Professor battles bible illiteracy with new website

Here’s how the article begins:

“Sing it, see it, study it,” is the key to Bible professor Kenneth Berding’s new program “Bible Fluency,” designed to combat biblical illiteracy. The website launched on Sept. 28 and received about 6,000 views as of Oct. 24.

Throughout Berding’s 13-year career at Biola, he has seen incoming students’ amount of biblical knowledge trending downward. Biblical illiteracy is a hot button issue at the forefront of church discussion, Berding said.

“We’re complaining all the time about biblical illiteracy,” Berding said, “and it’s a real problem, as serious as they’ll come. 150 years ago, people knew about the Bible. Now, they don’t. I decided to do something about it.”

(2 min read; 575 words)

Professor battles bible illiteracy with online program « The Chimes | Biola University.

The Problem with the Word “Inspiration”

When I wrote about “Inspiration Versus Inerrancy” the other day, someone responded that the word “inspiration” is problematic because its meaning can vary so much.  For example, you can read that a movie was “inspired” by a true story or that so-and-so is a truly an “inspiration” to us all.  You can probably think of some such examples yourself.  Thus to say that the Bible is “inspired” can communicate wildly varying ideas, depending on the perception of the person hearing you.

This is a fair point for someone to make, and I agree with it.  I’d only respond further with three quick points.

First, while the word “inspiration” has its difficulties, I don’t think it has as many difficulties as “inerrancy” (for the reasons that I gave in the earlier post).

Second, unlike “inerrancy,” “inspiration” is at least a biblical word; specifically, see 2 Timothy 3:16.   We can’t go too far wrong when using a biblical word to convey a biblical idea.  Note also that in 2 Timothy 3:16, the phrase says that the Scriptures are “inspired by God” – not just “inspired.”  That is, when we declare that the Bible is “inspired” we are actually using that single word as shorthand for “inspired by God” – not just “inspired” in a vague or undeclared sense.

Third, more often than saying the Bible is inspired, I say that it is the word of God.  This statement seems to work well in making clear my view because it gives someone a position to accept or reject.  That is, saying “the Bible is the word of God” doesn’t leave as much room for fence-sitting as the expression “the Bible is inspired by God.”  If the Bible is “inspired” in only a general or vague sense, then there are other books similarly described with which it must compete for attention.  However, if the Bible is “the word of God” it is in a class by itself – and deserves the appropriate attention – because all other books are merely from human beings.

By the way, I cannot imagine that I would have ever believed that the Bible was the word of God unless I had read it for myself.  The more I have read it, the more convinced I have become that it is the word of God.  Human beings simply could not have produced such thoughts on their own.  God truly does exceeding abundantly beyond all human beings can ask or think (Ephesians 3:20).

Inspiration Versus Inerrancy

Conservative evangelicals were tired of liberal evangelicals who proclaimed the “inspiration” of the Scriptures in an equivocal way.  Liberals might agree, for example, that the Bible was “inspired,” but only in the sense that a beautiful poem might be an “inspiring” piece of literature – not in the sense that God was telling us something to believe or do.  In an attempt to prevent the weaseling, conservatives wrote the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy in 1978.  Ever since, conservatives have proclaimed “The Inerrancy of Scripture!” or, simply, “Inerrancy! as the battle cry for this, their unequivocal position.

While I can sympathize with the conservatives’ frustration, their cure was as bad as the disease.  That is, “inerrancy” doesn’t say anything about what the Bible is.  It only says what the Bible isn’t.  To boot, “inerrancy” is not a biblical word.  That is, we don’t find it in the Bible.  As a result, inerrancy is a problematic way to defend the integrity of Scripture.

Let us return therefore to a biblical word, a perfectly good biblical word: inspiration.  That is, the Bible is inspired by God.  He “breathed” His life into its words (2 Timothy 3:16).  The ideas of the Bible are His because He was the one who inspired those who wrote it (2 Peter 1:21).  That some people will want to wriggle out of the plain implication of this word is something we simply have to accept.  We cannot force the truth on people.

