Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Arguing For Miracles

Than Christopoulos recently hosted a video discussing miracles, with Caleb Jackson and David Pallmann. They make many good points. Caleb has done a lot of good work on the subject and has a book about it coming out soon.

Sunday, January 23, 2022

Rewriting History Is Harder And Rarer Than Often Suggested

Late last year, I discussed Stephen Carlson's recent book on Papias. Among other things, the book documents several dozen passages about Papias in various historical sources, spanning about 1500 years. You notice some recurring themes as you read through those passages. One of them is the widespread opposition to premillennialism during most of those centuries. Over and over, there are negative comments about the premillennialism of Papias and some other sources (Irenaeus, Tertullian, etc.). Notice not only that so many documents and fragments of documents advocating premillennialism were preserved for so long, but also that even the opponents of premillennialism kept discussing the subject, acknowledging the belief's existence and the fact that early sources like Papias and Irenaeus advocated it, etc. We see the same kind of thing in other contexts, such as later sources acknowledging that an early form of church government was different than what developed later. That doesn't go well with the notion that the early Christians had the ability and the will to rewrite history to the extent that skeptical hypotheses often require.

Another approach to take toward this issue is to think in terms of the differing circumstances of individuals within groups. If thousands or millions of people across countries and continents were opposed to something (Papias' premillennialism, a claim about the authorship of a certain book, a passage contained in a book considered scripture, or whatever), how likely is it that all of those individuals would simultaneously have sufficient motivation and opportunity to do something like destroy copies of a document or change its text? People range across a spectrum in terms of their interests, moral standards, how much risk they're willing to take in a given situation, their health, the responsibilities they have, etc. The fact that two people oppose something like the premillennial beliefs of Papias doesn't prove that both would be willing to do something to suppress what Papias said, that they'd both have sufficient opportunity to do so if they had that interest, that they'd agree on taking one approach toward the situation rather than another (e.g., destroying copies of Papias' writings rather than changing the text of those documents), and so on. Critics of Christianity often put forward hypotheses that would require an inordinately large amount of coordination among the people involved. The fact that people are sometimes dishonest, for example, doesn't justify a hypothesis involving a far larger degree of dishonesty than we typically see. If skeptics are going to increase the number and variety of people involved in that sort of activity, they need to increase their argumentation accordingly. It's one thing to forge a document written to an individual on one occasion, such as a letter from Paul to Philemon. It's something else to forge multiple documents written to a much larger number of people on multiple occasions, such as two letters of Paul to the Corinthians. It's one thing to speculate that one or two of the individuals who allegedly saw Jesus after he rose from the dead were hallucinating. It's something else to suggest that most or all of the witnesses were hallucinating. We have to make these distinctions.

Thursday, January 20, 2022

You Make Your Burden Heavy By Struggling Under It

"Your own discontent is that which arms your troubles with a sting; you make your burden heavy by struggling under it. Did you but lie quietly under the hand of God, your condition would be much more easy than it is. 'Impatience in the sick occasions severity in the physician.' This makes God afflict the more, as a father a stubborn child that receives not correction. Beside, it unfits the soul to pray over its troubles, or receive the sense of that good which God intends by them. Affliction is a pill, which, being wrapt up in patience and quiet submission, may be easily swallowed; but discontent chews the pill, and so embitters the soul. God throws away some comfort which he saw would hurt you, and you will throw away your peace after it; he shoots an arrow which sticks in your clothes, and was never intended to hurt, but only to drive you from sin, and you will thrust it deeper, to the piercing of your very heart, by despondency and discontent." (John Flavel, Keeping The Heart [Great Britain: Christian Focus Publications, 2019], 46-47)

Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Updated Recommendations For Bible Study Resources

Denver Seminary recently posted a 2022 update to their bibliographies for the Old Testament and the New Testament. See here for Steve Hays' bibliography, which he updated shortly before his death in 2020.

Sunday, January 16, 2022

How Much The Author Of Luke Is Identified

Modern critics of Christianity make a big issue of the supposed anonymity of the gospels. The weakness of that objection should be evident to anybody who's looked closely at the narrow sense in which anonymity is being appealed to and how much the gospel authors were identified outside of that narrow context. The third gospel provides a good example.

