Hearing what someone says does not always mean that you will interpret them correctly.
The same principle often applies when reading the Bible (… or being married, for that matter).
Read the results of the survey: Half of Americans would not be able to tell that a Briton is calling them an idiot.
Answering this question is actually a fairly easy one to tackle. But there are two ways to go about it, and each way gives us a different picture of what the biblical writer is trying to do in Genesis.
In Genesis 11:26-32, we get the story about Terah, the father of Abraham (whose name was slightly different at this point, “Abram.”):
- When Terah had lived 70 years, he fathered Abram, Nahor, and Haran.
- Now these are the generations of Terah. Terah fathered Abram, Nahor, and Haran; and Haran fathered Lot. Haran died in the presence of his father Terah in the land of his kindred, in Ur of the Chaldeans. And Abram and Nahor took wives. The name of Abram’s wife was Sarai, and the name of Nahor’s wife, Milcah, the daughter of Haran the father of Milcah and Iscah. Now Sarai was barren; she had no child.
- Terah took Abram his son and Lot the son of Haran, his grandson, and Sarai his daughter-in-law, his son Abram’s wife, and they went forth together from Ur of the Chaldeans to go into the land of Canaan, but when they came to Haran, they settled there. The days of Terah were 205 years, and Terah died in Haran (Genesis 11:26-32 ESV).
In summary, Abraham’s family moves from the land of Ur (in modern day Iraq), to Haran (in modern day Turkey), an area about half-way along the journey, across the Fertile Crescent, well short of reaching Canaan.
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11 NIV).
It is a great Bible verse. But when I see it on bumper stickers, and friends tell me it is their “life verse,” I often wonder: Do those friends even know what Jeremiah had in mind when he wrote that verse, so many years ago?
Comedian John Crist is a funny guy, but he hits really close to home on this video. Comedy can be prophetic. Ouch.
As a way of ending off the year, I thought I would highlight some of the year’s best Internet blog posts and stories, that offer thoughtful reflections that inform Christian faith and practice. This is meant to supplement a “Best of Summer 2018” Veracity posting, from a few months ago (a lot has happened this year in the world of theology!). Some posts are Bible “geeky,” some deal with contemporary challenges to the Gospel, some are on church history, and nearly all I had to say, “I need to come back to that one, and give it more thought!” Bearing all of that in mind, here is my list of the rest of the best blog posts and stories of 2018:
- Something first, for the Christmas season. The year 2018 marks the 200th anniversary of when “Silent Night” was first set to music, in 1818, during the aftermath of the Napoleonic Wars… (and while we are it, the Medieval Manuscripts blog answers, “What is the oldest Christmas carol?“)
- While thinking about Christmas, a theology professor that I met years ago in seminary, Telford Work, writes about stereotypes we all have about Mary, the mother of Jesus.
- Losing Billy Graham in 2018 was like an end of an era. Historian George Marsden once said that an “evangelical” is someone who finds the opinions of Billy Graham acceptable. Will evangelicalism survive as a cohesive movement? Christianity Today has a great collection of essays chronicling the life and influence of the perhaps the world’s greatest modern evangelist.
- Eugene Peterson, the author of The Message translation/paraphrase, one of the most popular Bibles ever, died in 2018. This brought to mind a real Bible “geeky” story, that started off the year 2018: A scholarly scuffle between evangelical New Testament scholar, N.T. Wright, and Eastern Orthodox theologian, David Bentley Hart, over Bible translations. Wright critically reviewed Hart’s translation of the New Testament at the Christian Century (hidden by a paywall), and Hart returned the favor by digging back at Wright over Wright’s own translation of the New Testament. Wright has had his problems for years among some Protestant evangelicals, but Hart has received mixed reviews from others on his own translation efforts (see Wesley Hill, not-favorable, and Wyatt Houtz, favorable, and a noted rebuke from Alan Jacobs). Lesson learned: While I do appreciate the work of individual bible scholars, I still maintain that a Bible translation done by a committee of scholars, as with the English Standard Version (ESV), has the level of accountability that a Bible translation done by a single scholar simply does not have. The same is true about the notes in study Bibles!
- Speaking of those who have died in 2018, one of the most influential authors I read as a young believer in Christ died this past year, missiologist David Hesselgrave, director of the School of World Mission, at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. His book Communicating Christ Cross-Culturally was the textbook used by many college-aged Christians in the 1980s, for short and long-term mission trips. Hesselgrave raised a lot of questions as to what is a “biblical absolute” versus a “cultural relative,” when in comes to reaching people for Jesus, in a cross cultural context. Here is a remembrance by Christianity Today editor, Ed Stetzer.
