.” For those Christians who believe that the Bible affirms, or is at least not in conflict with, the idea of an ancient universe, of millions of years, this discovery appears to point towards the existence of so-called “dark matter,” helping to solve a persistent riddle, as to what was missing in the Bang Bang cosmological model. There is still a lot more to learn about so-called “dark matter,” and neither this discovery, nor the Big Bang theory necessarily “prove” the Bible. But for Christians who hold to an Old Earth Creationist interpretation of the Bible, like astrophysicist Hugh Ross, this discovery is yet another piece of evidence in favor of the truthfulness of the Christian faith.

Ironically, many Young Earth Creationists have been fighting against the notion of dark matter for decades. Why? Because if dark matter really exists, it would help to bolster the Big Bang theory, and thereby undercut their interpretation of the Bible, namely that the earth and universe is only about 6,000 years old, contrary to the consensus of modern science. Now, there are at least some Young Earth Creationists, such as Danny Faulkner at Answers in Genesis, who are saying that the question of dark matter is really irrelevant, and that Young Earth Creationists, like astronomer Faulkner, should embrace the existence of dark matter in their alternative proposals. This is quite a concession.

But for those who believe that the evidence supporting the modern scientific consensus for the Big Bang is, at least, in some sense, consistent with what the Bible teaches, namely, that the universe had a beginning (“In the beginning”…. see Genesis 1:1), dark matter is not a problem at all. For if the universe had a beginning, it stands to reason that you will also have a Beginner!

Now, with a God who works miracles, a Young Earth Creation is still possible. Many of my dear Christian friends are Young Earth Creationists, and they have several thoughtful reasons for holding to their position. But the story of dark matter raises a good question: As a Christian, what is easier to defend when talking with a non-believer? The idea that science coheres with the Bible, or that science is in conflict with the Bible?


Does Carbon-14 Radiometric Dating Undermine the Bible (or Confirm It)?

Some Christians are not fans of radiometric dating. They believe that radiometric dating has been used to attack the Bible. These Christians seek to honor God’s Word, so the motives behind the argument against some scientific practices, such as Carbon-14 dating, are well-intentioned. Nevertheless, this approach can be confusing, if not wrongheaded, for the simple reason that Carbon-14 dating actually presents strong evidence for the Christian faith (and not against it).

How can that be?

Carbon-14 dating is but one of several radiometric dating methods, whereby scientists can determine the ages of things, by examining how quickly certain substances have decayed over time in a sample. Substances, like Carbon-14, will slowly break down, at a rate determined by the radioisotope’s half-life.

Radiometric dating methods, like with Carbon-14, get a bad rap among some Christians, in that the science of radiometric dating is used to suggest that the earth is really, really old… as in millions of years old… which runs contrary to a common view, that the earth is only 6,000 years old. However, it should be clarified that Carbon-14 dating, specifically, can only measure things in terms of thousands of years old, and not millions. But the calibration principle behind Carbon-14 dating, when applied to other substances with a much longer half-life, like potassium, allows scientists to measure dates in the range of millions of years. Therefore, the concern about radiometric dating in principle remains.

But how many Christians know that Carbon-14 dating actually has been used to confirm the Bible? Let me describe a few examples. Continue reading


Elisha, She-Bears, and the Cursing of Children?

This is up there near the top of “Weird Stories of the Bible,” when the prophet Elisha curses a group of young boys, who taunt him. But does this image really correspond to the message that the Scriptural writer is intending to convey?

I was totally dumbstruck, a moment I will never forget. I was doing youth ministry, when a high school student asked me about the weird incident of Elisha and the She-Bears, found in 2 Kings 2:23-25. What is that all about?

I had never seen the passage before, and it left me speechless:

23 He [Elisha] went up from there to Bethel, and while he was going up on the way, some small boys came out of the city and jeered at him, saying, “Go up, you baldhead! Go up, you baldhead!”24 And he turned around, and when he saw them, he cursed them in the name of the Lord. And two she-bears came out of the woods and tore forty-two of the boys. 25 From there he went on to Mount Carmel, and from there he returned to Samaria.

What is going on in this passage? I will be honest: Having never read that before, I had no clue how to respond. Over seven years in Bible-teaching churches had never prepared me for that question (Why do most churches skip over these difficult passages????).

Skeptics use these verses to mock the morality of the Bible. It is hard not to blame them, from a quick, surface reading of the text. It sounds like God is sanctioning, even inflicting, violent child abuse.

But this high school student who quizzed me about this passage was not at all trying to ridicule the Bible. It was a honest question. This teenager was sincerely confused… and I was stumped.

I could have simply said, “Well, that is in the Old Testament. No need to worry.” But I knew better.

So, what is the Bible really talking about here? Could there be more going on, than what a plain-text, isolated reading of the text indicates?

A theologian who writes frequently for First Things magazine, Peter Leithart, highlights the work of Keith Bodner, that gives a more nuanced, and greatly more compelling answer as to how to interpret this difficult text in the Bible. In short, the story of Elisha and She-Bears is really an event with satirical theological-political commentary, criticizing the apostatizing of Israel’s leadership, by their sanctioning of idolatry at Bethel. A careful reading of other biblical texts gives us the clues needed to fully unpack this story (see 1 Kings 12:1-15, 2 Kings 1:8, 1 Kings 14:21, 1 Kings 13:24, 2 Kings 8:12, for additional context).

