Category Archives: Apologetics

Oberammergau – The Passion Play

My wife and I originally planned to spend our 20th wedding anniversary a year early by taking a trip to Europe to view the Passion Play in Oberammergau, in southern Germany. COVID delayed all of those plans, but we were able to go this year when the Passion Play was rescheduled for 2022.

I learned about Oberammergau from my mom’s cousin, Lee Southard, who went to see the Passion Play when it was presented in 2010.  He told me that we should definitely make an effort to go see it. Lee was right.

The Oberammergau production does not allow photography during the performance, so I got this from their website. The Passion Play, performed once every ten years in Oberammergau, southern Germany, is an incredibly moving experience.

As the legendary story goes, the Thirty Years War (1618-1648) devastated the whole of continental Europe. Originally, the Thirty Years War had its genesis in the conflict between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism (a topic which I will cover in a future blog post). During that period, armies criss-crossed Central Europe in an attempt to redefine national boundaries, at least originally along theological commitment lines, though it got more complicated as time wore on. But along with these armies came the plague.

In 1633, the plague finally struck the small village of Oberammergau, nestled in the foothills of the southern Germany’s Alps. Half of the village’s population, about 81, died within about a month. The fathers of the village vowed that if God would spare the town further deaths that they would put on a “Passion Play,” retelling the last week of Jesus’ life, once every 10 years, as long as the town would endure.

From that moment on, there was no more death from the plague in Oberammergau.

Passion plays have been part of European history for a long time, but what makes Oberammergau unique is how these townspeople kept this pledge. Despite some fudgy-ness with the above details, Obermmergau kept their pledge, by ultimately settling on performing the play once every decadal year. Only a few times, such as around World War I and II, did they miss or delay their performance. When COVID hit in early 2020, they postponed the play until 2022. Other than that, once a decade, you can visit Oberammergau and witness the performance. Thousands travel from all over the world to see the play.

 

Oberammergau is a small town in Bavaria, Southern Germany, with a big name. Thousands come every ten years for the Passion Play (My wife is standing off in the corner, to the right)


You have to be a resident of Oberammergau to perform in the play, which means that nearly everyone is an amateur… hundreds of them! Plus, there are live animals going across the stage (including camels!!), and everyone wears long hair, with terrific costuming. The play is 5-hours in length, with a dinner intermission in the late afternoon. But the familiar story is so gripping the way it is presented, it does not feel like you are there quite that long. It helped to have an English copy of the script in hand, as all of the dialogue is in German.

My wife and I caught the last weekend of the performance in early October, and as the theater is open air, it got pretty cold. I got a head cold that very night as a result. This was the first stop on a Viking tour that she and I took, that concluded with an 8-day cruise down the Danube from Regensburg to Budapest (more blogs articles on that to come!).

The most controversial part of the play is the history surrounding how anti-semitism made its way into the play script over the centuries. Adolf Hitler saw the play and loved it when it was performed in the off year of 1934, so that might tell you something. Hitler’s review went like this: “It is vital that the Passion Play be continued at Oberammergau; for never has the menace of Jewry been so convincingly portrayed as in this presentation of what happened in the times of the Romans.” 

Yikes.

Not too long after Vatican II, the Roman Catholic Church called for changes to be made to the Passion Play. A new young director, Christian Stückl, in 1986 assumed the task of revising the script, that had remained largely unchanged since the early 19th century. Over the past thirty years or so, efforts have been made to rid the story of anti-semitic elements not found in the Gospels, and I think they did a very good job in doing so. The current version makes it clear that while the Jewish leadership, symbolized by the office of the Jewish High Priest, engineered the fate of Jesus, it was the Roman government, through the office of Pontius Pilate who possessed the actual power to crucify in first-century Judea.

The most challenging and frankly refreshing interpretation for me was in the portrayal of Judas Iscariot. In the Oberammergau interpretation, Judas is contrasted with Peter a lot. Peter comes off like you would think he would, someone who has great confidence in Jesus, but then who shamefully denies Jesus when things get tough, three times.

The Oberammergau stage prior to the beginning of the performance, around 2pm. It was a rainy, cold afternoon, so I am glad that the open-air theater had a roof!

Judas, however, comes across differently than I had thought of him before, but I think Oberammergau got it right. Judas is portrayed as a Zealot, who was trying to force Jesus to reveal himself as the militant Messiah, ready to pick up the Davidic banner and exert his Kingship and kick the Romans out of Palestine. Judas goes to the Jewish leadership, looking for a way to force Jesus to act, by pointing out Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. But when Jesus fails to act and it looks like execution lies ahead for Jesus, Judas realizes that he had made a huge mistake. Judas confronts the High Priest, Caiaphas, for deceiving him, but the damage was already done. Judas cannot forgive himself, and rejects the offer of silver pieces from the Jewish leadership as irrelevant in his struggle with guilt. Instead of coming across like the Devil, Judas instead looks like a disillusioned revolutionary, who eventually commits suicide in his shame.

A lot of invented characters carry the plot along, along with additional plot elements to tie the story together. Advisors to Caiaphas, the High Priest, have dialogues that show the precarious situation that the Jewish leadership was in. Jesus had to be stopped for if Jesus did reveal himself as the full-blown military Messiah, then surely the Roman government would come in and crush the Jews, including their leadership. Faced between the alternatives of having Jerusalem destroyed by the Romans (which ultimately happened in 70 A.D., anyway), versus derailing Jesus’ public ministry, Caiaphas felt he had no other choice but the latter.

At the crucifixion, Mary cradles the dead Jesus, a tip towards Roman Catholic theology regarding Mary.

As a break between scenes, a choir came out, supplemented by a great orchestra, and different still scenes from the Old Testament were displayed and described in song, that really helped to frame the story of Christ’s Passion. The banishment of Adam and Eve from the Garden, the story of Cain and Abel, and various scenes from the Exodus with Moses really stood out for me.

About 10:30pm at night, the drama of the Passion Play comes to a close. The stage is left with the empty cross.

In a surprise twist at the end, the Passion Play does not give us a Resurrected visit from Jesus. The play basically follows the brief outline given by the Gospel of Mark, which has no appearance of the Resurrected Jesus, only an Empty Tomb (unless you read from a King James Version Bible). Once Jesus is buried after the Crucifixion, we never see Jesus again, and yet the message of the angel at the tomb gives the women hope and confidence that Jesus is indeed alive. Just like modern interpretations of the passion, like the musicals Jesus Christ Superstar and Godspell, the Bodily Resurrection of Jesus is never presented in visible form.

The evangelical theological convictions in me finds this to be immensely disappointing, since without a Resurrection appearance, the whole story misses the whole point. Though one could argue that it would be difficult to do justice in making some believable Resurrection appearance work in a live stage production, without it feeling a bit hokey. About a month before we were in Oberammergau, New Testament theologian Ben Witherington saw the play and walked away with a similar perspective.

Aside from that, the whole production was great. The dinner meal was a total bonus as well. Plus, my wife and I had great seats! Just a few rows from the front, and we could see everything. So glad we did this! Your next chance will be in 2030.

MORE BLOG POSTS IN THIS SERIES:

  • Prague’s Jan Hus: The Reformation Before Luther. Towards the end of our trip in Europe, we spent a few days in Prague, the home city for Jan Hus, the most prominent forerunner of the Protestant Reformation.
  • Defenestration of Prague & the Thirty Years War. The Thirty Years War of the first half of the 17th century devastated Europe. The amount of destruction to impact Europe would only be rivaled by the Napoleonic Wars of the 19th century, and the two World Wars of the 20th century. Sadly, what started it all was the conflict between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism…. and it all began in Prague, Czech Republic.

Mere Christianity: by C.S. Lewis. Reviewing a Classic

There are just some books that have been sitting on my “to-be-read” list for years. C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity, until recently, was one of them.

Mere Christianity, based on a series of talks given by C.S. Lewis on BBC radio, during London’s darkest hour of the German bombing blitz of World War 2, is often regarded as one of the most popular apologetic books of all time. After finally finishing the audiobook version this past summer and early fall, I now know why.

C.S. Lewis.

 

Mere Christianity is Like Walking into the Main Hallway of a Great House

In those radio talks, Lewis endeavored to explain “mere Christianity” to a British radio listening public, many of whom had given up on the idea of the Christian God. C.S. Lewis gave these talks between 1941 and 1944, in which this Oxford intellectual would speak to the common British citizen.

Yet “mere Christianity” can be hard to define. The denominational differences among Christians can be quite bewildering to the outsider. Many even reject the faith for that reason, on the basis that any belief system that involves so many contradictory and irreconcilable readings of the Bible can not be true!

On the other hand, some even say that the incredible flexibility of Christian belief has enabled much of Christianity’s staying power, thus considering the diversity of Christian belief a virtue. Still, the various options for Christian belief easily confuses not only non-believers but believers as well. Lewis explains his perspective like this:

“[Mere Christianity] is more like a hall out of which doors open into several rooms. If I can bring anyone into that hall I shall have done what I attempted. But it is in the rooms, not in the hall, that there are fires and chairs and meals. The hall is a place to wait in, a place from which to try the various doors, not a place to live in”  (p.5-6)

Part of the appeal of Lewis’ evangelistic project was in bringing others into the “hall” of “mere Christianity.” For many, this is a far easier task than trying to persuade someone to join one particular denominational tradition at the expense of another. But this optimistic view of “mere Christianity” comes at a cost, too. First of all, some rooms extending off that main hall are better equipped than others. Some waste their time wandering into a room or two, where things look very inviting at first. Yet the drink turns out to be cheap and the food is relatively poor, as compared to another room that provides better nourishment for the soul. In other words, not all versions of so-called “Christianity” are equally good, nor are they equally true.