- He has been called a “gateway drug to Christianity.” Who is it? None other than Canadian psychologist Jordan Peterson. What makes Peterson a strange ally to the Christian faith is that he publicly identifies himself as an atheist, yet Jordan Peterson thinks that the stories of the Bible can help to inspire people to better live in a postmodern world, and in particular resolve the crisis of masculinity in today’s society. The Gospel Coalition blogger Joe Carter explains why Jordan Peterson matters.
- Ligonier Ministries, founded by the late R.C. Sproul, joined with Lifeway publishers to conduct a survey, “The State of Theology,” as to what American evangelical Christians believe about Christianity. Some of the results are rather disheartening, as apparently there are many “evangelical Christians” who say that they believe in the doctrine of the Triune nature of God, but who also believe that “Jesus is the first and greatest being created by God,” a view that has been condemned as heresy for nearly 1600 years. Apparently, the level of theological comprehension of basic Christian truths in our churches is sadly lacking.
- Could the “Nazareth Inscription” be the oldest surviving evidence supporting the historicity of Christianity? In the 19th century, a French archaeologist acquired a stone tablet, engraved with an edict from an unnamed Caesar, ordering capital punishment for anyone caught disturbing graves or tombs. Kyle Harper, in the Los Angeles Review of Books, tells the fascinating tale. If you just want the highlights, you can read them on the ThinkTheology blog.
- Also from the world of archaeology in the Middle East, some scholars believe they may have found the first extra-biblical evidence for the existence of the prophet Isaiah…. (Plus a few other archaeological stories of note).
- The year 2018 marked the 40th anniversary of the signing of the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, the most influential evangelical statement in my living memory. Breakpoint, a ministry started by the late Chuck Colson, sponsored a symposium, offering reflections on the Chicago Statement. I particularly resonated with the views of theologian Peter Leithart, “The Chicago statement articulated a Christian view of Scripture, and, whatever refinements and elaborations may be necessary, it should remain a touchstone for Evangelicals…. The statement on hermeneutics is less satisfying. Given their circumstances, the authors were right to focus on the “propositional” and “factual” content of Scripture. But Scripture’s speech acts aren’t always indicative; its truth isn’t simply correspondence to fact.” A very measured and nuanced perspective from Leithart, that offers wisdom that I hope others will embrace.
- Ian Paul, at the Psephizo blog, is one of my favorite Bible teaching bloggers. As a Brit, some of his Church of England specific posts will not appeal to Americans, but when he addresses issues like the apparent contradictory accounts of the death of Judas in the New Testament, or Paul’s teaching in Romans 1, that people are “without excuse” when looking at the natural world, or where is the Spirit in the Lord’s Prayer, or who was the first Immanuel?, his crisp thinking invites engagement, even if some might not agree with him. His posts on the Book of Revelation are provocative, (and here), as they offer a vastly different perspective that many American evangelicals have never considered, but probably should.
- Biblical scholar Michael Heiser, at the Logos Bible software website, on why Christians differ over the meaning of “the Rapture,” with a short article entitled “How Many Times is Jesus Coming Back?” Some believe that Jesus is returning twice (John MacArthur) while others believe that Jesus is returning just once (John Piper).Perfect for folks who get their shorts all up in a bunch about this type of stuff, instead of approaching fellow believers in love.
- Whatever happened to the Ark of the Covenant? National Geographic has a short article summarizing the strangest reports of the Ark being found, including the claim made by the late fringe archaeologist, Ron Wyatt. But Biblical scholar Michael Heiser shows, from the Scriptures, why the Ark of the Covenant will never be found. Indiana Jones makes for great story telling, but not truth-telling.
- An informative take about the influence of paganism, by British medievalist Alison Hudson, on “Pumpkins and pagans,” for those Christians who are leery about Halloween pumpkin carvings.
- My small group was studying the Book of Acts this year, and some were puzzled that Acts 8:37 is missing from modern Bibles. “Dust Off the Bible” sets the record straight, particularly for those sincere folk who think the KJV is the only Bible translation worth reading.
- Here is one more for my small group: Nearly everyone in my group holds to “Believer’s Baptism,” rejecting infant baptism. I can appreciate this view, but it is helpful to consider that there are also thoughtful Christians who once held “anti-infant” baptism views, but who are now advocates of infant baptism. Alastair Roberts, a blogger with Mere Orthodoxy, is one of them, with this essay, “How I changed my mind on infant baptism.”