In this interpretation, the “small boys” in this passage, really are not children at all. Instead, they are a band of idolatrous priests that threaten Elisha, and the true worship of God the prophet represents. The author uses the language of “small boys,” not to historically chronicle their age, but rather to criticize the immaturity of these rebellious priests.

The critique of Elisha’s “baldness?” Well, this is not really about a loss of hair, but rather the loss of losing his mentor Elijah, as a spiritual covering.

This explanation may not completely remove for you the scandal that this passage raises. Understood, but the shock value maybe the point. Passages in the Bible that sound just plain weird, might be clues that more is going on than what can be picked up by a surface reading. As I wrote about in my review of Andy Stanley’s book, Irresistible, perhaps the problem with the Old Testament, is not with the Old Testament itself, but in how we interpret it.

Additional Resources:

Gospel Coalition blogger, Derek Rishmawy has an older post highlighting Peter Leithart’s own commentary on this passage, from Leithart’s 1 & 2 Kings commentary. For some other, informed takes on the same story, I would recommend either the following segment of Dr. Michael Heiser’s Naked Bible Podcast (Heiser is an Old Testament scholar, for Logos Bible Software, who wrote many of the notes for the FaithLife Study Bible, and author of the groundbreaking book, The Unseen Realm: Recovering the Supernatural Worldview of the Bible), or a sermon by Dr. Peter Williams (Williams is a textual critical scholar at the University of Cambridge, and Tyndale House, in England, and a translator for the English Standard Version of the Bible), or the detailed analysis from the “uber-intellectual” Alastair Roberts, MereFidelity podcaster and blogger. Dr. Heiser’s treatment is just audio, with no video. But one of Dr. Heiser’s key themes is that if it is weird, it is probably important. This passage surely qualifies. The Dr. Williams’ video is from a talk he gave at, what I think is, Park Street Church in Boston (Williams takes a more traditional view of the “young boys”, summarized in a series of Tweets). Alastair Roberts’ video is from his YouTube Question & Answer channel. All three scholars offer great resources on other topics, I might add!:

 

 

 


Irresistible, by Andy Stanley, A Review

Irresistible: Reclaiming the New that Jesus Unleashed for the World. Pastor Andy Stanley overstates a central theme in his argument, but his critics should learn something from him as well.

A little backstory, as to why I decided to read this challenging book: I am not really the type of guy who would be naturally drawn to a pastor like Andy Stanley. At least, that is what I thought a few years ago.

Andy Stanley is the son of the well-known Atlanta pastor, Charles Stanley, who for years has been an example, par excellence, of classic, traditional Bible Belt preaching. When I think of the oft repeated phrase, “The Bible says… the Bible says…,” I think of Charles Stanley.

But I must confess. While he has had a profound, positive impact on the lives of many, and I am sure he is a wonderful man, Charles Stanley’s teaching never thrilled me personally.

About twenty years ago, I was teaching a Sunday school class on church history. I love studying and teaching church history. It helps deepen my love for God. The history of Christianity is often neglected in evangelical churches, so I was thankful for the privilege to try to fill in the gap, at our church. After a few weeks of examining how God has moved in the lives of influential Christians, across the centuries, one dear, elderly woman confronted me and asked, “It is all about history to you, isn’t it?

Apparently, this woman did not understand why anyone in a Bible-believing church needed to waste their time learning about church history. I responded by saying something along the lines of, “Yes, I do believe that God works in history. Jesus did not just stop working in the world after the completion of the New Testament, and He continues to work in our world today.” This genuinely sweet woman then had that “I-have-no-clue-what-you-are-talking-about” look on her face.

*SIGH*.

The following week, the same woman walked into class, and handed me a whole set of resources from Charles Stanley’s InTouch Ministries to look at. I gulped. In particular, she pointed me to a cassette tape, with a title, something to the effect of why “the Bible alone is the Word of God.”

I got the message: Just stick with the Bible, and forget about this history stuff. “The Bible says” is good enough.

I thanked the woman, as she was kind and well-intentioned, and while I did eventually listen to the tape, and agreed with the teaching message, I was still flustered. For if this woman, who evidently was a big fan of Charles Stanley, was learning that we should disregard the lessons of God’s working over the past 2,000 years, since the closure of the New Testament, then I was not really impressed with what she was being taught.

My less-than-enthusiatic encounter with my less-than-enthusiastic church history student pretty much poisoned me. Frankly, Charles Stanley’s son, Andy, had never been on my radar, at all, until a few years ago. When I learned that Andy Stanley, a former youth pastor, now a mega-church pastor himself, started to rise in prominence, I really had no interest in learning anything from him either. Like father, like son, I supposed. Life is short, and since I can not read or listen to every resource article or sermon someone gives to me, I just left the ministries of the Stanleys at that.

That was until son Andy began making waves among his fellow Southern Baptist, conservative evangelical constituents. Though Andy Stanley continues to believe in the inerrancy of the Bible, he no longer thinks that the old evangelical mantra of “the Bible says” really works any more in an increasingly post-Christian society. We simply can not assume today that people believe the Bible.

That is a pretty big shift in message from the elder Stanley…. and it got my attention, because that is the world I live in.

My interest was sparked. Perhaps the younger pastor Stanley has something important to say after all. As it turns out, he does. I am chagrined to think that I never paid attention to this before. Continue reading


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