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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!


A Complementarian Vision? : Kevin DeYoung on Men and Women in the Church

How are men and women to relate to one another, in the church and in the family?

When we read the Bible, we find various statements about men and women that seem to be at odds with one another. Galatians 3:28 sees no distinction between male and female, whereas 1 Timothy 2:12 seems to place a restriction on women that men do not have, when serving in the church. 1 Corinthians 7:1-5 has Paul saying that husbands and wife share mutual rights with one another, whereas Ephesians 5:22-33 suggests some type of priority husbands have in relation to their wives, in terms of who submits to whom.

What is a biblically faithful Christian to do with this?  Select a certain group of texts has having priority over others, thus having a “canon within the canon” approach to Scripture, …. or find a way of integrating the whole of the Scriptural material?

A debate rages among evangelical Christians as to how to resolve the tensions that various Scriptural passages like these present to us. On the one side are the egalitarians, who sense a profound embarrassment over anything in the Bible that appears to be misogynistic, and thus emphasize the equality between men and women. For egalitarians, the liberating message of Jesus for women takes center stage. On the other side are the complementarians, who recognize gender equality, but who refuse to shy away from those passages that might suggest otherwise. Complementarians instead see such difficult passages as offering clues into the complementary relationship between male and female. Instead of embarrassment, complementarians see a beauty being expressed in the gender complementarity of the Bible.

It is important to say at the outset that Christians of good faith, can and indeed do disagree on these matters. Nevertheless, the positions we do take on how male and female relate to one another do have an impact on both marriages and the structure of a local church, and in how we think about gender more generally.

 

Continue reading


Rediscovering Scripture’s Vision for Women: Lucy Peppiatt on Men, Women…and Family?

For the vast majority of secular-minded people in the West today, any traditional Christian perspective on women is considered strange or weird, at best, or misogynistic or inherently oppressive, at its worst.

In many respects, church history does not have the most stellar record when it comes to dealing with the abuse and degradation of women. Far too often, women have been treated as second-class citizens in the Christian movement. On the other hand, it also could be argued that the Christian faith has been the primary catalyst affirming the value and contributions of women, a reality that most sophisticated Westerners today simply take for granted. Christianity has led to the most vital protections for women, and the most uplifting force supporting women, more than any other movement in world history. While this issue has an impact on how Christian churches and marriages function, it also has an impact on Christian apologetics, and how nonbelievers hear the Gospel message. So, the question stands: Which narrative best represents the message of the Bible for women? One of abuse and degradation, or one of affirmation and honor?

Despite recent advances for women, a most pressing concern in our postmodern world is the decline of the traditional family. The joy of having a mother and a father, who stay together until the death of one of them, is a vanishing characteristic throughout much of Western culture. Living in blended families has become more of the norm, rather than the exception. The definition of marriage keeps changing. The number of Americans who live alone keeps rising every year.  Yet in the words of Dallas Theological Seminary’s Sandra Glahn, for men and women, “we need one another.”  A rediscovery of Scripture’s vision for women, and how they relate to men, and vice-versa, must also address a theology of the family, which is in considerable crisis today in the West.

Christians today are divided over understanding what the Bible teaches regarding how men and women are to relate with one another in the church and the home. We need to have better good faith conversations among professing believers, as to how best work through what we find in God’s Word, and act in obedience accordingly. Scripture teaches that men and women are both created equally in the image of God, and yet are distinct from one another. Nevertheless, egalitarian Christians emphasize the former, and complementarian Christians emphasize the latter. For readers unfamiliar with this topic, I would suggest starting your journey into this topic with this introductory Veracity blog post, linked here, from 2019.

 

Two Books in the Complementarian/Egalitarian Conversation

This year, I endeavored to read two books in this conversation, one by a complementarian, Kevin DeYoung, Men and Women in the Church. The other book, the focus of this review, was authored by Lucy Peppiatt, a theologian and Principal at the Westminister Theological Center, in the U.K. She has written an insightful set of expositions of Scripture, along the lines of an egalitarian theological framework, in her Rediscovering Scripture’s Vision for Women: Fresh Perspectives on Disputed Texts. A charismatic evangelical, Lucy Peppiatt lectures in systematic theology, and serves as a lay minister in the Church of England. Many readers sympathetic to an egalitarian point of view have recommended Lucy Peppiatt to me, as representing perhaps the most mature, balanced argument defending this perspective currently in print.1