- Medieval historian Charlotte Allen has a really interesting article at First Things about Peter Damian, a central figure during the First Crusade, with particular relevance to the current cultural debate on same-sex relations.
- Tired of the same contemporary Christian worship music, week after week? Have you ever wondered how Christians prior to the 1990s utilized music in their worship services? Now, I am all for contemporary music (I am a guitar player, after all), but we are currently raising a generation of young people in our churches, who generally have little to no appreciation of the great wealth of sacred music, in the history of the church. Ken Myers, the brilliant mind behind Mars Hill Audio, the NPR-like Christian audio magazine of cultural commentary, that long predated the Internet, has a new website, CanticaSacra.org, with a wealth of stories about sacred music, much of it that has been long forgotten. Myers is music director at an Anglican church, near Charlottesville, Virginia.
- In the early 1990s, I devoured the writings of Elaine Pagels, the Princeton historian of early Christianity, who famously wrote on the The Gnostic Gospels, primarily because she was just such a great writer, and because her writings were pretty much all I could find about early Christian history at the Barnes and Noble’s bookstore in those days. However, I was always bothered by her infatuation with the Gnostics, but she also kept a lot of her personal views private. Baptist theologian Denny Burk reviews Pagels’ recent autobiographical memoir, and he puts the finger on why Pagels is sadly so reticent about the hope found in Christian orthodoxy.
- Would you think it possible to write a 1,376 page history and devastating critique of Christian Universalism, the teaching in some circles that everyone will be saved in the end? Apparently, St. Louis University professor Michael McClymond has done such a thing. A quick glance at the table of contents is mind-blowing. Justin Taylor at the Gospel Coalition interviews McClymond about his book.
- My wife and I had the privilege of visiting Rome this year. Baylor University historian Philip Jenkins was also in Italy, about the same time, mostly in Ravenna, but he has some interesting reflections of Rome, including several churches we were able to visit. Jenkins book Jesus Wars is on my “to-be-read” list.
- Crossway book publishers has an interesting infographic on how long it takes people to read the different books of the Bible. How much time do you spend reading the Bible?
- Gospel Coalition blogger, Trevin Wax, and an editor for the Christian Standard Bible (CSB), writes about the concept of “worldview,” after interviewing evangelical scholars who wonder if whether Christian “worldview” is really a helpful category or not. I wrote about some of the new CSB study Bibles, including the CSB Worldview Study Bible, earlier this year.
- Gospel Coalition writer, Dan Doriani, whom I heard preach earlier this year, gives us a thoughtful warning about the use and misuse of Christian jargon, of words like “broken,” “authentic,” and “surrender.”
- Not directly related to the Bible, I do find that the centennial anniversary of the end of the Great War gives Christians a lot to think about. The outcomes of World War I have continued to have a major impact on our world today, and an impact on the church. A New Yorker article by historian Adam Hochschild forced me to rethink the common narrative as to how the war actually ended.
- A few years ago, a niece of mine met Christ through the ministry of Campus Outreach, in the Midwest. Coming from an InterVarsity Christian Fellowship background, I knew very little about Campus Outreach on college campuses. Sarah Eekhoff Zylstra, at The Gospel Coalition, tells the story behind Frank Barker, and the beginnings of this growing college campus ministry.
- Alisa Childers, former contemporary Christian music personality with ZoeGirl, and now an up-and-coming Christian apologist, stirred up a hornet’s nest for suggesting that there are “3 Beliefs Some Progressive Christians and Atheists Share.” I would smooth out some of the edges of Alisa’s article, but she is on the right track, pretty well explaining why I reject “progressive Christianity,” as it is a theological dead-end: What is to keep “progressive Christians” from becoming atheists? If the progressivism trend associated with the now post-evangelical Rob Bell, Rachel Held Evans, Derek Webb (formerly of Caedmon’s Call), and Bart Campolo (son of Tony Campolo) concerns you, and you do not know what to make of it, you should check out Alisa’s article. However, you should also read some of the pushback Alisa received on Twitter about her article. Pete Enns’ response on his podcast, has a lot of wisdom, but methinks Pete lumps Alisa too much into the nice, tidy box of “fundamentalism”. My take: Not every Christian wrestles with doubt. But some do. Churches can provide an environment where Christians can work through their doubts, which sadly many churches do NOT do, but you do NOT need to totally abandon historically orthodox faith in the process, either. A humorous take on the whole topic is at the Babylon Bee.
