Tag Archives: Apostle Paul

Historian Tom Holland on Why He Was Wrong About Christianity (in 5 Minutes)

Humans existing side-by-side with dinosaurs, at Answers in Genesis’ Creation Museum, in Kentucky, in stark contrast with the narrative every public school educated child learns from the modern scientific consensus, namely, that the dinosaurs died out millions of years before modern humans entered the scene.

Secular British historian Tom Holland tells the story of growing up in church, only to lose his faith in the process. In this extraordinarily provocative essay in the New Statesman, Holland describes his first encounter with doubt:

When I was a boy, my upbringing as a Christian was forever being weathered by the gale force of my enthusiasms. First, there were dinosaurs. I vividly remember my shock when, at Sunday school one day, I opened a children’s Bible and found an illustration on its first page of Adam and Eve with a brachiosaur. Six years old I may have been, but of one thing – to my regret – I was rock-solid certain: no human being had ever seen a sauropod. That the teacher seemed not to care about this error only compounded my sense of outrage and bewilderment. A faint shadow of doubt, for the first time, had been brought to darken my Christian faith.

But years later, after researching the grand history of civilization, he comes to a very different conclusion. While still not embracing the faith, Holland takes on a profound appreciation for the Apostle Paul:

It took me a long time to realise my morals are not Greek or Roman, but thoroughly, and proudly, Christian.

On the Unbelievable podcast/radio program, Tom Holland sits down with New Testament scholar N.T. Wright and show host Justin Brierley, to talk about how his mind changed. Unbelievable, perhaps my top, favorite podcast, has a new series, entitled The Big Conversation, featuring some of the top world thinkers, including Jordan B. Peterson, Steven Pinker, and Daniel Dennett. Tom Holland is the author of various books, such as the In the Shadow of the Sword: The Birth of Islam and the Rise of the Global Arab Empire and The Forge of Christendom: The End of Days and the Epic Rise of the West. N.T. Wright is one of the world’s most influential, New Testament historians, and author of the recent Paul: A Biography:

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Interested in the whole discussion? Listen to the whole Unbelievable episode below, having the title “How St. Paul Changed the World.”

 

 

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Paul, Apostle of Christ, The Movie

Nero’s Torches , 1876, by Henryk Siemiradzki (1843–1902). Nero used Christians as torches in Rome, in the last days of Paul.

Who was the Apostle Paul, and what was it like to be a Christian in Nero’s Rome, in the A.D. 60’s? Paul, Apostle of Christ, a film directed by Andrew Hyatt, and made by Affirm Films (who also made Fireproof and Courageous), tells the gripping story in a creative way.

Normally, I am a bit skeptical about Christian films, but this one was fantastic. The premise behind the film is that Luke, a physician and companion of Paul, comes to visit Paul, when he is imprisoned in Rome’s Mamertine prison, awaiting execution. Unfortunately, while the film’s premise is very interesting, there is a lot we do no know about the last days of Paul, or how Luke wrote Acts, with any particular degree of certainty. We know from Eusebius, an early church historian, that Paul was held in the Mamertine, and we also know that the madman, Emperor Nero had blamed the great fire in Rome on the Christians, using Christians as torches to light the city.

Did Luke write the Book of Acts, in Rome, during the last years of Paul’s life? Were Priscilla and Aquila in Rome, when Luke came to visit? We have no evidence for these speculations made in the movie. But to focus on these historical questions misses the point of the film. In Paul, Apostle of Christ, we get a glimpse into what motivated Paul, as well asking some very real questions as to how the Christians might have thought about Nero’s persecutions.

Should the Christians fight back and resist Nero? Should they flee Rome itself, and avoid the Romans? Should they stay in Rome and pursue a non-violent course? These are tough questions, and the film rightly explores them, as the persecuted Christian community looks to their imprisoned leader Paul, for help.

Many Christians today think of the so-called “Great Tribulation” solely in terms of a future event, that will happen prior to the Second Coming of Christ. Yet Paul, Apostle of Christ makes a very convincing case that the “Great Tribulation” was just as real, and bad enough, in those terrifying days, in Nero’s Rome. Along the same lines, another recent film, Tortured for Christ, tells us that such “Great Tribulation” even happens in our own day, but that much of American Christianity seems rather oblivious to that reality.

If anything, viewing Paul, Apostle of Christ, should encourage any person, believer or non-believer to take the time and seriously read the Book of Acts. Be thankful for the freedoms that many of us take for granted. Find your faith in the Risen Jesus, just as Paul did. Pray for the persecuted church.


Rearranging Prejudices

Rearranging Predjudices in Quebec City

Blending in in Quebec City, August, 2015

 

“A great many people think they are thinking when they are merely rearranging their prejudices.”
William James

“Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.”
1 Peter 4:9-10 NIV

I have always had an empathetic connection to the civil rights movement. In the early 60’s my family encountered ethnic pressures in a “Quiet Revolution” that caused us to pack up and move from Quebec to Virginia. We switched racial status—from being among the minority of native English Quebecers to being among the majority of southern whites. How times change. Virginia has lost a lot of its ‘southern’ culture, but in 1963 it was strong. I remember being in the back seat of our family’s car while we drove past a cross burning beside a highway interchange. I was too young at the time to know what was going on but knew it was about hatred and fear. We didn’t have any dogs in that fight. We were in Virginia because my father wanted to work and raise a family on a level playing field. That’s all.

My brother and I became completely assimilated into the mid-Atlantic way of life. Dad would express frustration from time to time with Quebec separatists, and we (more or less) passively inherited some of his prejudices. They didn’t seem like ‘prejudices’ at the time, but looking back that’s probably a fair assessment. Ethnic, nationalist and political strife have torn at Canada for decades over the issue of sovereignty for Quebec. In 1995, the year my father died, a national referendum that would have turned Quebec into an independent country was defeated by an extremely narrow margin.