Sadly, too many other Christians in our day just wander around in the hall, zipping in and out various rooms, or just peering into rooms from the hallway threshold, never bothering to sit down and enjoy the food. They content themselves with snacks on the hallway table that barely satisfy the hunger in one’s soul. One should be patient with those who wait out in the hallway. But it makes no sense to stay out in the hallway forever. Lewis goes on in delivering some wisdom:

“It is true that some people may find they have to wait in the hall for a considerable time, while others feel certain almost at once which door they must knock at. I do not know why there is this difference, but I am sure God keeps no one waiting unless He sees that it is good for him to wait. When you do get into your room you will find that the long wait has done you some kind of good which you would not have had otherwise” (p. 6).

The borders of what defines “mere Christianity” can be difficult to determine. Lewis probably had in mind that which is held in common by the three main branches of the faith: Protestant, Roman Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox. Even among Protestant evangelicals, like myself, a “mere Protestant evangelicalism” is quite an elusive concept. The need for dialogue between those in different rooms of the house of Christianity is more important than ever.

C.S. Lewis

Lewis at his study….

 

Pushback that Some Give to C.S. Lewis’ “Mere Christianity”

Lewis’ particular “spin” on “mere Christianity” offers some provocative challenges. Lewis himself has been criticized for emphasizing certain elements too much and others not enough. For example, Lewis is big on the sacraments (quite rightly in my opinion):

“There are three things that spread the Christ life to us: baptism, belief, and that mysterious action which different Christians call by different names — Holy Communion, the mass, the Lord’s Supper. At least, those are the three ordinary methods…” (p.36).

Evangelicals will often elevate “belief” above the other two. On the other side, Lewis has been derided for not holding to the centrality of the penal substitutionary theory of the atonement:

“The central Christian belief is that Christ’s death has somehow put us right with God and given us a fresh start. Theories as to how it did this are another matter. A good many different theories have been held as to how it works; what all Christians are agreed on is that it does work. I will tell you what I think it is like. All sensible people know that if you are tired and hungry a meal will do you good. But the modern theory of nourishment — all about the vitamins and proteins — is a different thing. People ate their dinners and felt better long before the theory of vitamins was ever heard of: and if the theory of vitamins is some day abandoned they will go on eating their dinners just the same. Theories about Christ’s death are not Christianity: they are explanations about how it works” (p.33).

Lewis is right. Yet often the wrong thoughts about proper nutrition will have devastating consequences, if we cling to those wrong ideas too tightly. Likewise, a wrong view of doctrine can indeed damage the soul. This explains why a number of evangelicals have a cautious appreciation for Lewis’ “mere Christianity,” For example, Lewis’ “mere Christianity” does not insist on penal substitutionary atonement, though he does think that penal substitution is worth considering (p.34).  Lewis offers a colorful sketch of what this penal substitution might look like:

“The [atonement theory] most people have heard is the one I mentioned before — the one about our being let off because Christ had volunteered to bear a punishment instead of us. Now on the face of it that is a very silly theory. If God was prepared to let us off, why on earth did He not do so? And what possible point could there be in punishing an innocent person instead? none at all that i can see, if you are thinking of punishment in the police-court sense. On the other hand, if you think of a debt, there is plenty of point in a person who has some assets paying it on behalf of someone who has not. Or if you take “paying the penalty,” not in the sense of being punished, but in the more general sense of “standing the racket” or “footing the bill,” then, of course, it is a matter of common experience that, when one person has got himself into a hole, the trouble of getting him out usually falls on a kind friend. Now what was the sort of “hole” man had got himself into? He had tried to set up on his own, to behave as if he belonged to himself. In other words, fallen man is not simply an imperfect creature who needs improvement: he is a rebel who must lay down his arms. Laying down your arms, surrendering, saying you are sorry, realising that you have been on the wrong track and getting ready to start life over again from the ground floor — that is the only way out of a “hole.” This process of surrender — this movement full speed astern — is what Christians call repentance. Now repentance is no fun at all. It is something much harder than merely eating humble pie. It means unlearning all the self-conceit and self-will that we have been training ourselves into for thousands of years. It means killing part of yourself, undergoing a kind of death. In fact, it needs a good man to repent. And here comes the catch. Only a bad person needs to repent: only a good person can repent perfectly. The worse you are the more you need it and the less you can do it. The only person who could do it perfectly would be a perfect person — and he would not need it” (p.34-35).

Lewis goes on in saying that Jesus Christ is that perfect person, God-become-man, who paid off that debt of the imperfect person (p.35). He then uses the illustration of someone drowning in a fast moving river, whereby someone on the river bank steps a foot into the waters, extending a hand out to save the other person. From the perspective of the drowning man:

“Ought I to shout back (between my gasps) “no, it’s not fair! You have an advantage! You’re keeping one foot on the bank”? That advantage — call it “unfair” if you like — is the only reason why he can be of any use to me. To what will you look for help if you will not look to that which is stronger than yourself? (p.35-36)”

Curiously, Lewis ends this discussion by suggesting if this type of explanation of the atonement is not helpful, then the reader should just drop it, indicating that some other theory might be better. I actually thought Lewis’ description, as sketchy as it was, was quite good!

Nevertheless, there are indications that Lewis saw some limitations in his concept of “mere Christianity.” Lewis remained a lifelong Anglican, a stalwart conservative in the Church of England, but he largely attributes his commitment to Anglicanism due to his Protestant roots growing up in Belfast, Ireland. Lewis died in 1963, decades before changes were introduced into Anglicanism which would have horrified Lewis. Some of Lewis’ most intimate friends conclude that had he lived long enough, Lewis would have eventually abandoned Anglicanism and become Roman Catholic. Whether he would have “crossed the Tiber” is only speculation, but he surely eschewed a variety of progressive theological trends.

The “Liar, Lunatic, or Lord” Trilemma

One of Lewis’ most famous illustrations is also one of the most criticized, that of answering the question of who is Jesus: A Liar, Lunatic, or Lord? Lewis did not originate this trilemma. It was actually first made by a Scottish preacher John Duncan, published in 1859-1860:

“Christ either deceived mankind by conscious fraud, or He was Himself deluded and self-deceived, or He was Divine. There is no getting out of this trilemma. It is inexorable.”

Here is C. S. Lewis’ well known version of the trilemma:

“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: “I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.” That is the one thing we must not say. a man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronising nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to” (p. 38).

Lewis powerfully critiques the Jesus is “a great moral teacher” posture. But there is another option aside from “Liar, Lunatic, or Lord.” It is “Legend.” For what makes Christianity so uniquely powerful, as opposed to many other belief systems, is that the claims of the Gospel are grounded in history. In another essay, Lewis grounds his Christian faith in history, as “Myth Became Fact.”

Nevertheless, since those 1940 radio addresses, certain “legendary” readings of the Bible have gained more traction, even among some evangelicals.  While nearly all Christians acknowledge at least some degree of fictionalized elements within the Bible, notably Jesus’ telling of parables, there is a great debate within the church as to what is considered to be historically grounded versus that which is the stuff of legend, which only has an instructional value, much like what we now know of from the classic Greco-Roman myths.

A Fourth Option to Add Onto the Trilemma?

This may sound like a digression, but I believe this fits in well here: About seven years ago, I read Peter Enns’ The Bible Tells Me So, which illustrates this de-historicizing trend. Enns was an Old Testament professor at the highly conservative Westminster Theological Seminary, in Philadelphia. Enns lost his job following some publications by him that were deemed too progressive for the school.

In his book, The Bible Tells Me So, Enns wrestles with the problem of divinely sanctioned violence within the Old Testament. Exhibit A for Enns is Joshua’s conquest of Canaan, following the period in the Wilderness with Moses. Was the conquest of Canaan an act of divinely sanctioned “genocide,” where God instructs the people of God to wipe out God’s enemies in the land?

Enns then cites a widely accepted view among critical Old Testament scholars today, which suggests that we simply have no archaeological evidence to demonstrate that Joshua’s grand military conquest of Canaan ever happened historically. Not even a more scaled-down-in-size military conquest is compatible with this widely accepted view today. Instead, this view suggests that the story of Judges is the more historically reliable narrative, that of Israelite people arising mainly from pre-existing Canaanite people, in a relatively more peaceful manner. Pete Enns, who now teaches at Eastern University, is willing to let go of Joshua’s conquest of Canaan while still believing in the Bodily Resurrection of Jesus.

In other words, the problem of divinely sanctioned genocide in the Old Testament is no longer a problem, since the non-historical nature of the Book of Joshua renders the problem mute. While this might provide some comfort to those who wrestle with the topic of violence in the Old Testament, this comfort can come at a great cost. For if the crossing of the Red Sea and subsequent move to the Promised Land never happened, it casts serious doubt on the historical reliability of at least that part of the Bible. But if the Exodus/Promised Land story, a critical narrative that underpins the identity of Israel, is actually based on a legendary fiction, then it raises substantial questions as to where to draw the line elsewhere in the Bible, as to its historical foundations. In this way, Christian scholars like Pete Enns have supposedly “rescued” the Bible from a negative moral category, only to undermine the central origins story of Israel’s founding as a nation, as genuine history.