The author isn't named anywhere in the main body of the text in Luke or Acts. The obvious question that follows is: So what? As I've discussed before, there are many reasons to think the author was named in other contexts early on, sometimes from the start. And we can learn a lot about the author even from the main body of the text. He isn't named there, but he is described there and acts there. We can discern a lot about his knowledge, interests, and so forth from his writings, and he refers to himself as somebody who was a travel companion of Paul and had met James, a member of Jesus' immediate family, for example. We know of particular occasions on which he was with such individuals, many details about significant events he experienced, etc. I'm just summarizing here. The amount of information we can gather from all of these contexts (mentioned here and in the post linked above) is large. The fact that the author isn't named within the main body of the text doesn't have much significance.

Thursday, January 13, 2022

Making Excuses For Neglecting Activities Like Evangelism And Apologetics

We often hear comments like the following offered as an alternative to doing something like evangelism or apologetic work:

"Just let Christ's light shine through you."

"Preach the gospel. Use words if necessary."

"People won't care how much you know until they know how much you care."

"You can't argue people into the kingdom."

Greg Koukl and a caller on his podcast recently made some good comments in response to such sentiments. Start listening at 30:12 here.

People aren't always persuaded by means of reason and evidence, but that is one of the means by which people are persuaded, it's a major means, it's superior to other means in some significant ways, and Christians have a standing obligation to frequently make use of it. For further discussion of such issues, see my post here on the significance of apologetics, including in converting people to Christianity. The post also discusses the significance of apologetics in contexts other than conversion. For some examples of the involvement of apologetics in converting people, see here and here.

When I hear the claim that you can't argue people into the kingdom, I respond by citing the example of Paul arguing people into the kingdom in Acts 19:8. The assertion that you can't argue people into the kingdom is ambiguous enough that it can be reconciled with a passage like Acts 19:8, if you interpret the phrase that you can't argue people into the kingdom in a certain way, but how many of the individuals making such comments have that sort of interpretation in mind? In my experience, it's commonplace for individuals who say that you can't argue people into the kingdom to have little or no involvement in the sort of work Paul did in Acts 19 and to show little or no interest in seeing others do that sort of work. If you're just making the point that we're dependent on the Holy Spirit in one or more ways when we try to persuade people, then what's the significance of making that point? How many people in the relevant contexts are unaware of that point or deny it? Jesus said that we can't do anything apart from him (John 15:5), that God provides us with food and clothing (Matthew 6:25-34), etc., but I don't see the people who keep saying that we can't argue anybody into the kingdom giving comparable attention to how we can't do housework without God's empowerment, can't work our jobs without him, can't pay our bills without him, etc. And they surely aren't as negligent about things like housework and paying bills as they are about apologetics. The same people who want to do little or nothing in apologetic contexts, waiting for the Holy Spirit to change people, don't take the same approach in other contexts, like the ones I just mentioned.

Part of what's going on is that people realize how much it will cost them, in terms of time, effort, reputation, relationships, and so forth, to do work like apologetics and evangelism. They don't want to pay that cost. They want a certain social standing, certain relationships, comforts, conveniences, and such that something like apologetics or evangelism would interfere with too much, at least if they did it beyond a low level. So, they're looking for excuses for their negligence. Another factor is a fear many people have of subjecting their beliefs to scrutiny. In some cases, people are dismissive of something like apologetics because of how poorly it's gone for them in the past. Instead of blaming the inadequacy of their past efforts, they act as though the problem is with apologetics in general. There are many Christians (and other people in contexts other than the ones I'm addressing here) who put forward far too little effort to persuade people about an issue, then act as if the problem must be that persuasion is too difficult or impossible. They stop after one or two rounds of a discussion, for example, as if we should expect disputes to easily be resolved after one or two (often token) efforts to resolve the controversy.

Tuesday, January 11, 2022

Jesus' Use Of Object Lessons

In her book on the historicity of the gospel of John, Lydia McGrew discusses how the gospels agree about Jesus' frequent use of object lessons (The Eye Of The Beholder [Tampa, Florida: DeWard Publishing, 2021], 393-95). He used the presence of his relatives (Matthew 12:49-50), bread (Matthew 16:5-12), children (Mark 9:35-37, 10:13-16), fishing (Luke 5:4-10), a well (John 4:7-14), a need for feet to be washed (John 13:1-17), etc. to illustrate points he wanted to make. Lydia concludes:

"This is what Paley means by a 'visible agreement of manner' in the teaching of Jesus throughout the Gospels. He points out further, '[N]othing of this manner is perceptible in the speeches recorded in the Acts, or in any other but those that are attributed to Christ….[I]n truth, it was a very unlikely manner for a forger or fabulist to attempt; and a manner very difficult for any writer to execute, if he had to supply all the materials, both the incidents, and the observations upon them, out of his own head.'" (395)