Any reference to “inerrancy” sends skeptics scurrying for any of the supposed discrepancies found in the biblical text.  In an ancient text, copied by hand, there are surely going to be words and passages that are difficult to reconcile and understand.  What’s amazing about the Bible is that such difficulties are few and never involve a major theme or issue.  Therefore, the sad fact about disagreements over inerrancy is that they always skew the discussion toward trivialities.  Crying “Inerrancy!” leads to majoring on the minors.

The prophets and apostles of Israel who wrote the Bible were writing on behalf of God.  Thus they were writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.  This means that we may rightly regard the Bible as the word of God.  That it is therefore inerrant should go without saying, for how could God speak erroneously?  But to center our faith on what is absent from the text misses the point.  Rather, let us declare the Bible as inspired, as the word of God.  For then we are declaring what the Bible is instead of what it isn’t.

I believe in the inspiration of Scripture.  The Bible is the word of God to me, and I will heed it as such.  My battle cry is “Inspiration!” and I will not equivocate about its meaning nor dispute its authority over my life.  Indeed, I love the Lord of whom it testifies so comprehensively and profoundly (John 5:39; Luke 24:27, 44).

“Jesus of Testimony” – New Documentary Testifies to the Historicity of Jesus Christ

First below, I’ve posted the trailer (3:34) for this new documentary, and then the documentary (2:14:34) itself.

Jesus Of Testimony Trailer from Nesch Bros on Vimeo.

Jesus Of Testimony from Nesch Bros on Vimeo.

With Easter approaching, this is the time of year when public television and other networks provide documentaries and similar programming about Jesus of Nazareth.  Only problem is that these documentaries usually invitge unbelieving biblical scholars to be the experts.  Such liberal scholars usually have impressive degrees from schools like Harvard, Yale, and Princeton.  While they might not come right out and say that they don’t believe in Jesus, that’s their obvious view – otherwise public television would never have considered them experts, right?

The good news is that the Nesch brothers (whom I otherwise don’t know) have pulled together an impressive set of believing Bible scholars and the result is this documentary:  Jesus of Testimony.  It’s a welcome antidote to the usual fare I’ve been describing, and I enthusiastically endorse it.

I do love this documentary and recommend it highly.  That said, I do have some caveats:

  1. This documentary may seem long and tedious for anyone not intensely interested in the subject matter.  Maybe you should break it up and watch one segment at a time.  Each section is certainly meaty enough.
  2. This documentary might be scratching where you’re not itching; if so, it may seem extra tedious.  This documentary will be most appreciated by 1) people who wonder if there is any scholarly support for the history we see recorded in the New Testament, and 2) people who long to hear from biblical scholars who aren’t hostile to the biblical text and biblical ideas.  If you don’t fall into either of these two categories, there’s no need to watch this film.
  3. I had difficulty with the video streaming.  Perhaps it was just my connection.  I eventually got to the end, but you may want to pay $5.99 for the download to avoid the hassle if it bothers you too much.
  4. This could be a great documentary to recommend to others who might be curious about historical scholarship about Jesus, but first be sure the warnings above don’t apply.  If someone has somehow been unaware of liberal bibical scholarship, why trouble them by bringing them into the argument?

The important point to remember is that this documentary is the other half of the scholarly polemic about Jesus.  Liberal scholars are about all the general public ever sees on broadcast television.  Therefore, if you wonder why these scholars phrase things and frame things the way they do, recognize that they have to coexist with their antagonistic academic colleagues.  Being a believer and a biblical scholar is almost as difficult a professional life as being a believer and a scientist.