True, the story of the Exodus and conquest of Canaan, hundreds of years before Christ, is not at the same level of centrality as the historical person and work of Jesus of Nazareth, in the first century of the Christian era. Even C.S. Lewis acknowledges that not everything which comes across to some as recorded history in the Old Testament is in the exact same literary genre category as what we find in the Gospels. Lewis does not discount the possibility of miracles, yet he had some reservations about the historicity of books like Jonah and Esther, to name two examples.

On the other hand, in support of the more traditional acceptance of Old Testament history, there are still some very good reasons why the Exodus and Conquest narratives indeed are historical, assuming a more nuanced approach to both the Scriptural and archaeological data, which enables to me to continue to affirm the full inerrancy of the Bible (see these other blog posts: #1, #2, #3#4). Furthermore, the tendency to label Joshua’s conquest narrative as “genocide” is highly problematic itself, as there is good evidence to suggest that the military effort to claim the Promised Land by the Israelites does not really belong in such a negative moral category. Too often, the supposed “genocide” of the Cananaites is assumed, without enough careful evidence to back up such a claim. In other words, there are faithful, acceptable ways of reading the Old Testament, which while affirming the underlying historical reliability of particular narratives does not necessarily require one to dismiss the Old Testament as endorsing immorality.

The moral here is this: The more you chip away at the history of the Bible, the more that the narrative of Jesus, and the Old Testament backdrop for the Jesus story,  comes across as mere Legend, thus making Lewis’ trifold option of Jesus as “Liar, Lunatic, or Lord” less relevant today. Therefore, I argue that Lewis’ analogy should be revised to ask if Jesus is a “Liar, Lunatic, Legend, or Lord” instead.

Granted, for the average person, Lewis’ trilemma of “Liar, Lunatic, or Lord” is still applicable in the 21st century. The problem is that as more people are exposed to more controversial ways of doing history, the more they will be inclined to insist for the fourth option, that Jesus is a mere “Legend.” For example, there is the interesting phenomenon among certain atheists that insists that Jesus did not exist at all, commonly known as “Jesus Mythicism,” as well as sensational discoveries of various hitherto unknown or unfamiliar texts from the early Christian era, such as the Gospel of Judas or the Gospel of Thomas, that tend to enable conspiracy theories that cast serious doubt on the reliability of early, historically orthodox Christian tradition. An agnostic, atheist Bible scholar like Bart Ehrman sells book titles like Lost Christianities: The Battles for Scripture and the Faiths We Never Knew to a reading public who wonder if historically orthodox Christianity pulled a power play to squash other equally valid versions of the Christian faith. So if Mere Christianity were to be rewritten today, dealing with the “Legend” option would need to be included. Thankfully, there are good answers to these skeptical questions today, that Lewis never felt the need to address in his day.

These are the main takeaways I had from reading Mere Christianity. What a great book. Truly a Christian classic that everyone should read. As I was gathering my notes together for this review, I realized that the bulk of my notes was made up of quotes by Lewis from the book. In the interest of having a shorter book review, I have therefore decided to include the following notes as a kind of appendix, for those who want to discover other riches found in C.S. Mere Christianity. Enjoy!

For a great biography of C.S.Lewis, I would recommend C.S. Lewis: A Life, by Alister McGrath.

 

APPENDIX: Further Notes from C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity

On usury, or lending money at interest….

C.S. Lewis rightly argues that Christianity does not specify any one particular political or economic policy or program to correct the social ills of the world. But he could explored this a bit more. Societies across the world, and across history, have accepted the Golden Rule.  “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” is not unique to the Bible. Lewis explains:

“The second thing to get clear is that Christianity has not, and does not profess to have, a detailed political programme for applying “do as you would be done by” to a particular society at a particular moment. It could not have. It is meant for all men at all times and the particular programme which suited one place or time would not suit another. and, anyhow, that is not how Christianity works. When it tells you to feed the hungry it does not give you lessons in cookery. When it tells you to read the Scriptures it does not give you lessons in Hebrew and Greek, or even in English grammar. iI was never intended to replace or supersede the ordinary human arts and sciences: it is rather a director which will set them all to the right jobs, and a source of energy which will give them all new life, if only they will put themselves at its disposal” (p. 47).

Lewis then gives as an example the historical tradition that Christians have been forbidden to practice usury; that is, the lending of money at interest:

“There is one bit of advice given to us by the ancient heathen Greeks, and by the Jews in the Old testament, and by the great Christian teachers of the middle ages, which the modern economic system has completely disobeyed. All these people told us not to lend money at interest: and lending money at interest — what we call investment — is the basis of our whole system” (p. 48-49).

Lewis argues that he is not qualified to give an answer as to how to address this, advising that this should be left for Christian economists to work out. The traditional Christian teaching does condemn usury, which would include all forms of lending money at interest. However, since the time of John Calvin this teaching has been softened, as Calvin forbade the charging of excessive interest, and not the charging of interest in principle. For John Calvin, the idea of “usury” should be strictly defined in terms of this charging at excessive interest rates. Modern economic practices, such as bankruptcy laws, have mitigated against the harsher effects of an unrestrained capitalism. However, Lewis could have cited the Bible to show that this traditional teaching regarding usury is actually quite problematic. For Jesus himself appears to implicitly accept the principle of earning interest with the Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30). Jesus did urge his followers to loan freely to others without expecting anything in return (Luke 6:35), but this command did not apparently result in any contradiction in the mind of Jesus when it came to the Parable of the Talents.

In other words, the New Testament allows for a more nuanced understanding of usury. Taking out a loan for a home mortgage need not trouble the conscience of a Christian.

On just war theory, and pacifism….

Lewis’ chapter on forgiveness contains one of most puzzling statements in support of a type of just war theory for Christians. Lewis fought for the British in World War 1, and was injured there:

“I have often thought to myself how it would have been if, when I served in the first world war, I and some young German had killed each other simulta- neously and found ourselves together a moment after death. I cannot imagine that either of us would have felt any resentment or even any embarrassment. I think we might have laughed over it (p.66).”

Yet despite how odd this might strike the reader, his reasoning prior to this explains why Lewis was not a pacifist:

‘It is, therefore, in my opinion, perfectly right for a Christian judge to sentence a man to death or a Christian soldier to kill an enemy. I have always thought so, ever since I became a Christian, and long before the war, and I still think so now that we are at peace. it is no good quoting “Thou shalt not kill.” There are two Greek words: the ordinary word to kill and the word to murder. and when Christ quotes that commandment He uses the murder one in all three accounts, Matthew, Mark, and Luke. And I am told there is the same distinction in Hebrew. All killing is not murder any more than all sexual intercourse is adultery. When soldiers came to St. John the Baptist asking what to do, he never remotely suggested that they ought to leave the army: nor did Christ when He met a Roman sergeant-major — what they called a centurion. The idea of the knight — the Christian in arms for the defence of a good cause — is one of the great Christian ideas. War is a dreadful thing, and I can respect an honest pacifist, though I think he is entirely mistaken. What I cannot understand is this sort of semipacifism you get nowadays which gives people the idea that though you have to fight, you ought to do it with a long face and as if you were ashamed of it. it is that feeling that robs lots of magnificent young Christians in the Services of something they have a right to, something which is the natural accompaniment of courage — a kind of gaity and wholeheartedness (p.66)’

The moral argument for belief in God….

Lewis’ moral argument for the existence of God is probably still the best reason for substantiating Christian belief, and it is found in the early chapters of Mere Christianity. It can be summarized like this:

1. There is a universal Moral Law.
2. If there is a universal Moral Law, there is a Moral Law-giver.
3. If there is a Moral Law-giver, it must be something beyond the universe.
4. Therefore, there is something beyond the universe.

The moral argument for God is perhaps the best use of philosophy to defend the Christian faith. But it requires careful thought to adequately make such an argument.

Several quotes from Lewis stand out for me, as being relevant. This one is about “progress,” or being truly “progressive”:

“You may have felt you were ready to listen to me as long as you thought i had anything new to say; but if it turns out to be only religion, well, the world has tried that and you cannot put the clock back……. as to putting the clock back[:] Would you think i was joking if I said that you can put a clock back, and that if the clock is wrong it is often a very sensible thing to do? But I would rather get away from that whole idea of clocks. We all want progress. But progress means getting nearer to the place where you want to be. And if you have taken a wrong turning, then to go forward does not get you any nearer. If you are on the wrong road, progress means doing an about turn and walking back to the right road; and in that case the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive man. We have all seen this when doing arithmetic. When I have started a sum the wrong way, the sooner I admit this and go back and start over again, the faster I shall get on. There is nothing progressive about being pigheaded and refusing to admit a mistake. and I think if you look at the present state of the world, it is pretty plain that humanity has been making some big mistake. We are on the wrong road. and if that is so, we must go back. Going back is the quickest way on”  (p.26).

The heading of that chapter is “We have cause to be uneasy.” How true that is. The problem with atheism is not so much an outright attack upon God as it is the kind of effort required to make God seem irrelevant to our lives, whereby we convince ourselves that there is no one else to whom we can be held accountable.