The intended audience for Peppiatt’s work is targeted towards those thoughtful Christians who hold to a traditional, complementarian view, what she calls a “heirarchialist” view, who are willing to consider a change in perspective regarding the teaching of Scripture. However, the book is also for egalitarians nervous as to whether or not the Bible actually teaches egalitarianism. For several disputed passages, the issue comes down to whether a distinctive teaching is prescriptive for all times and all places, versus being descriptive,  possessing a set of instructions for a particular first century, cultural setting. Unfortunately, a more sacramentalist approach, which looks for concrete ways for regarding men and women as fully equal within the sight of God, and yet relating to one another in the church and in the family in non-interchangeable ways, is not sufficiently interacted with in Peppiatt’s work. To put it briefly, Lucy Peppiatt succeeds in admirable ways to make her case for what she calls a “mutualistic” view of relations between men and women, while still coming up short in certain specific and crucial areas.
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Is the Ukraine Crisis Revealing Russia’s Role in the End Times?

Events over the last few weeks in Ukraine have triggered a renewed interest in the End Times. Christians should pay attention to what is happening in the Ukraine, due to concerns about a possible World War III, for many reasons. But while the End Times could be near, it probably has nothing to do with the reasons why many Christians think Russia is a key player in future events.

Evangelist Pat Robertson recently entered the fray by suggesting that the Old Testament prophet Ezekiel predicted centuries ago that Russia would ultimately fulfill prophetic events associated with the Second Coming of Jesus. In fact, according to Robertson, Vladimir Putin is being “compelled by God” to invade Ukraine:

Pretty impressive, right? Well, let us take a closer look.

The story about Russia and the End Times finds its connection from a reference in Revelation 20:8, in the last book of the Bible, where “Gog and Magog” are associated with a great battle, that some say is elsewhere described in Revelation as Armageddon. The “Gog and Magog” reference points back to Ezekiel 38, where Ezekiel gives a prophecy about Gog and Magog, and a future invasion of Israel, led by these foreign powers.

There is a lot to unpack here, but we can just focus on where “Russia” is said to come in, at verse 2, in Ezekiel 38. Here is how the New American Standard Bible (1977/1995) and the New King James Version (late 1970s) render this verse:

Son of man, set your face toward Gog of the land of Magog, the prince of Rosh, Meshech and Tubal, and prophesy against him…” (NASB 1997/1995)

Son of man, set your face against Gog, of the land of Magog, the prince of Rosh, Meshech, and Tubal, and prophesy against him...” (NKJV)

Notice that the word “Rosh” is capitalized, which makes it a proper name, of a particular place. Many prophecy pundits will tell you that “Rosh” sounds like the word “Russia,” which would suggest Russia is somehow involved with this future invasion of Israel. Pat Robertson identifies “Rosh” with “Russia” on his map in the video. This gets a lot of attention: Is is possible that the Russian invasion of Ukraine is yet a prelude to a future invasion of Israel, that might signify the End Times?

Ah, but just compare the same verse with a few other translations, such as the ESV and the CSB:

“Son of man, set your face toward Gog, of the land of Magog, the chief prince of Meshech and Tubal, and prophesy against him…” (ESV)

“Son of man, face Gog, of the land of Magog, the chief prince of Meshech and Tubal. Prophesy against him…” (CSB)

And finally, let us consider the venerable KJV:

Son of man, set thy face against Gog, the land of Magog, the chief prince of Meshech and Tubal, and prophesy against him... (KJV)

Notice what is different. In these other translations, that word “Rosh” is instead translated as “chief.” In these other translations, “Rosh” is no longer a place name. In other words, “Rosh” is no longer “Russia.”

Let that sink in for a moment.

So, what is going on here?

John of Patmos, receiving the Revelation, by Gasparde Crayer. The Book of Revelation makes a curious reference to “Gog and Magog,” somewhat cryptic names that go back to the Book of Ezekiel. Is the current Ukraine/Russia crisis somehow tied to the events of the Last Days?

 

Sorting Out the Whole “Russia” / Ezekiel / Revelation / End Times Quandary

Back in the 1970s, the United States and Russia (technically the U.S.S.R.) were involved in the height of the Cold War. Both the NASB and NKJV translations, as shown above, were developed in the 1970s, and these translations tended to reflect a lot of popular prophecy thinking of the time.

Interestingly, the venerable KJV, dating back to 1611, predated the Hal Lindsey craze of the “Late Great Planet Earth” by several centuries, and did not associate “rosh” with a place name, like Russia. That word “rosh” has an ancient Hebrew meaning of “chief” or “head,” and it appears over 500 times in the Old Testament. The KJV translators simply followed the traditional Hebrew “rosh” to mean “chief” in Ezekiel 38, following the example set by Jerome, in his translation of the Latin Vulgate, in the late 4th century.

