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The Gospel and the Greeks

DownloadedFileThe books of the Bible were written within a specific context, at a specific time, in common language.  The New Testament was written in Koine (common) greek language, to a people under Roman Rule, living in a hellenized/greek culture.  Ronald H. Nash wrote his book, The Gospel and the Greeks, to look at whether the Bible (the New Testament in particular) depended upon the culture for its composition.  Nash looked at the influence of Greek philosophy, the influence of mystery religions, and the presence of gnosticism in the New Testament.  Nash completely demolishes the hypothesis that the New Testament is any way syncretistic literature and dependent upon greek thought.

One major area of strength in his book was the delineation he makes between dependence, influence, and contemporaneous (my word not his).  Nash is  quick to point out that just because an author may have been familiar with an idea or notion, does not mean that it effected the ideals of the autor.  In the same voice, just because an author uses similar language as a mystery religion or philosopher, does not indicate that he was dependent upon the teaching or understanding of the culture.  Nash takes great care to show that common language does not prove dependence.

Nash also takes initiative to point out that most of the similarities found in philosophy and other religions and Christianity are either misunderstands or oversimplification.  Whether it is the cult of Mithras, Isis and Osiris from Egypt, or other ancient supposed “resurrection” stories, Nash patiently and deliberatly points out the oversimplifications and the problems contained within the similarities of the accounts.  In the same way, Nash deals with the supposed dependence of Christianity on the sacraments (the Lord’s supper and Baptism) of the mystery religions.  He thoroughly debunks these as well.

His largest argument for the independence of the NT from the philosophies and religions of the ANE is chronology.  For most of the religions of the ANE, the forms  , the beliefs, and the teachings and sacraments, come from the 3rd or 4th century.  Most would argue that at the time of the writing of the NT these religions and philosophies were taught and lived out much differently.  Nash takes great pains to show that these thoughts were actually dependent upon the teachings of the NT to form their own beliefs.

This book was a great read; however, a basic understanding of philosophy would have been helpful in understanding some of Nash’s arguments.  But all in all I really enjoyed this book.  It was a through demolishing of biblical dependence on pagan religion and philosophy.

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The Language of God

DownloadedFileThree dollars and my expectations were too high for this book.  Francis Collins, the head of the Human Genome Project, did not write his book The Language of God about his work on the Human Genome Project.  I purchased this book with the expectations of reading about Collin’s work on sequencing of the base pairs that make up our DNA.  I thought it would be a treatise on research and methodology in an effort to understand the stuff that we are made up of.

Collins book instead was his attempt to answer a few apologetic questions (Why Suffering?; The Harm of Religion; and why all the religions?).  This chapter of the book brought nothing new to the table in apologetics, however; his story of personal faith was very interesting.

In the second section Collins makes the case for God as the speaker of the Big Bang (I see no problem here) but evolution as the method by which God brought life into its current state (a huge problem).  Collins throws his hat in (actually he started the foundation) with fellow Old Testament guru Peter Enns.  Enns, in the same way, denied the literal Adam and argues for evolution as the method of God’s action in this world.

Finally, the last section of the book is a critique of Creationism, both young and old, Atheism and its untenable premesis’ and the Intelligent Design movement.  It is fairly easy to deduce that he has no need for any of these ideas and that they are all left wanting.  He argues for BioLogos (life through speech), essentially that God ordered evolution to accomplish his purposes.  Theistic evolution…from a book I had high hopes for.

Collins book includes little scientific research and even less application of scientific methods.  It is more of a history of the interaction between science and faith.  His interpretative methods need more fleshing out, his stance on Genesis 1-2 needs more explanation, and though he claims Biologos is different from theistic evolution, he does little to differentiate them.

4/10

A No-Win for the Education System

The public education system is in a no-win situation.  When it comes to funding, IEP’s, taxes, free and reduced lunch, athletics, and almost every other thing that schools are involved in, everybody in America has an opinion.  I guess that’s part of the reason its called “public” education.