I know of atheistic friends of mine, who are quite moral people, and yet they have developed highly sophisticated means of showing that you can be good with God. As a former atheist himself, Lewis shows that such rationalizations ultimately fail to convince:

“The moral Law does not give us any grounds for thinking that God is “good” in the sense of being indulgent, or soft, or sympathetic. There is nothing indulgent about the moral Law. It is as hard as nails. It tells you to do the straight thing and it does not seem to care how painful, or dangerous, or difficult it is to do. If God is like the moral Law, then He is not soft. It is no use, at this stage, saying that what you mean by a “good” God is a God who can forgive. You are going too quickly. Only a Person can forgive. and we have not yet got as far as a personal God — only as far as a power, behind the moral Law, and more like a mind than it is like anything else. But it may still be very unlike a Person. If it is pure impersonal mind, there may be no sense in asking it to make allowances for you or let you off, just as there is no sense in asking the multiplication table to let you off when you do your sums wrong. You are bound to get the wrong answer. and it is no use either saying that if there is a God of that sort — an impersonal absolute goodness — then you do not like Him and are not going to bother about Him. For the trouble is that one part of you is on His side and really agrees with His disapproval of human greed and trickery and exploitation. You may want Him to make an exception in your own case, to let you off this one time; but you know at bottom that unless the power behind the world really and unalterably detests that sort of behaviour, then He cannot be good. On the other hand, we know that if there does exist an absolute goodness it must hate most of what we do. That is the terrible fix we are in. If the universe is not governed by an absolute goodness, then all our efforts are in the long run hopeless. But if it is, then we are making ourselves enemies to that goodness every day, and are not in the least likely to do any better tomorrow, and so our case is hope- less again. We cannot do without it. and we cannot do with it. God is the only comfort, He is also the supreme terror: the thing we most need and the thing we most want to hide from. He is our only possible — ally, and we have made ourselves His enemies” (p.21-22).

Sobering thoughts. The challenge of being a Christian in the secular West is that we have conflicting standards of what constitutes the moral law. The most vocal critics of Christianity are those who are convinced that the Christian faith actually undermines true morality. Yet it is extremely difficult to build a case for the specifics of moral law simply on the basis of rational arguments alone. For example, while many atheists are “pro-choice” with respect to abortion, and reject the notion of personhood being attached to a fetus, there are actually other atheists who are “pro-life,” making the case that science tells us know when life begins, and it is not at the birth of the child, or even in the “quickening” of the child, as when the mother first feels the baby kicking in her abdomen.

This is where the question of divine revelation comes in, as this appears to me to be the only way to adjudicate conflicting moral standards. Christians will debate over various aspects of biblical interpretation, but those who hold to a high view of Scriptural authority will at least acknowledge the Bible as the ultimate source for knowing God’s perspective on moral issues. In meeting this challenge, it is the task of the Christian apologist to take up this task to convey a theologically coherent, Scripturally faithful vision for the moral life, that captures the imagination of an unbelieving world. In my estimation, this is the great value of C. S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity, in that it helps both the believer and non-believer to think through what a Christian view of the world really looks like.

On virtue, and recognizing the presence of evil in every human being….

Lewis offers a number of excellent insights into the Christian moral life that can assist both believer and non-believer alike. Lewis offers a brilliant way of connecting Christian morality with the Christian future hope of resurrection. Here is Lewis on why it is important to grow in Christian virtue in this life:

“Now it is quite true that there will probably be no occasion for just or courageous acts in the next world, but there will be every occasion for being the sort of people that we can become only as the result of doing such acts here. The point is not that God will refuse you admission to His eternal world if you have not got certain qualities of character: the point is that if people have not got at least the beginnings of those qualities inside them, then no possible external conditions could make a “Heaven” for them — that is, could make them happy with the deep, strong, unshakable kind of happiness God intends for us” (p. 46).

And:

“Virtue — even attempted virtue — brings light; indulgence brings fog” (p. 58).

On recognizing evil within ourselves:

“When a man is getting better he understands more and more clearly the evil that is still left in him. When a man is getting worse, he understands his own badness less and less. a moderately bad man knows he is not very good: a thoroughly bad man thinks he is all right. This is common sense, really. You understand sleep when you are awake, not while you are sleeping. You can see mistakes in arithmetic when your mind is working properly: while you are making them you cannot see them. You can understand the nature of drunkenness when you are sober, not when you are drunk. Good people know about both good and evil: bad people do not know about either” (p53).

On Christian marriage, which is increasingly seen as being controversial today, or even “bigoted”….

“The Christian idea of marriage is based on Christ’s words that a man and wife are to be regarded as a single organism — for that is what the words “one flesh” would be in modern English. and the Christians believe that when He said this He was not expressing a sentiment but stating a fact — just as one is stating a fact when one says that a lock and its key are one mechanism, or that a violin and a bow are one musical instrument. The inventor of the human machine was telling us that its two halves, the male and the female, were made to be combined together in pairs, not simply on the sexual level, but totally combined. The monstrosity of sexual intercourse outside marriage is that those who indulge in it are trying to isolate one kind of union (the sexual) from all the other kinds of union which were intended to go along with it and make up the total union” (p.58).

On charity towards others, in that in our very actions our minds and hearts can be changed, for good or for worse…

“Do not waste time bothering whether you “love” your neighbour; act as if you did. As soon as we do this we find one of the great secrets. When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him. if you injure someone you dislike, you will find yourself disliking him more. if you do him a good turn, you will find yourself disliking him less. There is, indeed, one exception. If you do him a good turn, not to please God and obey the law of charity, but to show him what a fine forgiving chap you are, and to put him in your debt, and then sit down to wait for his “gratitude,” you will probably be disappointed. (People are not fools: they have a very quick eye for anything like showing off, or patronage.) But whenever we do good to another self, just because it is a self, made (like us) by God, and desiring its own happiness as we desire ours, we shall have learned to love it a little more or, at least, to dislike it less……..”

“…….The worldly man treats certain people kindly because he “likes” them: the Christian, trying to treat every one kindly, finds himself liking more and more people as he goes on — including people he could not even have imagined himself liking at the beginning.”

“This same spiritual law works terribly in the opposite direction. The Germans, perhaps, at first ill-treated the Jews because they hated them: afterwards they hated them much more because they had ill-treated them. The more cruel you are, the more you will hate; and the more you hate, the more cruel you will become — and so on in a vicious circle for ever.”

“Good and evil both increase at compound interest. That is why the lit- tle decisions you and I make every day are of such infinite importance. The smallest good act today is the capture of a strategic point from which, a few months later, you may be able to go on to victories you never dreamed of. An apparently trivial indulgence in lust or anger today is the loss of a ridge or railway line or bridgehead from which the enemy may launch an attack otherwise impossible” (p.72-73).

On why “hope” is a theological virtue, and why Christianity becomes less effective when we take our eyes off of heaven as the future goal…

“…..a continual looking forward to the eternal world is not (as some modern people think) a form of escapism or wishful thinking, but one of the things a Christian is meant to do. it does not mean that we are to leave the present world as it is. If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next. The apostles themselves, who set on foot the conversion of the Roman Empire, the great men who built up the middle ages, the English Evangelicals who abolished the Slave trade, all left their mark on Earth, precisely because their minds were occupied with Heaven. It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this. Aim at Heaven and you will get earth “thrown in”: aim at earth and you will get neither. It seems a strange rule, but something like it can be seen at work in other matters. Health is a great blessing, but the moment you make health one of your main, direct objects you start becoming a crank and imagining there is something wrong with you. You are only likely to get health provided you want other things more — food, games, work, fun, open air. In the same way, we shall never save civilisation as long as civilisation is our main object. We must learn to want something else even more” (p.73-74).

“If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. If none of my earthly pleasures satisfy it, that does not prove that the universe is a fraud. Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing. If that is so, I must take care, on the one hand, never to despise, or be unthankful for, these earthly blessings, and on the other, never to mistake them for the something else of which they are only a kind of copy, or echo, or mirage. I must keep alive in myself the desire for my true country, which I shall not find till after death; I must never let it get snowed under or turned aside; I must make it the main object of life to press on to that other country and to help others to do the same” (p. 75).

On why the adherence to Christian doctrinal teaching is such an essential part of Christian faith….

Lewis had to change his thinking on the importance of doctrinal teaching when he became a Christian. A Christian epistemology takes into account not just reason, but human intuition as well. This reminds me of the rider and the elephant analogy given by moral psychologist Jonathan Haidt in his book, The Righteous Mind (See this Veracity book review):

“I was assuming that if the human mind once accepts a thing as true it will automatically go on regarding it as true, until some real reason for reconsidering it turns up. In fact, I was assuming that the human mind is completely ruled by reason. But that is not so. For example, my reason is perfectly convinced by good evidence that anaesthetics do not smother me and that properly trained surgeons do not start operating until I am unconscious. But that does not alter the fact that when they have me down on the table and clap their horrible mask over my face, a mere childish panic begins inside me. I start thinking I am going to choke, and I am afraid they will start cutting me up before I am properly under. In other words, I lose my faith in anaesthetics. It is not reason that is taking away my faith: on the contrary, my faith is based on reason. It is my imagination and emotions. The battle is between faith and reason on one side and emotion and imagination on the other….

