Christian, don’t be surprised when you are accused of intolerance. It’s nothing new

1 Oct

From Michael Kruger:

In the midst of the high-octane cultural wars of the last five years–particularly the debate over homosexual marriage–evangelical Christians have been slapped with all sorts of pejorative labels.  Words such as “bigoted,” “arrogant,” “exclusive,” “dogmatic,” and “homophobic” are just a few.

But, there are probably two labels that stand out the most.  First, Christians are regularly regarded as intolerant.  Christians are not only regarded as intolerant religiously–because they affirm the words of Jesus that “no one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6)–but they are regarded as intolerant ethically, because they refuse to approve any and all behaviors as morally good.

Second, Christians are regularly (and ironically) regarded as haters.  Apparently, our modern world regards the act of telling someone they’re wrong as a form of hatred–it is a slight against mankind (of course, it is never explained how the charge does not apply equally in the other direction since those who make this charge are telling Christians they are wrong!; but we shall leave that issue unaddressed for the time being).

Needless to say, such a situation can be very discouraging to Christians in the modern day.  We might be tempted to despair and think that the church is entering into dark days.  But, a little historical perspective might be useful here.  Truth be told, this is not the first time Christians have received such labels.  Indeed, they were given to Christians from the very beginning.

Pliny the Younger: Christians are Intolerant

It is well known that in the Greco-Roman world there was a pantheon of gods. Every group had their own deities, and they were easily and naturally placed alongside other deities.  For the most part, no one objected to the existence of other gods.  It was a polytheistic world.

Of course, the earliest Christians were as monotheistic as their Jewish predecessors and quite unwilling to play along with the standard religious practices of Greco-Roman culture.  For Roman rulers trying to keep the peace, the Christian intolerance of other gods was a perennial frustration.

Pliny the Younger, Roman governor of Bythinia (writing c.111-113), expressed his own frustration over the fact that Christians would not “invoke the gods.”  In a letter to emperor Trajan, he lamented their “stubborness and unyielding obstinancy.” In other words, he was angry over their intolerance.

Why was Pliny so bothered by this?  Because the influence of the Christians had caused the pagan temples to be “deserted” and thus “very few purchasers could be found” for the sacrificial animals.

In other words, they were losing money.

To fix the problem, Pliny decided to force Christians to worship the pagan gods and curse Christ, and if they refused they were put to death.  He says, “As I am informed that people who are really Christians cannot possibly be made to do any of those things.

It is interesting to note that Pliny, while torturing these Christians, acknowledges their high moral standards: “[Christians] bind themselves by oath, not to some crime, but not to commit fraud, theft, or adultery, not falsify their trust, nor to refuse to return a trust when called upon to do so.”

Apparently, intolerance of the Roman gods is a enough of a reason to kill Christians, despite their holy lives.

Nero: Christians are Haters

In the late first-century, the Roman emperor Nero made himself famous for his persecution of Christians.   The Roman historian Tacitus tells us that under Nero,

Mockery of every sort was added to their [Christians'] death. Covered with the skins of beasts, they were torn by dogs and perished, or were nailed to crosses, or were doomed to the flames and burnt, to serve as a nightly illumination when daylight had expired.  Nero offered his gardens for the spectacle, as exhibiting a show in  the circus.

So what awful crimes did Christians commit to warrant such unthinkable torture?  Tacitus acknowledges that Christians weren’t really guilty of the trumped up charges of setting fire to the city.  Instead, he admits they were killed for “hatred against mankind.”

What had Christians done to warrant the charge of “haters”?  Again, they refused to condone the pantheon of gods, and religious practices that went along with them.

In sum, the stories of Pliny and Nero are both encouraging and frightening at the same time.  They are frightening because they sound eerily similar to the kind of language and accusations being used today against Christians.  But, instead of Christians being asked to pay homage to the Roman gods to prove their acceptability, they are now being asked to pay homage to the gods of tolerance or homosexual marriage or what have you.

At the same time, these stories are encouraging.  They remind us that this sort of persecution isn’t new.  Indeed, this persecution was not the end of Christianity, but was the beginning.  In the midst of it, the church grew, and thrived, and expanded.

As Christ said, “I will build my church.  And the gates of hell shall not stand against it” (Matt 16:18).

Belgic Confession: DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE CANONICAL AND APOCRYPHAL BOOKS

29 Sep

ARTICLE 6 – THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE CANONICAL AND APOCRYPHAL BOOKS

We distinguish these holy books from the apocryphal, namely, 3 and 4 Esdras, Tobit, Judith, Wisdom, Eccliasticus, Baruch, additions to Esther, the Prayer of Azariah and the Song of the Three Young Men in the Furnace, Susannah, Bel and the Dragon, the Prayer of Manasseh, and 1 and 2 Maccabees. The church may read and take instruction from these so far as they agree with the canonical books. They are, however, far from having such power and authority that we may confirm from their testimony any point of faith or of the Christian religion; much less may they be used to detract from the authority of the holy books.