Sunday, January 09, 2022

A Happy God

"We have a happy God. And one thing that makes him happy is doing good to his people with all his heart and with all his soul. This is absolutely breathtaking. 'I will rejoice in doing them good...with all my heart and all my soul.' [Jeremiah 32:41]" (John Piper)

Friday, January 07, 2022

Skeptical Inconsistencies On The Historicity Of Christian Sources

"Harnack, Acts, 272: 'The agreement which in these numerous instances exists between the Acts (chaps. i.-xiv.) and the Pauline epistles, although the latter are only incidental writings belonging to the later years of the Apostle, is so extensive and so detailed as to exclude all wild hypotheses concerning those passages of the Acts that are without attestation in those epistles.' The logic is the same as arguments that a source unreliable where it can be checked should be assumed unreliable elsewhere (cf., e.g., Ehrman, Interrupted, 110, on Papias)." (Craig Keener, Acts: An Exegetical Commentary, Volume I [Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2012], n. 120 on 238)

Wednesday, January 05, 2022

Obstacle To Comfort

I recently mentioned a documentary on the history of the Bible hosted by Ken Connolly. He also hosted some other good documentaries. One of them was about George Muller, titled Obstacle To Comfort, but I don't think you can watch it online anywhere. (Please let me know if you ever find it online.) There are directions for ordering it at kenconnolly.org. I've seen used copies on Amazon.

"My chief object was the glory of God, by giving a practical demonstration as to what could be accomplished simply through the instrumentality of prayer and faith, in order thus to benefit the Church of Christ at large, and to lead a careless world to see the reality of the things of God, by showing them, in this work, that the Living God is still, as four thousand years ago, the Living God....That it may be seen how much one poor man, simply by trusting in God, can bring about by prayer; and that thus other children of God may be led to carry on the work of God in dependence upon Him, and that children of God may be led increasingly to trust in Him in their individual positions and circumstances" (George Muller, cited in Roger Steer, Delighted In God! [Wheaton, Illinois: Harold Shaw Publishers, 1981], 157-58)

Monday, January 03, 2022

Material On Patristics From Gavin Ortlund

Here's a discussion he recently had with an Anglican about apostolic succession. Here's a good discussion he had with Tony Costa that addresses a broad variety of patristic issues. And here and here are some Ortlund did on purgatory.

Saturday, January 01, 2022

Enfield Material At A University Of Cambridge Web Site

The University of Cambridge hosts an archive for the Society for Psychical Research (SPR). There are listings of the contents of that archive available online. Go here and run a search with the term "Enfield" to find some results that are relevant to the Enfield Poltergeist. The material is old in one sense, but new in another. It's archived material that's been around for a while, some of it for close to half a century. But some of it hasn't gotten much attention yet, as far as I know. For example, on the page here, we read the following about Cambridge's archived material related to Anita Gregory's doctoral thesis that discusses Enfield:

Thursday, December 30, 2021

New Books To Get In 2022

This is the second post in a series I started last year. I'll mention some books I'm looking forward to that are due out next year, and anybody who's interested can add their own books they're looking forward to in the comments section of the thread. You don't have to be expecting to agree with everything in the book or even most of what's in it. These are just new books, coming out next year, that you think are worth getting for whatever reason. And you don't have to be exhaustive. You can mention one, two, or however many you want. I'm hoping these posts will help us be more aware of what books are coming out and to make better plans about which books to get, which to read, in what order, and so on.

Gary Habermas recently mentioned that the first volume of his series on Jesus' resurrection could come out as early as December of 2022. Lydia McGrew has been working on a popular-level book on the evidence for the reliability of the gospels, which apparently will be titled Testimonies To The Truth. It might come out next year. Charles Hill has written a small book on the New Testament canon, for a popular audience, titled Who Chose The Books Of The New Testament?. If it's anywhere near as good as his Who Chose The Gospels? (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010), it will be well worth reading. The canon is a neglected topic, and it's good to see such a significant scholar writing a concise book on the topic for the general public. I also want to get a book I heard about from one of our commenters, Lucas, last year, Jonathan Bernier's Rethinking The Dates Of The New Testament. It was initially supposed to come out in 2021, but got delayed to next year.

Tuesday, December 28, 2021