……Now just the same thing happens about Christianity. I am not asking anyone to accept Christianity if his best reasoning tells him that the weight of the evidence is against it. That is not the point at which Faith comes in. But supposing a man’s reason once decides that the weight of the evidence is for it. I can tell that man what is going to happen to him in the next few weeks. There will come a moment when there is bad news, or he is in trouble, or is living among a lot of other people who do not believe it, and all at once his emotions will rise up and carry out a sort of blitz on his belief. Or else there will come a moment when he wants a woman, or wants to tell a lie, or feels very pleased with himself, or sees a chance of making a little money in some way that is not perfectly fair: some moment, in fact, at which it would be very convenient if Christianity were not true. and once again his wishes and desires will carry out a blitz. I am not talking of moments at which any real new reasons against Christianity turn up. Those have to be faced and that is a different matter. I am talking about moments where a mere mood rises up against it.

Now Faith, in the sense in which I am here using the word, is the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods” (p.76-77).

Faith is also about realizing that our efforts do not save ourselves. Only when we realize our complete dependence on God, and his remarkable grace, do we truly “get” what Christian faith is all about:

“The first step towards humility [is] to realise that one is proud. I want to add now that the next step is to make some serious attempt to practise the Christian virtues. a week is not enough. Things often go swimmingly for the first week. Try six weeks. By that time, having, as far as one can see, fallen back completely or even fallen lower than the point one began from, one will have discovered some truths about oneself. No man knows how bad he is till he has tried very hard to be good. …. Only those who try to resist temptation know how strong it is. After all, you find out the strength of the German army by fighting against it, not by giving in. You find out the strength of a wind by trying to walk against it, not by lying down. a man who gives in to temptation after five minutes simply does not know what it would have been like an hour later. That is why bad people, in one sense, know very little about badness. They have lived a sheltered life by always giving in. We never find out the strength of the evil impulse inside us until we try to fight it: and Christ, because He was the only man who never yielded to temptation, is also the only man who knows to the full what temptation means — the only complete realist. Very well, then. The main thing we learn from a serious attempt to practise the Christian virtues is that we fail. If there was any idea that God had set us a sort of exam, and that we might get good marks by deserving them, that has to be wiped out” (p.77-78).

Theology is like a map…

Lewis makes a fantastic argument as to why the learning of Christian doctrine, even that of the Triune nature of God, is so essential to living the Christian life. Lewis draws on the analogy of a map of the Atlantic, which is not useful to anyone who is merely content to take walks along the shoreline of an Atlantic beach in England, as opposed to someone who wants to cross the Atlantic:

“Theology is like [that] map…. Doctrines are not God: they are only a kind of map. But that map is based on the experience of hundreds of people who really were in touch with God-experiences compared with which any thrills or pious feelings you and I are likely to get on our own are very elementary and very confused. And secondly, if you want to get any further, you must use the map….

…..Like watching the waves from the beach, [you] will not get to Newfoundland by studying the Atlantic that way, and you will not get eternal life by simply feeling the presence of God in flowers or music. Neither will you get anywhere by looking at maps without going to sea. nor will you be very safe if you go to sea without a map…..

…..Consequently, if you do not listen to Theology, that will not mean that you have no ideas about God. It will mean that you have a lot of wrong ones — bad, muddled, out-of-date ideas. For a great many of the ideas about God which are trotted out as novelties today, are simply the ones which real Theologians tried centuries ago and rejected. To believe in the popular religion of modern England is retrogression — like believing the earth is flat.” (p.84-85).

On prayer and the Trinity….

Lewis has a wonderfully helpful way of explaining how God can hear the prayers of “several hundred million human beings who are all addressing Him at the same moment” (p. 91), in a way I had not thought of very deeply before. Though not associated with any Scriptural proof text, it has to deal with the idea that God exists outside of time:

“All the days are “now” for [God]. He does not remember you doing things yesterday; He simply sees you doing them, because, though you have lost yesterday. He has not. He does not “foresee” you doing things tomorrow; He simply sees you doing them: because, though tomorrow is not yet there for you, it is for Him” (p. 93).

Lewis offers some very practical help on understanding the significance of the doctrine of the Trinity for the Christian life, too much to try to summarize here. But his insight as to how we know of our sinfulness is both sobering and illuminating that I will quote Lewis yet again:

“When I come to my evening prayers and try to reckon up the sins of the day, nine times out of ten the most obvious one is some sin against charity; I have sulked or snapped or sneered or snubbed or stormed. and the excuse that immediately springs to my mind is that the provocation was so sudden and unexpected: I was caught off my guard, I had not time to collect myself. Now that may be an extenuating circumstance as regards those particular acts: they would obviously be worse if they had been deliberate and premeditated. On the other hand, surely what a man does when he is taken off his guard is the best evidence for what sort of a man he is? Surely what pops out before the man has time to put on a disguise is the truth? if there are rats in a cellar you are most likely to see them if you go in very suddenly. But the suddenness does not create the rats: it only prevents them from hiding. In the same way the suddenness of the provocation does not make me an ill-tempered man: it only shows me what an ill-tempered man I am. The rats are always there in the cellar, but if you go in shouting and noisily they will have taken cover before you switch on the light. Apparently the rats of resentment and vindictiveness are always there in the cellar of my soul” (p.103).

Can you say, “Ouch?”

Christianity is not about making “nice people,” but rather new human beings…

“The world does not consist of 100 per cent Christians and 100 per cent non-Christians. There are people (a great many of them) who are slowly ceasing to be Christians but who still call themselves by that name: some of them are clergymen. There are other people who are slowly becoming Christians though they do not yet call themselves so. There are people who do not accept the full Christian doctrine about Christ but who are so strongly attracted by Him that they are His in a much deeper sense than they themselves understand” (p. 111).

I could go on quoting Lewis. But suffice to say, Mere Christianity is truly a gem and great Christian classic, that can be read by anyone, believer or non-believer alike. Having a paper or digital copy of Mere Christianity can help to recall Lewis’ wonderful quotes, as I sought to do after a while. But most of what I enjoyed about Mere Christianity came from listening to it via an audiobook read by Ralph Cosham. Cosham’s cadence perfectly matched Lewis’ writing style, so I would recommend this method of getting into Lewis’ thought.

Lewis’ book is surely not perfect. He was not married at the time, so some of his ideas about marriage have been ridiculed over the years. But he did get married later in life, and his love for his wife Joy Davidman has continued to inspire movies. It might take some people a bit to get used to, but Lewis as a writer is simply fantastic. I am just so sorry I waited so long to read this classic!


Divine Violence and the Character of God: by Claude Mariottini. A Review

I had not planned on reading a book on violence in the Bible this year. Then came the crisis in the Ukraine.

Those who know Russian history and Vladimir Putin will tell you that Putin’s reasoning behind the “special military operation” in Ukraine is an effort to revive that ancient vision of a Holy Orthodox Russia, Ukrainians and Russians together as one people, with Moscow at its ecclessial and political center.  Many devout Eastern Orthodox Christians are divided on this perspective, some being on one side and some on the other. But apparently Vladimir Putin accepts this narrative wholeheartedly, and he is willing to commit military boots on the ground to fulfill this vision.

Within a few weeks after the start of the war in the Ukraine, which began in February, 2022, the Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill gave a sermon that a number of analysts have interpreted as sanctioning Putin’s efforts to take over Ukraine. Kirill cited what he understood to be “a test of loyalty to [a] new world order… the world of excess consumption, the world of false ‘freedom’.” In particularly, Kirill singled out the Gay Pride parade, which has become a large annual event in the Ukraine, as that litmus test of loyalty. The annual June event was relocated from Kyiv to Poland this year, due to the war. In Patriarch Kirill’s words, “If humanity starts believing that sin is not a violation of God’s law, if humanity agrees that sin is one of the options for human behavior, then human civilization will end there.”

Reconciling conflicted branches of Christianity, as between the Ukrainian and Russian Orthodox churches, is something that every Christian should pray and strive for. Furthermore, many Christians like myself, including many Eastern Orthodox ones, will agree with the Russian Patriarch that same-sex marriage is contrary to God’s purposes, as set forward in the Bible. Division with the Christian church and the secularizing trend of the West is continuing to marginalize historically Christian views of morality, and Ukraine has been no exception. Christians will differ as to how we as believers should respond to the changing moral compass in the world of Western democracies, and how to respond politically. But does any of this serve as a justification for the violence we have been witnessing in the Ukraine for these many months?

Obviously, there are many other reasons why the Ukraine and Russia are at war with one another, that have nothing directly to do with the overtly theological justifications that I am addressing here. There are concerns about NATO expansion, corruption on both sides, etc. that complicate matters. I do not pretend to be a political analyst. But I am most concerned with how the Bible is used, or more properly speaking, misused as a pretense for justifying this war.

In an attempt to justify the war against the Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin quoted from Jesus in John 15:13 for support: “…this is where the words from the Scriptures come to my mind: ‘There is no greater love than if someone gives his soul for his friends.’ ”  To make an appeal to Jesus, as an excuse for an ever expanding list of documented potential war crimes, particularly when many victims of Putin’s war are God-fearing Ukrainian Christians, is a perversion of the worst kind. Furthermore, the threat of a nuclear disaster looms large when Ukrainian power plants have been under the control of Russian forces, where Ukranian workers are under incredible stress and safety concerns are paramount.