So, what really drove the translators of the NASB and the NKJV to change the translation of the Hebrew “rosh” in Ezekiel 38 from “chief” to a place name, like “Rosh?” Well, they were not entirely crazy. It turns out that the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament, dating back to a couple of hundred years before Jesus, translated the word to what appears to be a place name, simply “rosh” (or “Rhos” in some English versions). Therefore, the NASB and NKJV were not making this up. The “rosh” name translation is a real possibility. But how plausible is this translation?

Now, it must be said that ever since the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, many scholars have come to the conclusion that the Septuagint might offer superior understandings of the original Hebrew text, thus suggesting that certain translated portions of the Greek Septuagint correspond to an earlier Hebrew text, that predates the Masoretic text, the Jewish Hebrew Bible that serves as the basis for most translations of the Old Testament today.

However, it is important to realize that this conclusion is complicated by the fact that there is no one, single Septuagint translation. There are actually multiple “Septuagints,” whereby various Jewish scribes over a good hundred of years, or more, put together different sets of Greek translations of the original Hebrew Scriptures. As a result, some Septuagint translations of certain texts work better than others.

The key to resolving this quandary is to try to locate where Ezekiel might have thought “Rosh,” as a geographical place, might have existed. This is where the massive stumbling block behind the “Rosh” as “Russia” argument really lies. To date, no one has been able to establish the location of “Rosh” anywhere in the ancient near east, or anywhere remotely near Russia, in any ancient record. Not a single reference. None.

Mmmmmm…..

Defenders of the “Rosh” as “Russia” thesis often make a rather bizarre argument that the name “Russia” comes from the phrase, “The Rus,” which is said to be the same as the Hebrew “Rosh.” The problem with this argument is “The Rus” actually comes from the Vikings, in the Medieval Period, when they came down from Scandinavia, and settled around Kiev, in the Ukraine, and parts of modern Russia. There is absolutely no connection between the ancient Hebrew “rosh” and the medieval Swedish “rus.”

This is just a form of bad logic, and faulty use of evidence. Just because a word in one language sounds the same as another word in a different language does not definitively mean that the two words mean the same thing. For example, flat-earthers take a Hebrew word, transliterated into English as “nasha”, which means “to deceive,” to mean that “NASA” is deceiving us in thinking that the earth is a sphere, simply because “nasha” and “NASA” sound alike. Really???

To make matters worse, some then go ahead and claim that the word “Meschech” in Ezekiel 38:2 and the word “Moscow” mean the same thing, because the words sound the same. There you go, Russia still is in Ezekiel 38, right?

However, is there any ancient historical evidence to support the claim that “Meschech” and “Moscow” are referencing the same geographical place?

Nope. We strike out again here.

The word “Meschech” (or “Meshech“) actually comes from the Table of Nations in Genesis 10:2, and in 1 Chronicles 1:5, and refers to an area in Asia Minor, in what we today call Turkey, which is on the south side of the Black Sea. Moscow is way, way far away to the north, on the north side of the Black Sea. We do not have a single scrap of ancient evidence that associates the area of modern Moscow with the ancient Hebrew “Meschech.”

The same goes for identifying “Tubal” with “Tobolsk“, a town in Siberia. The words sound the same, but “Tubal” is often paired with “Meschech” in the Bible, and was located in Turkey as well. Likewise, we have zero ancient evidence for linking “Tubal” to “Tobolsk.” This lack of evidence pretty much changes the possibility of Russia being in view, specifically, in Ezekiel 38, to that of being improbable.

Other arguments associating the story of Gog and Magog specifically with Russia pretty much go downhill from there. Here is the point: I personally do not find this to be a hill that I am willing to die on. I would much rather rely on evidence that we already have instead of depending on supposed evidence that we do not have. However, if it turns out that new evidence surfaces that clearly has an ancient source identifying “rosh” with a particular geographical location, way up north from Israel, then I am perfectly willing to change my mind. Furthermore, it is still possible that a great battle at the end of the age might still feature Russia as a major player in it. You just can not clearly get this from Ezekiel 38. So until we get more clarity, we probably do not need to stock up yet on a 3-month emergency food supply.