So imagine my surprise when I find that the public education system is both killing God and keeping Him alive at the same time.  Jeff Schweitzer, in his book Beyond Cosmic Dice: Moral Life in a Random World, argues:

“The one remaining god is indeed vulnerable, but is shielded from scrutiny by a failed educational system incapable of teaching students even rudimentary knowledge about their world.  As a consequence, we are left with a  sad “god of the gaps….Education is this god’s nemesis and greatest threat…Only our failure in education, leading to scientific illiteracy in the general population, allows this god to survive.” (113-4)

Schweitzer was an administrator in the White House during the Clinton administration, advised Gore on science and technology and served to coordinate the U.S. governments international science and technology cooperation.  He is a man who has been around science and education for his entire life.  His premise, that God is credited for what science cant explain, is propagating God because of an education system that is not coming to answers in study quick enough.  He claims, God is still around because we have not gained enough and taught enough knowledge to render Him obsolete.  He blames education for God.

While in ministry I was given a different opinion.  According to many conservative Christians, public school was killing God.  It was almost as if the Public school was villanized by many in the Christian community.  The 1962 ruling eliminating public prayer in schools is the decision often referred too.  Then the stats start flying: teen pregnancy up, std’s up, SAT’s down, single-parent households up, divorce rates up, violent crimes up, and alcholism up…all after 1962.  The reason, the public education system is killing God, a system that teaches evolution, sex-ed, tolerance, ancient myths, and PE.  I have heard radio stations, read blogs, books, magazines, and heard parents discuss what’s wrong with the education system and every time it comes back to: they are killing God.  For many that is the purpose of homeschooling or Christian schooling.

The point is not to argue with anyone about these things, nor to run down one side or the other, but simply point out how the two sides see things differently.  The scientific community is blaming the schools for keeping God on life support and the Christian community is claiming the school is killing Him.  According to academics, the education system is failing…according to much of the evangelical community, the education system is failing.  It truly is a no win situation.

St. Paul the Traveler and Roman Citizen

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Most books are meant to be read from start to finish. Others are works of reference. Kregel Publications has delivered to us one of those rare books that is both. The classic work of William M. Ramsay, St. Paul the Traveler and Roman Citizen edited by Mark Wilson was re-released by Kregel in 2001. This modern edition complements the original text with color, charts, indexes, and maps.

There are few authors that match the intellectual genius of the late Oxford professor of Archeology, Sir William Ramsay (1851-1939). In his book St. Paul the Traveler and Roman Citizen, Ramsay unpacks the life of Paul in meticulous detail. Ramsay begins his great work with the following introduction,

The aim of our work is to treat its subject as a department of history and literature. Christianity was not merely a religion but also a system of life and action; and its introduction by Paul amid the society of the Roman Empire produced changes of momentous consequence, which the historian must study.

When you open up this book to read – make sure your Bible is close by. As I read it I began to understand how rich the biblical text really is, especially the writings of Luke. The details that he gives, or in some cases leaves out, tells us much about the life of Paul and the spread of Christianity throughout the Roman Empire. The book is laid out to follow the chronological life of Paul through the text of the book of Acts and his own letters.

One of my favorite sections of the book gives a clear and plausible understanding of Luke’s usage of the names Saul and Paul to describe the man who met Jesus on the road to Damascus. I won’t spoil the excitement of discovery – you will have to read it for yourself.

The chapter titled The Apostolic Council was most informative. Ramsay describes in great detail with razor sharp distinctions the events leading up to the Jerusalem Council and how the account in Acts 15 is enlightened by Paul’s writing in Galatians 2. Ramsay’s meticulous interaction with the biblical text produces a grand story of how the events unfolded.

The magnificent work of Ramsay has answered many critics of Doctor Luke and the accuracy of his writings. Once a skeptic himself, Ramsay writes this,

Luke is a historian of the first rank; not merely are his statements of fact trustworthy…this author should be placed along with the very greatest historians.