When the “culture war” is transformed into a war with tanks and missiles, I can not think of a more dreadful misuse of the Bible than this. Instead of drawing nonbelievers to the Gospel, this type of thinking only repels people from Christianity. Thankfully, there are many, many Christians who are not convinced by President Putin’s application of Jesus’ teachings, and instead insist that the justification for war against Ukraine is a denial of the very Gospel itself.

Most American Protestant Evangelicals probably completely missed the schism in Eastern Orthodoxy back in 2018, when the Ukrainian Orthodox Church split from Russian Orthodoxy after being together for more than 300 years. But I never would have imagined that this theological crisis within Christianity would have precipitated Putin’s decision to wage war in Ukraine just four years later. It just goes to remind me that ideas really matter, especially theological ones.

Continue reading


End of Summer 2022 Round-Up!!

This summer was amazingly hectic for me with my job at the College of William and Mary. One phrase summarizes my summer: Supply chain delays. But now that students are back on campus, things are starting to settle down.

What follows is my attempt to recap some things that have made me think a lot, so far this year…. Bart Ehrman, “women in ministry,” where do you get your news, David McCullough, Roe vs. Wade, Jordan Peterson, Alex Jones and Sandy Hook, what is the best argument for the Resurrection, the “Late-Date” theory for the Exodus, Henry Emerson Fosdick 100 years later, “progressive Christianity,” divine hiddenness, and analytic philosophy.

A bit disjointed for sure, but all very important. I have a bunch of thoughts, but instead of individual blog posts about each topic, I will try to keep things fairly short, and include the summaries below. Read on!! ….

Blogging Recap… Featuring Bart Ehrman

I have written several blogs this year that I put quite a bit of thought into, after reading several books on my bike ride commutes to work. The longest series is on the “historical criticism” of the Bible, some of its history dating back to the 17th century philosopher Baruch Spinoza, how “historical criticism” has both positively and negatively impacted the church, and offering a sample of Bible passages, with a model of doing “historical criticism” in a nuanced way, that appreciates the value of allowing historical method to inform our interpretation of the Bible, without slipping into unnecessary skepticism of the Bible’s divine inspiration.

My fundamental claim, in a nutshell, is that the most common methodology employed by historical critics like Bart Ehrman, as well as “Progressive Christians” who adopt the same methodology, is that they believe that you can only do proper historical research on the Bible by treating it like any other piece of human literature, which in their minds, implies that you must bracket off claims regarding the inspired nature of the Scriptural text as being the very Word of God, at least temporarily. If you fail to bracket that off, you ironically risk distorting the interpretation of the text. Historical critics like Bart Ehrman says the Bible is inherently contradictory, and so he dismisses attempts to try to harmonize Scriptural texts, even in the most nuanced way, as actually obscuring what the Bible is trying to tell us.

I contend that this approach is a false dichotomy. Scripture can be studied as human literature within its historical context while simultaneously affirming the Bible as being the inspired Word of God. A scholar like a Bart Ehrman would disagree. Read the posts for yourself to see if I have made a compelling case contrary to Ehrman.

I am increasingly concerned that the negative impact of “historical criticism” that in the 20th century wrecked havoc in mainline Protestantism is now creeping into certain areas of less denominationally oriented evangelicalism, in a way that most evangelicals are completely unaware of. I will just leave it at that.

The most substantial book review was for Bart Ehrman’s Heaven and Hell. I had not read through a Bart Ehrman book before, with such detail. I can see why Ehrman has so many followers. I am just surprised that there have not been any Bart Ehrman fans who have jumped down on me and made critical comments on the blog yet. I strongly disagree with Bart on many points, but I have to concede that he articulates probably the most cogent critical view that I have read attacking the reliability of the New Testament, which partly explains why he is such a popular author. Plus, I would describe him as an honest non-believer, who does not try to pretend that he is a Christian. His interest in Christianity is primarily historical, trying to make sense of Jesus of Nazareth, the single most influential person in the world who has ever lived. If you want to understand why so many educated people reject the Bible as being authoritative, you better read Bart Ehrman. The chances are high that some highly educated “former” Christian you know, or someone who is going through a faith “deconstruction,” has read some Bart Ehrman.

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An Update on the Complementarian/Egalitarian Divide in Evangelicalism

I also read a couple of books on the “women in ministry” controversy again. I really hate that title, but it is more useful and familiar than the nerdy theological category of complementarianism versus egalitarianism. I wrote extensive critical reviews of both an egalitarian and complementarian authors’ books, but I put a bunch of YouTube video links from Mike Winger’s excellent series into the complementarian review blog post, linked down at the very end.  So far, as of the posting of this blog post, Winger is up to nine (9) deep-dive sessions on the topic!

A large chasm exists between a “broad” complementarian, like a Kevin DeYoung, and an egalitarian, like a Lucy Peppiatt, whereas a “soft” complementarian, like a Mike Winger, stands at a more responsible place in the middle. To put it another way, one side tends to go to the extreme of wanting to “bring back the patriarchy” whereas the other side wants to squash “toxic masculinity.” I believe there is a different way forward. Some egalitarian Christians that I have interacted with think Winger has not made a compelling case for his viewpoint. But invariably few of them are willing to patiently view any of his two hour videos. That does not seem fair to me. I wish I could find the egalitarian view convincing, but the circumstantial evidence brought forward by the egalitarian side seems to come up disappointingly short. I wish this was not the case.

Nevertheless, I still hold high regard for evangelical Christians who are egalitarian in their convictions. My main concern is not in the specific conclusions that are drawn, but rather, I am concerned about the hermeneutical methods that some use to draw their conclusions.  A faulty hermeneutic in one area of reading the Bible can lead to other distortions of Scripture in other areas.

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So, Where Do You Get Your News?

We do not live in the 1970s anymore. Gone are the days of three major television news outlets, CBS, ABC, and NBC nightly news programs, and the hegemony of newspaper publications like the New York Times and the Washington Post. For most of the 1990s, I narrowed down the options even more: The only time I bothered with listening to the news was on my evening commutes with NPR’s All Things Considered playing on the radio. Today, we get our news from various sources, which all give us conflicting and contradictory views of the world, which pretty much makes civil discourse in society today near to impossible.

As the risk of being controversial, I am now a member of the “I stopped listening to NPR when… ” club.

I try to steer clear of exclusively of heavily biased news sources. Occasionally, I will read longer pieces by liberal outlets like the New York Times, but I try to balance it out with stories from the much more conservative Wall Street Journal.  My wife likes listening to The World and Everything In it, the daily news podcast put out by WORLD News Group, which styles itself like a conservative evangelical alternative to NPR’s All Things Considered. WORLD has gotten better over the years, but recent staff upheavals at WORLD make me a little leery as to its future.

I pretty much stick with Ground.News, a secular outfit that ranks the bias of various news organizations when reporting stories, which I find quite helpful.  But I have decided to try the PourOver email newsletter and podcast, as it offers to give a Christian perspective on the news while trying its best to steer clear of heavy bias, without flooding your brain, as it only comes out three times a week. So far the PourOver is a very refreshing approach to the news.

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The Late David McCullough

While the bulk of what is posted on the Veracity blog is an Christian apologetics, my other love is for church history ( and history more broadly). Not too long ago the popular American historian David McCullough died. For me he models what a good historian does. He was the author of various best sellers, including 1776 and John Adams.

Christian blogger Joel J. Miller has a nice remembrance of McCullough on his blog.

At the risk of being a little controversial, blogger Samuel D. James has some insightful thoughts regarding what Christians can learn from McCullough. James points out that some recent Christian books criticizing evangelicalism historically have fallen into a bad habit. In the most memorable quote by James, one particular author “wanted me to see the subjects of her history the way she sees them, not as how they saw themselves. How they interpreted their lives and beliefs was of little consequence. How the generations after them interpreted them was everything. This is the kind of history that gets people angry and eager to deconstruct whatever they sense is tainted by moral failure…. What renews my soul about reading David McCullough’s work is that it doesn’t do this.”  Now that is provocative, but I am inclined to think that James is right, based on some other writings I have read along the same lines.

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The Overturning of Roe vs. Wade

Like a lot of people, I was really surprised when the U.S Supreme Court overturned Roe vs. Wade, earlier this year. On the other hand, I am not convinced that the court’s verdict will have a lasting impact on public opinion about abortion, though I could easily be wrong. By putting the issue back in front of the states, the legislative debates will surely continue and get really complicated on a state by state basis. Perhaps the only solution will be something like an amendment to the federal constitution to ultimately settle the matter, and I do not see that as happening anytime soon. The main reason for thinking this is that even if extensive anti-abortion laws get passed, it might be almost impossible to enforce them. Without public support, passing unpopular laws will probably achieve little.

Marvin Olasky, an outspoken pro-life journalist, agrees citing what we know from history: “From the 1840s through the 1940s, public opinion concerning abortion was more negative than it is now, but even during that era, enforcement of abortion bans was rare. Millions of abortions occurred during that century, but only a tiny percentage of doctors did prison time. It was hard to get police to arrest, juries to convict, or judges to support jury decisions and turn down appeals.” As the subtitle of his article in Christianity Today declares, “Looking ahead, Christians should focus less on enforcement than on changing cultural attitudes.”

In the meantime, I am grateful for friends who work in or otherwise support crisis pregnancy centers that offer assistance to those in need. In my area of Williamsburg, Virginia, the closest center is CareNet Peninsula. They do great work there. It is through such efforts that perhaps there will be a day when abortion becomes an unthinkable option for people faced with such difficult decisions.