The following breakdown of the documentary is taken from the film’s website.  Because the film lasts 2:14:34, I have inserted the starting point and duration time for each section so that you can go directly to a particular section that interests you more.  I also add some short commentary where I thought it might be helpful.  The film begins with a minute-and-a-half segment in which scholar Richard Bauckham lays out the false dichotomy which the film will dispel: that “the Christ of faith” is somehow different from “the Jesus of history.”  Bauckham seeks to replace both with the term “the Jesus of Testimony” – hence the name of the film.  From the film’s website:

A feature length film exploring the evidence for Jesus’ existence and the reliability of the New Testament gospels.

In Part 1: Lord or Legend [starts at 0:01:30; lasts 0:17:50], the historicity of Jesus Christ is demonstrated by the important non-Christian historical sources that are available to us today.  [The documentary starts not with the Bible, but with the evidence outside the Bible.  This makes a great beginning to the historical case.]

Part 2: Are the Gospels Reliable? [starts at 0:19:20; lasts 0:41:00] examines the historical reliability of the Gospels as eyewitness testimony to the life of Jesus.  [This is the longest section, but the length is very appropriate and everything here is meaty.  You could actually divide this segment into two sections: the history of the Gospels through oral tradition and the history of the Gospel texts.  Both sections are worthy of the time they are given.  The focus on oral transmission of the life and teachings of Jesus lasts until 0:42:57, which is 23:37 into the segment – the remaining 17:23  is given over to the discussion about written transmission of that information.  The reasons for believing what the Gospels tell us – rooted in both a strong oral culture of the 1st Century and an exceedingly abundant chain of textual evidence since then – are quite strong.  To the point of the film, the testimony of Jesus is substantial; there is no valid reason to see a conflict between the Jesus of history and the Christ of faith.]

Part 3: Miracles [starts at 1:00:20; lasts 0:18:18] provides strong evidence that miracles happen today and happened in history.  [This segment could have been longer considering the fact that Craig Keener has published extensive research on miracles both ancient and modern.]

In Part 4: The Testimony of Prophecy [starts at 1:18:38; last 0:14:56], many of the Old Testament messianic prophecies are quoted along with their New Testament fulfillments which establish a solid confirmation of Jesus’ credentials as the Messiah.  [There were good graphics of the relevant Scriptures in this segment – that is, Old Testament prophecies matched with New Testament fulfillments.  However, they are not matched to the audio and so it’s hard to follow what’s written and what’s spoken at the same time.  Michael Brown – a Jewish believer and scholar – is used very effectively in this segment.]

In Part 5: The Resurrection – Fact or Fiction? [starts at 1:33:34; lasts 27:29] the case is presented for the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.  [The scholars talk a lot about crucifixion as well as resurrection; problems because of the Quran which says Jesus never really died.  Gary Habermas and Mike Licona have devoted practically their entire careers to establishing the evidence for Christ’s resurrection, so they make this segment particularly strong.]

Finally, Part 6: The Good News [starts at 2:01:03; lasts 0:11:57] concludes that the portrayal of Jesus in the Gospels, dependent on eyewitness testimony, is more plausible than the alternative hypotheses of its modern detractors and presents the Jesus’ message of the Gospel.  [Some of the scholars speak quite personally in this short section.  The music is helpful, and the effect is appropriately uplifting.]

Credits [start at 2:13:00; lasts 00:01:34]

As I’ve said, if you don’t enjoy listening to scholars talk, you could find the film quite tedious.  That said, the 11 scholars participating in the project bring great content to the screen.  I have read most of them in the past and recommend their work.  Moreover, the directors add useful narration and helpful graphics at key points.  Here are the scholars interviewed:

Richard Bauckham – New Testament scholar, author, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony

Craig Blomberg – New Testament scholar, author, The Historical Reliability of the Gospels

Greg Boyd – pastor of Woodland Hills Church, author, The Jesus Legend: A Case for the Historical Reliability of the Synoptic Jesus Tradition [co-author with Paul Eddy, listed below]

Michael Brown – PhD in Near Eastern Languages and Literatures, author, Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus : Volume 3: Messianic Prophecy Objections [This is but one of five books in a series on Jewish objections; Brown is a Jew]