- See more at: http://www.scripturezealot.com/belgic-confession/#sthash.DPSVpkTy.dpuf

A graphic depiction of the decline in marriage in America

26 Sep

It’s not talked about (wouldn’t be politically correct), though it is clearly the most important factor, predictor, of most social ills.  The decline in marriage is well depicted in these graphs (including the apathetic attitudes of Americans regarding the relevance of marriage for society).  If you wonder, what’s the big deal.  Someone recently asked me, what’s the big deal?  My answers:

Marriage is the single most important and basic institution in human society. As it goes, so goes the society. It is a “usual suspect” as a variable in nearly all personal, social, and economic outcomes. For instance, survey a prison, failing school, impoverished community, the unemployed, and you will find a common trend: low marital rates. When men and women don’t marry, things usually go bad (for them and society). It has a taming and tempering effect on men and a protecting securing effect on women, to say nothing of the benefits to children (which are overwhelmingly positive). You ask what the ‘natural state’ is of humankind. Ironically, from either a religious or social evolutionary perspective, as far as a well functioning ordered stable society goes, marriage is paramount.

If you think about it long enough, you’ll see for yourself.  Suppose men suddenly refused marriage, chose singleness, over the course of a year.  What do you think the result would be?  Do you think society would be collectively more mature, responsible, or more violent and idle?  And what about children?  What would they be like when fatherhood is extinct?  And what of women?  Would they be safer, more secure, stable, happy?  What would our prisons look like?  What would our schools look like?  What would our economy look like?  If the answer isn’t self-evident to you, perhaps you are committed more to an ideological dogma than sociological fact.

Alarming graphs from Pew:

Rising Share of Never-Married Adults, Growing Gender GapPublic Divided over Value of Marriage for SocietyNever-Married Women Want a Spouse with a Steady JobFor Young, Never-Married Women, the Pool of Employed Young Men Has ShrunkEducation and Marriage: Shifting Patterns for Women and MenThe Education Gap Between Never-Married Men and Women Has Widened over TimeRising Share of Never-Married Adults, Growing Race GapOne-in-Four of Today’s Young Adults May Never Marry

 

On the myth of the myth of Jesus Christ of Nazareth…

25 Sep

It is unfortunate that this even is an issue, since it is basically only an web craze (see for instance the the critically and historically un-acclaimed web ‘documentary’ zeitgeist), not a matter of debate among historians of ancient Egypt or early Christianity.  To be credible, it seems, it must be sensational only.  Such is the age in which we live, so…

From Greg Kokul

There is a reason the ancient historical accounts of the life of Jesus of Nazareth do not start with the phrase, “Once upon a time…” On the face of it, the authors did not appear to be writing fairytales for future generations, but rather detailed accounts of the extraordinary events in the life of a particular Jewish carpenter who actually changed the course of history.

The opening words of Luke’s account of Jesus’ life are especially clear on this point:

Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile an account of the things accomplished among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, it seemed fitting for me as well, having investigated everything carefully from the beginning, to write it out for you in consecutive order, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the exact truth about the things you have been taught.

In the days of Herod, king of Judea….

In John’s account we find two striking claims that bookend his record, the first found in Chapter 1 and the last in Chapter 20:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God….And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.

Many other [miraculous] signs Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book, but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.

Each of these ancient “biographies” of Jesus — along with the only other accounts that give any breadth of detail about the Nazarene (Matthew and Mark) — proceed in the same fashion.

First, the authors are clearly aware they are relating a remarkable story about a remark- able man who did remarkable things. Second, it is just as clear they were convinced the events in their accounts really happened. These were not sacred stories of netherworld gods and ethereal, supernatural heroes, but reports of actual historical events involving flesh and blood people with their feet firmly planted on terra firma.

The Gospel writers intended to report history, not mythology. Their accounts include the vivid detail of an observer who had witnessed the events personally, or a chronicler who had obtained the information from people who were actually there. Yet they are not merely reports, but arguments meant to persuade, citing evidence to prove their claims.

These facts on their own don’t make the accounts true, of course. But they do seem to place these writings in a class of ancient literature that doesn’t allow them to be dismissed for frivolous reasons. Yet this is exactly what has been happening.

“ONCE UPON A TIME…”

The internet is littered with allegations that the historical records of the life of Jesus of Nazareth are examples of a kind of religious plagiarism, a mere rehashing of dying-and-rising-god fictions of ancient mythology, a recycling of common details found in dozens of mystery religions in the ancient world around the time of Christ.

Simply Google Mithras, Dionysus, Osiris, Adonis, or Isis and you will be buried in an avalanche of “evidence” linking the divine teacher from Galilee with a host of characters allegedly manufactured from the same mythic material. The most well-known attempt is a flashy “documentary” called Zeitgeist — The Greatest Story Ever Sold that has gone viral on the web.