The “right to life” cause, in the political sphere, is primarily an effort led by Christians, as Bible readers seek to make their moral convictions known within the public arena. There are notable exceptions to this, as the late and famed New Atheist Christopher Hitchens opposed abortion. But by and large, I doubt if we will see a remarkable surge in support of the “right to life” until we have a massive wave of Christian spiritual revival in the West. That can only come about by prayer and evangelization, which means in part engaging in the type of apologetics being promoted here on the Veracity blog. Interestingly, history shows us that as more and more people came to Christ in the Roman Empire, in the first 500 years of the church, that this shifted public opinion away from promoting abortion. As more people embraced the Gospel, the less support there was for abortion. Perhaps this can be a lesson for us in the 21st century.

I just recently ran across a short, Tik-Tok type video, put out by one of my favorite YouTube apologists, Michael Jones, at Inspiring Philosophy, who addresses the objection that the Bible actually sanctions induced abortions, based on Numbers 5:27. I have been hearing the Numbers 5:27 pro-abortion argument a lot lately, and really did not know how to respond to it, until I saw Jones’ video. Jones argues that the NIV translation is unlikely, and explains what might be a much better translation. Worth checking out:

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The Return of Jordan Peterson

While the world was swirling in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the outspoken Canadian psychologist, Jordan Peterson, had a close brush with death of another kind. As a result of a successful nation hoping medical tour, Peterson finally made it out of this crisis and is back on the public stage. Many have described Jordan Peterson’s teachings as a “gateway drug” to Christianity, and I believe this is correct.

Alas, I need to get up on my soapbox for a minute: Oddly, there are a number of Christians I know who do not like Jordan Peterson, and interestingly they (almost) all seem to be egalitarians. Some of whom I respect think Peterson is a secular-type of Mark Driscoll, which I kind of get, but at the same time, I really think this misses the point. Just because Mark Driscoll turned out to fail a lot of people miserably does not mean that the need he was trying to address was false. At the same time, a lot of critics who are not so impressed with Peterson also admit that the need for men to take responsibility, as a way of finding purpose in life, is still essential. Is that not what Peterson’s message boils down to? I am left scratching my head.

The following video by Peterson is perhaps the best short video supporting a psychological apologetic for complementarianism, urging Christians to stop downgrading men with constant talk about “toxic masculinity” and instead challenging young men to step forward and take responsibility, as a matter of Christian virtue. As Peterson argues, by supporting young men this will have a positive impact on young women as well. Plus, I believe that taking seriously Peterson’s argument will go a long ways towards trimming back the number of mass shootings, which are almost universally committed by young, disaffected and lonely males, longing for a sense of visionary purpose in life…. and that ranges from the Uvalde, Texas elementary school shooter, who had no father figure in his life, to the May 2022 racist shooter in Buffalo, N.Y. where as a child, he felt he did not have “that much importance” to his family, and that “my parents know little about me,” despite outward appearances that he had a nice, balanced family life.

I know that as Peterson, as an agnostic, does not have the best command of certain particulars of Bible translation, and that he should “stay in his lane,” so to speak. This video has sparked numerous, thoughtful reflections by Christians, pointing out the things that Peterson got right in the video, while acknowledging his shortcomings. With that in mind, I commend the effort the Peterson is putting forward, and I am befuddled as to why so many believing Christians find his message so off-putting. Perhaps it is because we as Christians are at times too prideful? Sometimes it helps to receive the rebuke from someone outside of the church, like Jordan Peterson, as a prophetic challenge to Christians to wake up out of our slumber.

Nevertheless, we should not define doctrine based on what Jordan Peterson says, but rather we should look to the Bible as our final authority. Jennie Pollock, a blogger in the U.K., has a nice short essay summarizing what she says, “Why I love my complementarian church.

As a bonus, I found a really provocative approach to the issue of having “women as elders” by Dr. Gerry Breshears. In the following video interview by Preston Sprinkle, Breshears argues as a “soft” complementarian that only qualified men are to serve as local church elders, but interestingly, this has NOTHING to do with hierarchy. In fact, Breshears contends that neither Paul nor Timothy would have qualified to become church elders, even though Paul was an apostle and Timothy was the undisputed leader of the church in Ephesus. Agree or not, Dr. Breshears’ presentation will turn your head upside down on this (as it did mine!):

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Alex Jones, Sandy Hook, and Conspiracy-Theory Driven “Christianity”

There is just some absolutely crazy stuff going on at the fringes of the evangelical Christian world. The story of Alex Jones, the conspiracy theorist who was recently sued by parents of a child killed by the Sandy Hook mass shooter, says that he is a “Christian.

Author Elizabeth Williamson has written a whole book about this, An American Tragedy and the Battle for Truth, something I want to put on my reading list. Here is part of the promotional flyer on the cover for the book: “On December 14, 2012, a gunman killed twenty first-graders and six educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. Ten years later, Sandy Hook has become a foundational story of how false conspiracy narratives and malicious misinformation have gained traction in society….One of the nation’s most devastating mass shootings, Sandy Hook was used to create destructive and painful myths. Driven by ideology or profit, or for no sound reason at all, some people insisted it never occurred, or was staged by the federal government as a pretext for seizing Americans’ firearms. They tormented the victims’ relatives online, accosted them on the street and at memorial events, accusing them of faking their loved ones’ murders. Some family members have been stalked and forced into hiding. A gun was fired into the home of one parent.”

As Williamson argues, the professing “Christian” Alex Jones was propagating this conspiracy theory, repeatedly using his InfoWars platform to spread these lies, influencing his followers to threaten some of those Sandy Hook parents. Over time, Jones eventually started to back off on such claims, but it took a number of years before he finally emphatically admitting that the killings were real, during this summer’s trial. Why it took Jones so long to admit his errors is baffling. Was it all just for show? Why he continues to propagate further lies and just plain odd behavior is even more troubling.

The testimony of this mother of one of the kids murdered at Sandy Hook, confronting the lies that Alex Jones continues to spread is heart-wrenching:

I do not know enough about the story, other than this, but the connection between such far-out conspiracy theories and such proponents claiming to be Christian is incredibly bizarre. The damage done by these conspiratorial theorizing defies the mind.

How is it that so many other professing “evangelical Christians” appear to be taken in by this stuff? Well, it appears that there is some research now that might help to explain what is going on. A growing number of professed “evangelical Christians” have been leaving the church. Some estimates indicate that such “unchurched” evangelical Christians now make up the largest religious group in the American South, an absolutely stunning statistic.

You read that right: the largest religious group in the American South are unchurched people claiming to be evangelical Christians.

Effectively, we have a steadily growing number of people who are leaving churches, while still claiming to be Christian, who are no longer being discipled by churches but who are instead being discipled by right-wing media outlets, that claim to promote Christian values. Historian Daniel K. Williams summarizes it like this: “Data suggests that, when their attendance drops, these nominal Christians become hyper-individualistic, devoted to law and order, cynical about systems, and distrustful of others.”

I can believe Williams because I know of a several  professing Christians who have pretty much given up on going to church. They are not Sandy Hook conspiracy promoters, but they follow the same pattern that Williams summarizes.

As a reaction against this, I also know of several professed “Progressive Christians” who have a negative view of conservative evangelical faith, particularly that which often carries the label of “Christian nationalism.” But it might help such friends of mine to consider that perhaps what they are reacting against is not actual Christianity being practiced in our churches, but rather, they are reacting against a kind of fake Christianity practiced by professing “Christians” who would rather stay home and watch conservative media outlets on television instead of going to a vibrant Christian fellowship on Sunday mornings, and otherwise actively becoming part of some community, where they might get discipled in the faith.

Just something to think about.

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Dispute over the Minimal versus Maximal Facts Argument for the Resurrection

For some reason that I fail to grasp, there is an ongoing debate as to which is better, the minimal facts or the maximal facts argument for the Resurrection. In short, my answer is, use whatever argument that will help your interlocutor take a step closer to Jesus.

Christian apologist and YouTuber Mike Winger is a bit simplistic here, but he has a decent short summary of each approach:

The minimal facts argument, articulated best by Gary Habermas and Michael Licona, suggests that we limit the evidence used in our argument to those facts that the widest spectrum of biblical scholars and historians, ranging from conservative to liberal, will most reasonably accept. For example, many scholars and historians today believe that the Apostle Paul only wrote 7 of the 13 letters in the New Testament attributed in him. Also, many scholars suggest that a good deal of the material we have in the Gospels is historically unreliable, much of it being the product of the early church placing ideas and words on the lips of Jesus. For people who are to some degree aware of what such scholars and historians say, the minimal facts approach will probably meet the least amount of resistance. Nevertheless, the goal is to try to persuade people that Christians can be thoughtful and still believe in the Resurrection at the same time, so that inquirers might consider taking further steps in having a deeper understanding of what the implications of the Resurrection are, so that they might embrace the whole of the Christian message.

Alternatively, the maximal facts approach suggests that we use the entire arsenal of evidence from the New Testament to make our case for the Resurrection. My thought is that we should use whatever approach makes sense, based on the assumptions made by the audience with whom we are engaging. If someone follows the broad scholarly opinion, I would lead with the minimal facts argument. If someone is willing to accept the whole of the New Testament as historically reliable, or is at least fairly open to it, then I would use the maximal facts approach instead.