Paul Eddy – PhD from Marquette University, author, The Jesus Legend: A Case for the Historical Reliability of the Synoptic Jesus Tradition [co-author with Greg Boyd, listed above]

Steve Gregg – Bible teacher, radio talk show host, The Narrow Path

Gary Habermas – PhD in History and Philosophy of Religion, author, The Historical Jesus: Ancient Evidence for the Life of Christ

Craig Keener – PhD in New Testament and Christian Origins, author, Miracles: The Credibility of the New Testament Accounts

Michael Licona – PhD in New Testament Studies, author, The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach

Dan Wallace – PhD in New Testament Studies, Executive Director of the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts

Ben Witherington – PhD from University of Durham, England, author, The Jesus Quest

More detail on each of these scholars can be found on the About page of the documentary’s website.

The Jesus of Testimony website (which includes the full documentary, available for online viewing without cost)

The Jesus of Testimony FaceBook page

ht: The Poached Egg (Ratio Christi)

Whatever Became of the “Jesus Manifesto” Essay?

In June of 2009, successful and prolific Christian authors Leonard (Len) Sweet and Frank Viola published a 2,400-word essay on the Internet that they titled A Jesus Manifesto.  Their fuller title was:

A Magna Carta for Restoring the Supremacy of Jesus Christ

a.k.a.

A Jesus Manifesto for the 21st Century Church

A copy of the original essay is not easy to find (and I’ll say more about that in a bit), but here is a copy of it on Frank Viola’s blog, here is a copy of it [Editorial note 12/24/14: link no longer working; doesn’t appear anywhere on Sweet’s blog though he does list it in his biography] on Leonard Sweet’s blog,  and here is a copy of it as it appeared on June 25, 2009).  (I assume all these copies are identical, but I’m including them all to reduce the risk that it will be lost.)  It will take you about 10 minutes to read the entire essay (and I encourage you to do so), but here are some quotes from it to quickly give you a sense of its message and tone:

Christians have made the gospel about so many things . . . things other than Christ.

What is Christianity? It is Christ. Nothing more. Nothing less. Christianity is not an ideology. Christianity is not a philosophy. Christianity is the “good news” that Beauty, Truth and Goodness are found in a person. Biblical community is founded and found on the connection to that person.

We believe that the major disease of the church today is JDD: Jesus Deficit Disorder. The person of Jesus is increasingly politically incorrect, and is being replaced by the language of “justice,” “the kingdom of God,” “values,” and “leadership principles.”

This essay was a clarion call to repentance and faith in Christ, and received half a million views in just eight weeks.  This call was issued not to unbelievers, but to believers.  This September 2009 interview of the authors by seasoned Christian radio host and seminary professor Steve Brown (32:27) shows that indeed their experience was that of prophets delivering a message of truth to a people whose hearts had been hardened.

The authors came out with a book with the same name in 2010.  The original online essay, which had received the half a million views in its first eight weeks, has been replaced by the book’s website.  This new website is essentially a marketing vehicle for the book, including a press kit with suggested interview questions and advertisements for other books by the authors.  The FaceBook page, mentioned in the radio interview, has been taken down.  It appears that all interested traffic is being directed to the new book website.

The original essay seemed to stir many hearts and provoke genuine repentance.  What happened to that spirit?  Where has it gone?

The book received some glowing reviews on Amazon, but if you go to Len’s or Frank’s websites, it seems to just be another of the books they have written.

Do I object to their earning royalties from their books?  No.  What I’m wondering is what has become of the great spontaneous response that the original essay seemed to provoke?  What caused the transition from incendiary tract to tame book?

P.S. A similar dynamic can be seen in the YouTube video “Why I Hate Religion, but Love Jesus.”