- For years, evangelical Christians had looked upon Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the 20th century German theologian, who participated in a plot to assassinate Adolph Hitler, with a good amount of suspicion, until author Eric Metaxas wrote his popular biography of Bonhoeffer in 2010. Though I thoroughly enjoyed Metaxas’ book, I got the sense that there was a bit more hagiography going on than was properly deserved. Laura M. Fabrycky’s review of Stephen R. Haynes book, The Battle for Bonhoeffer, cogently argues that even the most well-intentioned observers of history tend to read more into their subject, than the evidence actually supports, to serve modern purposes. Haynes wrote a previous book, Noah’s Curse, that I read a few years ago, that discusses how the Bible got misused to support American enslavement of Africans.
- A cordial debate, at this year’s Evangelical Theological Society conference, featured a proposal by Southern Baptist theologian, Tom Schreiner, arguing that the extraordinary gifts of the Spirit are not to be found in the church today, as articulated in a short book that Schreiner wrote, reviewed at the ReadingActs blog. Schreiner also recently wrote a commentary on 1 Corinthians, that expands on this topic: Cessationism and the Charismatic Movement in dialogue. In response, London British pastor, Andrew Wilson, responds to Schreiner, as featured in three posts at the ThinkTheology blog (#1, #2, and #3). A good way of thinking through the cessationism vs. charismatic issue.
- The November death of young missionary John Allen Chau, at the hands of an isolated tribal group, on the North Sentinel Island, recalls the martyrdom of Jim Elliot, among the Waorani tribe, in 1956. But we probably would not have known much about Jim Elliot if it was not for the expert writing talents of his widowed wife, Elisabeth Elliot. Blogger Matthew Loftus at MereOrthodoxy gives us a survey and review of the late Elisabeth Elliot’s continued influence and writings.
- Australian scholar Marg Mowczko writes a critique of the ESV Study Bible notes on 1 Timothy 2:12, demonstrating that the battle over “women in ministry” will probably be with us still for a long, long time. Churches that are considering “women as elders” should proceed with the greatest of caution, if at all, as the debate is very contentious, where even the best evangelical scholars can not come to an agreement.
- Southern California pastor John MacArthur, is the big name behind this past fall’s “Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel,” yet another statement made by evangelicals regarding the fight against cultural trends infiltrating the church. However, this time, this “statement” has left a lot of Christians talking past one another. Christianity Today’s Quick to Listen podcast explains the aggravation many feel.
- If you think that the decline in traditional forms of organized Christian faith has led to a rise in zealous political cults, then you are not the only one: Andrew Sullivan makes the case that political activism has been slowly replacing traditional forms of Christianity, as an alternative method to finding spiritual meaning in life. Politics, on both the extreme “left” and the extreme “right,” has become the new substitute for genuine Christian faith.
- Peter J. Williams, a British evangelical intellectual at Tyndale House, recently released a short, and amazingly easy to read book entitled Can We Trust the Gospels?, which I hope to put on my reading list soon. Here is Williams with a short essay, introducing the book, on the question: “Do the Gospels Contradict Themselves?” First Things editor, Peter Leithart, offers his review.
- Before ending on something meaningful, here is a blog post story that I am very, VERY glad I missed, that I only learned of recently. On July 27, 2018, we mere earthlings experienced the longest lunar eclipse of the 21st century, coinciding with the planet Mars being as close as possible to the earth, a combination of events that only happens once every 25,000 years. As a science geek myself, that was pretty cool. So far, so good (though I am just upset that I never saw Wirtanen, the green “Christmas Comet” this year!). Nevertheless, there were some supposed “bible prophecy experts” still peddling the same hysteria about the “Blood Moon,” from a few years ago, as being a sign of the imminent events signaling the “End Times,” according to the Sunday Express. But wait!! There is another lunar eclipse coming January 21, 2019, so watch for more “prophecy” about the “End Times” to come!!! More exclamation points!!! …. These stories are getting very old and annoying.
- …. and finally, here at Veracity, we discussed the whole Revoice Conference controversy that inflamed a lot of Christians, while introducing a lot of confusion. How should Christians effectively minister to the so-called “LGBTQ” community? Many Christians would rather stick their heads in the sand, either because they are afraid to talk about this, or that they simply do not know how to talk about it. Others follow the lead of the surrounding culture, actively or passively accepting “political correctness.” Yet on the other hand, for still some other Christians, a more zealous crusade against the language of LGBTQ is in order: For them, it is completely wrong to “identify” yourself as a “celibate gay Christian,” but that it is perfectly okay to “identify” yourself as a “Christian who struggles with same-sex attraction.” Is the debate about semantics, or something more than that? If you are puzzled as to what the fuss is all about, dig in here at Veracity (#1 and #2).