In other words, Christians should invest the necessary time to be able communicate both arguments, both the minimal facts and the maximal facts approach in their evangelistic conversation. Since in my experience, most Christians I know are not familiar with the minimal facts approach at all, and that they tend to fumble their way through some variation of the maximal facts approach, it would be the most wisest thing to learn both approaches, with their pluses and minuses.

The key is this: Know your audience. Adjust your argument accordingly so that you keep the discussion on track, in hopes that your friend will take a closer step to knowing Jesus. Pretty straightforward, to me, at least.

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Why I am a Late-Date Proponent of the Exodus

I have written a several blog posts over the years, making a case for the Scriptural account of the Exodus, while acknowledging that there is a good Scriptural evidence that the traditional view of the number of Israelites being about 2 to 4 million involved is actually way over inflated. My most visited blog post on Veracity deals with this issue.

I have come to conclude that the so-called “late date” theory of when the Exodus occurred is probably the best explanation of both the Scriptural archaeological data, as YouTuber apologist Michael Jones, and his Egyptologist consultant, Dr. David A. Falk, suggest. Here are some of the latest and best YouTube videos that dig into the details. I am still open to changing my mind on all of this, but to date, this position seems to be the best argument to make to support the historicity of the Exodus:

Lest anyone think I am being unfair here, you might want to listen to the following interview that Sean McDowell did with archaeologist Dr. Titus Kennedy, who favors an early date (15th c. BCE) versus Jones/Falk’s late date (13th c. BCE) proposal. Jones was previously an early date advocate, like Kennedy, but was convinced on the late date (as I am) by Dr. Falk. If you are still persuaded by the early date proposal, let me just say that the late date proposal, in my view, is easier to defend with non-believers, regarding the historicity of the Exodus. At some point, I hope to do a whole blog series regarding the historicity issue of the Exodus, but that’ll be some time far off into the future!!

I could be wrong about the “Late-Date” (13th century). The “Early-Date” (15th century) could be correct. Whatever I am, I am not impressed by chariot wheels stories passed around by Ron Wyatt. No Christian archaeologist is either.

As a bonus, here is another cool video from Inspiring Philosophy about the stopping of the sun moving in Joshua 10:

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Shall the Fundamentalists Win? – Harry Emerson Fosdick 100 Years Later

On May 21, 1922, Henry Emerson Fosdick, a Baptist serving in a New York City Presbyterian Church, preached a most (in)famous sermon entitled, “Shall the Fundamentalists Win?” Fosdick’s sermon was a tipping point in the fundamentalist-modernist controversy in the early 20th century, that led to the split between liberal mainline Protestants and conservative evangelical fundamentalists in America, during the 1920s. One hundred years later, church historian Darryl Hart discusses the impact of this sermon on the church today.

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The Debate over Defining “Progressive Christianity”

Alisa Childers’ popular book 2020 Another Gospel?: A Lifelong Christian Seeks Truth in Response to Progressive Christianity continues to stir controversy among evangelical believers. At the heart of the issue is the question: So what exactly is “progressive Christianity?” I gave my answer about a year ago, but Childers’ book continues to invigorate intense conversation. Try listening to this dialogue between Randal Rauser and Douglas Groothius:

The problem with “progressive Christianity” really is about definition of terms, but it also points to the difficulty in being able to know where to draw the line between essentials and non-essentials of Christian faith. In the 20th century, the line between liberal mainline Protestantism and conservative evangelicalism was pretty clear. Here in the 21st century, this is not the case any more, as the term “evangelical” gets played around with a lot. In my view, it is better to err on the side against progressive Christianity.

But it gets complicated. Part of the growth of progressive Christianity is a reaction against another growing trend of self-proclaimed “conservative evangelical” Christians who no longer attend church (as I noted above). According to historian Daniel K. Williams, the category of lapsed and non-church-attending “evangelicals: are now the largest religious body in the South, the home of the “Bible Belt.” In other words, more and more “progressive Christians” attend churches where they react against so-called “conservative evangelicals,” or “Christian nationalists,” who rarely enter the door of a church. What a mess.

In defense of Alisa Childers, I must say that in the various videos that I have seen, Childers is actually quite honest and revealing that “progressive Christianity” is indeed a very loose and difficult concept to define, as various “progressive Christians” will often contradict one another. For some reason, Randal Rauser does not see this. Perhaps this is because Alisa’s book comes across as less nuanced, and I will admit that I have not read her book, so Randal might be right. Still, I think she has a good approach to this, even when I do not completely agree with every particular position she takes on certain issues. I would say that her journey away from egalitarianism to complementarianism is a perspective that does not get discussed that much.

To her credit, Alisa Childers has a quite revealing interview with Bobby Conway, the One-Minute Apologist, who actually went through his own deconstruction process a few years after he started his One-Minute Apologist YouTube channel. As he describes in the video, the destructive behavior that resulted from his deconstruction process cost him his job as a church pastor, but thankfully he has been in recovery since then.

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The Problem of Divine Hiddenness

If there was one area where I think that both atheists and even progressive Christians raise a good question, that I personally struggle with, it has to do with the problem of divine hiddenness. To put it briefly: “Why doesn’t God seem to reveal himself to people who are open and seeking him?” This is something I have to do some more thinking about, so I am not making any claims here. Many Christians tell me that the reason why God sometimes seems silent in a person’s life is because that person has some sort of sin impeding their ability or receptibility to actually hear from or see God at work. I am not so sure about that at this point, but I am willing to learn more. Justin Brierley at “Premier Unbelievable?” invited atheist Alex O’Connor (aka Cosmic Skeptic) and Christian apologist Lukas Ruegger to discuss the issue on the Unbelievable? YouTube channel and podcast. This (and the following) video I probably need to listen to a few times before I finally have some remedial grasp:

Philosopher Liz Jackson was also interviewed a couple of years ago on this very topic:

…. and then there is this…..

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And Finally….. A Christian Approach to Philosophy

I want to introduce you all to a fairly new friend of mine. Dr. Philip Swenson teaches philosophy at the College of William and Mary. I met Philip through the ministry of the Cambridge House, a Christian study center serving the campus community at William and Mary, here in Williamsburg. Dr. Swenson, as you will see below, has interests in the area of free will and responsibility, where he talks about stuff like Monism and compatibilism, and other fancy ideas that I can barely pronounce. Frankly, philosophy at this level is not really my area, but I still enjoy learning things from Philip. You may agree or disagree with him, but the main thing is that Philip loves Jesus!

Recently, Philip told me that he has a few interviews up on a Christian apologetics YouTube channel. So, if you think that Christians are dumb anti-intellectuals, the following videos will cure you of that misguided notion (HA-HA!!). Philip has an interesting background, having grown up in a charismatic church but currently attends a Missouri Synod Lutheran church. What a combination. He was recently interviewed a couple of times on the Analytic Christian YouTube channel (the last video is response by another Christian philosopher, Justin Mooney at Denison University, in defense of Molinism). I will probably have to listen to these a few times myself to get everything, but for those who appreciate analytic philosophy from a Christian perspective, here ya go!!

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…. For the Rest of 2022….

I have started reading a couple of other books which I hope to complete when my wife and I go on vacation later in the Fall. For example, I am near the end of reading a book on “Divine Violence” in the Bible, which has been very helpful to think through during this age of the ongoing war in the Ukraine.

Also, I FINALLY got around to reading C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity, which I have been putting off for about 40 years, and that is no joke. Why did I wait so long? Mere Christianity is really an excellent book, one of the best apologetic books I have ever read. Look for a book review coming out fairly soon. Stay tuned!!

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…. Oh, and Just For Fun….

Found the following video, from a bluegrass band, Southern Raised, performing (oddly enough) the song “Thunderstruck” as an instrumental. Their YouTube channel describes them as a Christian band, but I must say that their version of this well-known song by the Australian heavy-metal rockers, AC-DC, is much better than the original. Lot’s of fun… just wait ’till mid-way towards the end!


On David Bentley Hart’s Tradition and Apocalypse: An Overview of the Dispute

When two theological heavyweights clash with one another, the ensuing dialogue can be fireworks. But one can learn a lot about the state of the church from such disputes.

The immensely erudite and (apparently recently) idiosyncratic Eastern Orthodox David Bentley Hart published an extended essay, Tradition and Apocalypse: An Essay on the Future of Christian Belief (Listen to this summary in Hart’s own words). Hart has been one of the greatest theological voices undermining the pretentiousness of the New Atheist movement. In exposing the fault lines of thinkers like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, Hart’s Atheist Delusions has been regarded as one of the finest polemical works against early 21st century atheism.

Alas, Hart’s star has since fallen after his That All Shall Be Saved, a bold and dogmatically absolutist defense of a Christian universalism, which argues that while there is still a future hell and divine judgment, that experience of hell is ultimately purgative and redeeming, such that none are ultimately lost in the very end.

Like what former megachurch pastor and now California surfer and podcaster Rob Bell strongly hinted at, and what the author of the evangelical blockbuster novel, The Shack, William Paul Young finally came out and admitted, the brilliant and exceedingly well-read David Bentley Hart has whole-heartedly endorsed a theological position that has historically been condemned by the vast majority of Christians. Hart does not care. Anyone who disagrees with him about universalism is effectively morally challenged, in his view, and he is not afraid to unload condescension on his critics.

That was just a few years ago. Now that this previous storm has passed, he has yet again triggered even more controversy.

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