Evolution is Most Certainly a Matter of Belief — and So is Christianity by Albert Mohler

This article opens:

One of the most misleading headlines imaginable recently appeared over an opinion column published in USA Today. Tom Krattenmaker, a member of the paper’s Board of Contributors, set out to argue that there is no essential conflict between evolution and religious belief because the two are dealing with completely separate modes of knowing. Evolution, he argued, is simply “settled science” that requires no belief. Religion, on the other hand, is a faith system that is based in a totally different way of knowing — a form of knowing that requires belief and faith.

The background to the column is the recent data released by the Pew Research Center indicating that vast millions of Americans still reject evolution. As the Pew research documents, the rejection of evolution has actually increased in certain cohorts of the population. Almost six of ten who identify as Republicans now reject evolution, but so do a third of Democrats. Among evangelical Christians, 64% indicate a rejection of evolution, especially as an explanation for human origins. Krattenmaker is among those who see this as a great national embarrassment — and as a crisis.

See the full article (1,200 words) at AlbertMohler.com.

List of Blogs on Which I No Longer Comment

I like to engage with others about the gospel of Christ.  However, not all bloggers are receptive to challenge.  This includes their followers as well.

No matter how respectful I have been, my presence has caused consternation on a number of blogs.  What follows is a list of blogs on which I no longer comment.  In some cases, it’s because I have literally been banned.  That is, in a few cases the bloggers have set their blogs to reject any comment that comes from me.  In other cases, I have left by mutual agreement with the blogger.  And in most other cases, I have decided to leave on my own before thing got too heated and because no good was being accomplished by my continued participation.  The Lord doesn’t like strife or quarreling.

This is an incomplete list, to which I will add over time.  They are in chronological order (i.e., most recent disengagement last).

Debunking Christianity (John Loftus)  –  John is a former Christian who became an atheist.  He was the first blogger to delete my comments, which was a good lesson for me not to invest too much time in writing on the blogs of others.  I wrote an open letter to John around that time.

Pyromaniacs (Phil Johnson, Dan Phillips, and Frank Turk)  – I don’t recall the specific issue here.

Zwinglius Redivivus (Jim West)  –  Jim moderates his comments, ones he doesn’t like never see the light of day.

Unsettled Christianity (Joel Watts)  –  The issue here was the authority of the Bible – that is, whether or not it is circular reasoning to say that the Bible is the word of God.

Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth (Nick Norelli)  –  The issue here was Christ versus the Trinity.

Near Emmaus (Brian LePort)  – I don’t recall the issue in dispute here.

Challies.com  (Tim Challies)  –  This is one of blogs that won’t allow me to comment.  No explanation or warning was given.  One day the comment system starting saying I wasn’t approved to comment.  I think the issue here was my belief that everyone is going to heaven.

Slacktivist (Fred Clark)  –  The issue here was homosexuality and marriage.  Fred never participated in the comments but those who did were vehemently supportive of homosexuality and homosexual marriage.  They were quite upset with my point of view.

Jesus Creed (Scot McKnight)  – The comment mechanism will no longer accept comments from me.  The issue here was my questions about evolution.

Formerly Fundie (Benjamin Corey)  –  Like Exploring Our Matrix below and Slacktivist above, this is a progressive Christian blog.  I think issues here were two: evolution and “gay marriage.”

Rethinking Biblical Christianity (Peter Enns)  –  I think Peter still identifies as an Evangelical Christian.  I sought to understand his biblical support for believing in evolution, but he did not want to talk about it.  As with James McGrath’s blog, commenters seemed to be uniformly sold on evolution and suspicious or hostile to anyone who isn’t.

Exploring Our Matrix (James McGrath)  –  [left Jan 2014] James self-identifies as a Progressive Christian.  I tried to engage James and others on the subject of evolution.  It was very hard to get fruitful interaction.  Other commenters generally regarded anyone who did not accept evolution as willfully obtuse.

God of Evolution and TylerJFrancke.com (Tyler Francke) – [left Feb 2014] Tyler is a Christian who writes in favor of evolution.  Like James McGrath, he seemed to spend most of his time mocking Ken Ham and YEC’s.  I asked him for biblical and logical arguments to support his position…but didn’t get very far.