If you are looking for a book that reads like a fast paced novel, this is not it. I was only able to read a few pages at each sitting for two reasons. One, I’m a slow reader. Two, the detail and depth Ramsay packs into each sentence is quite astonishing. If you use this book as only a reference you will certainly be rewarded. But if you also take the time to plow through it, it will change the way you look and understand the text of Scripture. A seminary professor of mine would often refer to books of high importance that any serious student of the Bible and Christianity should read. My friend and nicknamed those books, the uninformed-until-you-read-list. St. Paul the Traveler and Roman Citizen is one of those books.

Tactics

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Tactics: A Game Plan for Discussing Your Christian Convictions

Gregory Koukl is an adjunct professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University and founder of a ministry called Stand to Reason, who has written this book on different ways to engage unbelievers in pointed conversations in order to share the gospel.  Tactics isn’t a difficult read, though at times his conversational style (when he is recounting an apologetical conversation) can be difficult to follow.  Conversations are usually fairly difficult to keep simple and communicate well.  Every chapter, however, contains a simple “what we learned” section that rehashes all the major teaching from the section.  Overall his stories, points, and teaching comes across as well outlined and easy to comprehend.

Koukl begins the book (chapters 1-2) with a standard for apologetically charged engagements.  He prefers to steer the conversation (getting in the “drivers-seat”) by using tactics to expose the faulty thinking of the other person. The goal of every conversation is civility and leaving them with something to think about.  We might not always get to the cross in every conversation but Koukl likens our discussions to putting a stone in their shoe; giving them something to ponder.  His first chapter is all about assuaging our reservations about sharing the gospel and arguing for our faith.

The rest of Part 1 (chap 3-6) involves the utilization of a method he calls Columbo (after an old TV show apparently).  According to Koukl, this method of questioning puts us in command of the conversation by asking your foe for more information.  The question “what do you mean by that?” challenges them to make more clear their position.  The second question of the Columbo tactic (chap 4) places the burden of proof, the “responsibility someone has to defend or give evidence for his view.” (59)  The question: “how did you come to that conclusion?” and other similar questions, places the burden of proof on the one making the claim (not on you the one asking).  The third part of the Columbo tactic (chap 5) asks the question: “have you considered…” as a leading question to steer the conversation into an alternative theory.  This is the goal of Columbo, to show the weaknesses in the opposing argument and provide the opportunity for your to posit yours.  Koukl reminds us that interactions are to be learned from and that after every conversation it pays off to rewind the tape (chap 6).

The second section (chaps 7-14) of his book is about finding the logical flaws in arguments.  Whether its formal suicide, self-refuting arguments like “all English statements are false!” (chap 7), or practical suicide, where the issue is not logic but practicality, like “it’s wrong to say people are wrong.” (chap 8)  He provides two more types of conversational suicide called “sibling rivalry” and “infanticide” which has the same results. (chap 9)  Koukl then channels his inner Francis Schaffer, showing how “taking the roof off” (reductio ad absurdum) is simply taking the opposing argument for a joy ride to see where you end up logically. (chapter 10)  Schaffer had a great saying, “Regardless of a mans system (worldview), he still has to live in God’s world” meaning that sometimes men hang onto false understandings or beliefs, but ultimately reality exposes it.  His last few chapters, Koukl spends time helping us defend against people who would run us over (steamrollers [chap 11]), inauthentic authority (Rhodes Scholars [chap 12]), or skew facts (just the facts Ma’am [chap 13]).  Each chapter is spent explaining how to see through or deflect mismanaged research and false fronts.  In the final chapter, Koukl argues that the best plan, tactic for apologetics is preparation.  The marines have a saying “the more you sweat in training the less you bleed in battle.” (189)  Koukl takes this to apologetics encouraging us to be proactive in study, diligent in preparation, and to be practiced in experience.  He gives 8 things to remember when engaging in discussions, 7 of which I agree with.  I struggle with his 3 point of not using Christian language in apologetic conversations.  Terms like “discipleship”, “saved”, or “believing in Jesus” should be avoided in these engagements.  The problem is that these are the most precise words…maybe we just need to define them better.

Overall, this was a great book that challenges and equips its readers to have purposeful conversations that can start with a 10 second window.(43)  If you want to be prepared to defend your faith, go on the offensive by asking the right questions, and be able to engage opposing worldviews, this is the perfect book to read.