According to Zeitgeist, ancient hieroglyphics tell us this about the anthropomorphized Egyptian sun God, Horus:

Horus was born on December 25th of the virgin Isis, Mary. His birth was accompanied by a star in the east which, in turn, three kings followed to locate and adore the new-born savior. At the age of 12 he was a prodigal child teacher. At the age of 30 was baptized by a figure known as Adep, and thus began his ministry. Horus had 12 disciples who he traveled about with performing miracles such as healing the sick and walking on water. Horus was known by many gestural names such as “The Truth,” “The Light,” “God’s Anointed Son,” “The Good Shepherd,” “The Lamb of God,” and many others. After being betrayed by Typhon, Horus was crucified, buried for three days, and thus resurrected.

“Many other gods,” Zeitgeist claims, “are found to have the same mythological structure”:

• Attis (1200 B.C.) — Born of a virgin on December 25th, was crucified, was dead for three days and resurrected

• Krishna (900 B.C.) — Born of a virgin with a star in the east to signal his birth, performed miracles, died, and was resurrected

• Dionysus (500 B.C.) — Born of a virgin on December 25, performed miracles like turning water into wine, was referred to as “the King of Kings” and “God’s only begotten son,” died, and was resurrected

Mithras (1200 B.C.) — Born of a virgin on December 25, had 12 disciples, performed miracles, was dead for three days and resurrected, was known as “the Truth” and “The Life,” and was worshipped on Sunday

Osiris, the husband of Isis in the Egyptian pantheon, is another popular contender for a dying and resurrected god. The broad claim, simply put in the words of Sir Leigh Teabing in Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, is, “Nothing in Christianity is original.” This is a taxing topic because of the sheer volume of alleged comparisons advanced by skeptics. The process is complicated by the many variations of these ancients myths generated in their retelling. Books like Ronald Nash’s scholarly The Gospel and the Greeks or Lee Strobel’s popular work The Case for the Real Jesus spend time answering the particulars. In the interest of space, I want to advance a general response to this broad challenge to the reliability of the canonical accounts of Jesus’ life.

In general, the dispute entails a factual claim — certain mythical accounts that predate the Gospels contain elements matching the details of Jesus’ life — and a logical/literary claim — the existence of the older accounts proves that the account of Jesus is myth as well, being cobbled together with bits and pieces of these old stories.

There are at least three significant problems with this argument that should be enough to silence it forever. The first two speak to the factual claims. The last — and most decisive — addresses the logical assertion.

Read the rest

Is Orthodox Christology the same as Ancient Christology? Responding to Ehrman

24 Sep

From the Reformed Forum Podcast:

 

Drs. Michael J. Kruger and Charles E. Hill speak about a book to which Dr. Hill contributed, How God Became Jesus: The Real Origins of Belief in Jesus’ Divine Nature, a response to Bart D. Ehrman’s How Jesus Became God: The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee. The thesis of Dr. Ehrman’s book is that the doctrine of Jesus’ divinity was an early accretion onto the original truth of Jesus identity – neither Jesus nor Jesus’ disciples believed he was divine. How God Became Jesus is the first book-length response to Ehrman’s latest, and includes a contribution by Dr. Chuck Hill. Their thesis is that Jesus and his disciples rightly believed him to be divine, and that the later formulations of this doctrine reflected that early and accurate tradition.

Dr. Charles Hill is John R. Richardson Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity at Reformed Theological Seminary, Orlando, Florida. His most recent publications include Who Chose the Gospels? Probing the Great Gospel Conspiracy(Oxford University Press, 2010) and The Early Text of the New Testament (Oxford University Press, 2012), edited with Dr. Kruger. He contributed to How God Became Jesus, which also features contributions by Michael Bird, Craig Evans, Simon Gathercole, and Chris Tilling.

Dr. Michael Kruger is President and Professor of New Testament at Reformed Theological Seminary in Charlotte, NC. He received his Ph.D. from New College, The University of Edinburgh, Scotland. He is the author of Canon Revisited: Establishing the Origins and Authority of the New Testament Books (Crossway, 2012), The Early Text of the New Testament (Oxford, 2012; edited with Dr. Hill), and The Question of Canon (Intervarsity, 2013)

Feminism vs Truth – Christina Hoff Sommers

23 Sep

Belgic Confession: Authority of Holy Scripture

22 Sep

ARTICLE 5 – THE AUTHORITY OF HOLY SCRIPTURE

We receive1 all these books, and these only, as holy and canonical, for the regulation, foundation, and confirmation of our faith.2 We believe without any doubt all things contained in them, not so much because the church receives and approves them as such, but especially because the Holy Spirit witnesses in our hearts that they are from God,3 and also because they contain the evidence thereof in themselves; for, even the blind are able to perceive that the things foretold in them are being fulfilled.4

1. 1 Thes 2:13. 2. 2 Tim 3:16-17. 3. 1 Cor 12:3; 1 John 4:6, 1 John 5:7. 4. Deut 18:21-22; 1 Kings 22:28; Jer 28:9; Ezek 33:33.

- See more at: http://www.scripturezealot.com/belgic-confession/#sthash.ASmJRYLV.dpuf

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