I haven’t really kept up with Canadian politics, much less the temperature of the separatist movement. So when my wife announced this summer that she wanted to visit Quebec City, I really didn’t know what to expect. I had heard that French Canadians were unfriendly to Americans, particularly if the Americans could not converse in French. I struggled through college French 35 years ago, so I was less than optimistic about how we would be treated.

Quebec City StairsQuebec City is one of the most charming, clean and beautiful places in North America. It is a city planner’s dream—beautiful public squares, monuments and statues, lavish stonework, French provincial architecture, lofty vertical buildings that tower over cobblestone streets, flowers and gardens everywhere, sidewalk cafes, talented street performers, horse-drawn carriages, avant-garde restaurants, and people sitting on benches enjoying all the beauty that surrounds them. We didn’t see trash anywhere, not even gum on the sidewalks. The City has a profound Catholic foundation—the major streets and city gates (it’s the only walled city north of Mexico) are named after apostles and saints. There are churches and cathedrals everywhere.

How were we treated? For a couple of language-challenged foreigners, everyone we encountered was extremely friendly and helpful. As soon as they discovered we couldn’t speak the language, they immediately switched to English. Everyone we met was cheerful and hospitable, even complete strangers standing in line to order poutine at Fromagerie Lemaire. Their warmth was striking. Not at all what I had expected.

19th-century pragmatic American philosopher William James wrote, “A great many people think they are thinking when they are merely rearranging their prejudices.” (Dick Woodward used that quote frequently.) The apostle Peter wrote, “Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.” After being in Quebec this week, I can’t help but wonder if Peter’s instruction might have had some pragmatic value in motivating others to change their opinions. The New Testament is full of instructions to be cheerful and to respond to prejudicial behavior with kindness and charity—to treat adversaries with respect and gentleness.

“But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,” (Matthew 5:44 NIV)

“You must put away every kind of bitterness, anger, wrath, quarreling, and evil, slanderous talk. Instead, be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ also forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:31-32 NET)

“Let everyone see your gentleness. The Lord is near!” (Philippians 4:5 NET)

“Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct he should show his works done in the gentleness that wisdom brings.” (James 3:13 NET)

“But reject foolish and ignorant controversies, because you know they breed infighting. And the Lord’s slave must not engage in heated disputes but be kind toward all, an apt teacher, patient, correcting opponents with gentleness” (2 Timothy 2:23-25a NET)

“But set Christ apart as Lord in your hearts and always be ready to give an answer to anyone who asks about the hope you possess. Yet do it with courtesy and respect, keeping a good conscience, so that those who slander your good conduct in Christ may be put to shame when they accuse you.” (1 Peter 3:15-16 NET)

“Do everything without grumbling or arguing,” (Philippians 2:14 NET)

Sometimes being a Christian is like fighting with your hands tied behind your back. We get kicked and slapped and even worse, then we have to fight back with kindness, compassion, empathy, and respect. It can take incredible patience. What we experienced in Quebec was a powerful reminder of the best way to deal with people who don’t like us. Has Quebec turned the corner on ethnic strife? Who am I to say? But their kindness and hospitality makes me want to rearrange my prejudices.

Le Château Frontenac

Le Château Frontenac, Quebec City

HT: Marion Paine


Personal Discipleship Class

Personal Discipleship Class

Click on the images inside this file to link to the online resources. (You may need to adjust your browser settings to allow the links to work, or open it in iBooks, or save it to your desktop and open it with Acrobat Reader.)

Starting today (February 1st), I will be facilitating a new class on personal discipleship. For the next nine weeks, we will meet promptly at 10:45 a.m. in room 156 at the Williamsburg Community Chapel.

This class will build upon the apostle Paul’s instruction in (Philippians 2:12):

“Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling;”

“Personal discipleship” is the process by which a believer or seeker accepts personal responsibility for exploring the claims and content of the Bible. The class will explore resources and topics, going beyond the sacred page to meet some of today’s most interesting and thought-provoking theologians, apologists, and philosophers. We will discuss historical evidence for the Resurrection, the dating of Easter, apologetics, textual criticism, the trustworthiness of Scripture, biblical inerrancy, science and faith, and current topics in theology.

The first session will focus on resources for personal discipleship. Click on the image above to download a PDF file containing hyperlinks to some of my favorite resources, which I will demonstrate in the class. If your personal studies are getting a little rote, try clicking on the images in this file to find some refreshing new tools and resources that you can use to reinvigorate your devotional life. The breadth and depth of high-quality resources available today is absolutely stunning.

Objective Truth As The Basis For Our Study

I posted the following video a couple of weeks ago. It presents an interesting, refreshing basis for studying the Christian faith—specifically that Christianity is founded on objective truth. The ideas in this video will frame our approach to studying during this class.


How To Live

Lessons in Lent

Plumb Line In Matthew 25:14-30 Jesus gives us a clear parable about God’s expectations for His people. The basic point of the story is that God has given every one of us gifts, and that He will turn away those who fail to use their gifts wisely. Some parables are difficult to understand, but not this one. It’s a tough object lesson.

N.T. Wright comments on these verses that, “Each of us is called to exercise the primary, underlying gifts of living as a wise, loving human being, celebrating God’s love, forgiving, praying, seeking justice, acting prudently and courageously, waiting patiently for God’s will to be done.”

Okay…how?

To tell you the truth, I’ve never been big on taking a spiritual gift inventory or getting wound up about discerning God’s will for my life. That’s just me. I trust that God has a plan for my life. But the parable does beg…

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