Looking forward to the ultimate Second Coming of Jesus Christ is something that all historically orthodox Christians anticipate. However, it is probably best to regard this “Rosh=Russia” issue as a matter of wishful thinking among a certain group of Bible commentators and prophecy specialists. For decades now, Russia has always featured prominently in Bible prophecy speculations. Russia fits neatly in many End Times schemes. Certain commentators have a lot invested in defending their future prophecy fulfillment timelines by placing Russia squarely in the center of the action. But as even progressive Christian scholar John Barton says, the Bible can be “shape shifted” to make it mean whatever you want it to mean.

Simply wanting something to be true, does not make it true.

For more information on this topic, I would suggest that Veracity readers check out Dr. Michael Heiser on his Naked Bible Podcast, number 152, where Heiser goes into the various place names discussed in Ezekiel 38, in great detail.  Regarding the Septuagint “rosh” translation in Ezekiel 38:2, Dr. Heiser concludes that the Septuagint translator simply did not know what to do with the Hebrew word “rosh” and therefore left it transliterated into Greek, without suggesting any particular meaning for the word. For a quick 8-minute summary on YouTube, you can listen here.

As an aside, it might be worth noting that the good folks at the Lockman Foundation, who produce the NASB translation, have since the 1970s made an update to the 2020 revision of the NASB. This change reflects the conclusion made by the KJV, ESV, and CSB translators, by rendering “rosh” as “chief” and not as a place name (In fairness to the earlier NASB translation, the “chief” translation is actually mentioned in a footnote. It just is not in the main text). If you go back and view that YouTube video with Pat Robertson, you will notice that they actually use this 2020 revision of NASB in that clip, where the place name “Rosh” is strangely absent, not even in a footnote! My guess is that my fellow Washington and Lee University graduate, Pat Robertson, and his crew at CBN, never picked up on that.

No matter what one thinks about the Ukranian/Russia crisis and its connection to the “End Times,” this utter tragedy in that part of the world is something that all of us as believers should be in prayer about, looking for ways to try to help people who have been bitterly impacted, and offer a ray of hope in a very dark time.


Saving a Forgotten Black Baptist Cemetery in Williamsburg, Virginia

Here is a story that just made national headlines, about my hometown, Williamsburg, Virginia.

Christianity Today magazine reported this week about “Black Baptists Discover Lost Cemetery in Virginia.” When I was in high school, my school bus would pass by a cemetery everyday. This cemetery just seemed to be in the middle of nowhere. There was no church building nearby. No other buildings. No houses. So, I always wondered what the story was about this place. No one on my school bus, a bunch of mostly white teenagers, knew anything about it either.

As it turns out, this particular cemetery was associated with an old black Baptist church, part of a community called Magruder, a few miles out of Williamsburg, near the current Interstate highway (I-64).

Magruder no longer exists.

Before the Civil War, several large plantations encompassed the area, along with a few small parcels of land owned by free African Americans. After the Civil War, slaves freed from these plantations stayed in the area and built these neighborhoods, all part of the Magruder community. The Oak Grove Baptist Church was founded there in 1887, when parishioners decided that walking a full three miles to attend Sunday services, at the First Baptist Church, in the Williamsburg town, was too inconvenient.

In 1941, as the United States entered World War II, the Navy eyed the property as the perfect place to build a Seabees training base for 26,000 officers and men, known as Camp Peary, which later became a CIA training facility. The African American families were forced to move, and the church buildings abandoned, leaving the cemetery behind. Many of those former Magruder residents settled in the community of Grove, on the other side of Williamsburg. A group from the Oak Grove Baptist Church moved to the area of Waller Mill, not too far from Camp Peary, and the large cemetery. But they had to vacate that property (again) when the new city reservoir was built.

During the time that the church was at Waller Mill, they acquired another parcel of land for another small cemetery. This small cemetery is the lost cemetery described in the Christianity Today article. Over the years, that church community has dwindled, and the site of that small cemetery was lost. In 2021, the lost cemetery was finally rediscovered. The Christianity Today article cites a William & Mary historian, Hannah Rosen, as saying that there might be over 1,000 lost African American cemeteries like this all over the country, most of them probably in a sad state of decay.

Recently, I wrote a blog post about the Confederate military general and educator Robert E. Lee. Controversy about various R.E. Lee statues and memorials have swirled around us for the past few years. But it is important to note that monuments to African American history are fairly rare. The remarkable thing about these Black church cemeteries is that they are mostly built with stone, which will make them more easily preserved, while they also serve as a powerful witness to how the Gospel has sustained these African American communities over the decades, despite being overshadowed by the history of racism in America. Making an investment in them is making an investment in preserving history.

A local television station tells part of the story about preserving the larger cemetery, that I passed by everyday on the bus to my old high school.


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