What are the essentials to Christianity? Four criteria

“In Essentials, unity. In non-essentials, liberty. In all things, charity.” These are the words of obscure reformer Rupertus Meldenius (often wrongly attributed to others). They form somewhat of an Evangelical credo. Evangelicals have traditionally believed that there are certain doctrines that form the core of the Christian faith. They are called “cardinal doctrines.” They are what we might call the sine qua non—the “without which, not”—of the Christian faith. In other words, there are certain doctrines that when denied, by definition, evidence a person does not have the basic core beliefs that must be present to some degree in the truly regenerate.

Included in this credo is the belief that there are certain doctrines that are “non-essential” or “non-cardinal.” These are those that, while important to varying degrees, are not damnable in the proper sense. About these doctrines there can be legitimate disagreement within Christianity. We are to have liberty with regard to such doctrines. This means that we are not to properly or formally divide over them. We are to have grace.

This all sounds really nice. I have heard this touted from the Evangelical mountain-tops for quite some time. The difficulty always comes when we begin to discuss one key question: What are the essentials? Who decides? The Pope? Your local church pastor? The SBC? My private interpretation of the Scripture? Alas, with such a question, the divisions start all over.

In essentials, unity. Sounds nice, but impractical. Right?

I don’t think we have to be so pessimistic about this. I actually think that there are certain criteria that most thoughtful people can agree constitutes the foundation of our faith—the essentials. I have them narrowed to four in no certain order. It is important to note that I am persuaded that all four must be present for a doctrine to be considered essential.

1. Historicity: Does the doctrine have universal historical representation?

This first criteria is one of historical agreement. This is a form of “consensual faith” (consensus fidelium). This criteria of universal consensus follows the canon of Saint Vincent of Lérins (died c. 445): quod ubique, quod semper, quod ab omnibus, “that which was believed everywhere, always, by everyone.” In other words, an essential cannot be something new like the doctrine of the Rapture. Neither can it be something that has lacked historic unity by Christians across time like the perpetual virginity of Mary. As well, it cannot have limited geographic representation, like certain Eastern liturgy. The question here is, Have all Christians of all time everywhere believed it?

2. Explicitly Historical: Does the history of the church confess their centrality?

This is like the first but differs in an important way. Here we are saying that if the history of the church has not confessed this as a central issue, then it is not. For example, the history of the church may confess that the Christian worldview includes a firm confession of a belief in the historicity of the Flood narrative, but it has never been a part of the central teachings to the degree that a denial of such is a damnable offense. When combined with the first criteria, the exception cannot define the rule. The point here is that we take seriously God’s work in the history of the Church through the Holy Spirit. If the church has universally believed that a certain doctrine is both true and central to the Christian faith, that doctrine deserves serious consideration as being among the essentials.

3. Biblical Clarity (Perspicuity): Is the doctrine represented clearly in Scripture?

One of the principles that the Reformers sought to communicate is that of the perspicuity (clarity) of Scripture. The Reformers did not believe that all of the Scripture was clear (a misunderstanding of the doctrine of perspicuity), but that all that is essential for salvation is clear. In short, if something in Scripture is obscure, then it is not essential. Augustine even held to such a principle stating that one must not build doctrines on obscure passages (On Christian Doctrine). For example, one should not build essential doctrine on what the “keys to the kingdom of heaven” (Matt 16:19) are or what it means to be “baptized for the dead” (1 Cor. 15:29). Unfortunately, both the Catholics and the Mormons have done just that. If a passage is obscure, no essential doctrine can be derived from it.

4. Explicitly Biblical: Does any passage of Scripture explicitly teach that a certain doctrine is essential?

The Scriptures speak about a great many things, but they are often explicit regarding that which is of essential importance. For example, Paul says to the Corinthians, “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:3-4; emphasis mine). The “of first importance” tells us that Christ’s death and resurrection “for our sins,” from Paul’s perspective, are essential components of Christianity. Without such, according to Paul, there is no Christianity (1 Cor. 15:12ff). As well, the Gospel of John speaks about the importance of faith. “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son” (John 3:18).

Again, these four criteria, I propose, must all be present. I think I am committed to this. If one or more is lacking concerning a particular doctrine, I believe that it is not possible for one to legitimately argue for its core necessity. As well, all four feed off each other and are somewhat self-regulating. In other words, if someone doubts whether something is clear in Scripture, all he or she has to do is look to history.  If something is not clear in the Scripture, we will not find that it passes the test of historicity. This is why it is of vital importance that Christians not only be good exegetes, but also good historians.

Did Christianity borrow Easter from the Pagans?

Anyone encountering anti-Christian polemics will quickly come up against the accusation that a major festival practiced by Christians across the globe—namely, Easter—was actually borrowed or rather usurped from a pagan celebration. I often encounter this idea among Muslims who claim that later Christians compromised with paganism to dilute the original faith of Jesus.

The argument largely rests on the supposed pagan associations of the English and German names for the celebration (Easter in English and Ostern in German). It is important to note, however, that in most other European languages, the name for the Christian celebration is derived from the Greek word Pascha, which comes from pesach, the Hebrew word for Passover. Easter is the Christian Passover festival.

Of course, even if Christians did engage in contextualizationexpressing their message and worship in the language or forms of the local people—that in no way implies doctrinal compromise. Christians around the world have sought to redeem the local culture for Christ while purging it of practices antithetical to biblical norms. After all, Christians speak of “Good Friday,” but they are in no way honoring the worship of the Norse/Germanic queen of the gods Freya by doing so.

But, in fact, in the case of Easter the evidence suggests otherwise: that neither the commemoration of Christ’s death and resurrection nor its name are derived from paganism.

A celebration with ancient roots

The usual argument for the pagan origins of Easter is based on a comment made by the Venerable Bede (673-735), an English monk who wrote the first history of Christianity in England, and who is one of our main sources of knowledge about early Anglo-Saxon culture. In De temporum ratione (On the Reckoning of Time, c. 730), Bede wrote this:

In olden times the English people—for it did not seem fitting that I should speak of other nations’ observance of the year and yet be silent about my own nation’s—calculated their months according to the course of the Moon. Hence, after the manner of the Greeks and the Romans, [the months] take their name from the Moon, for the Moon is called mona and the month monath. The first month, which the Latins call January, is Giuli; February is called Solmonath; March Hrethmonath; April, Eosturmonath … Eosturmonath has a name which is now translated “Paschal month” and which was once called after a goddess of theirs named Eostre, in whose honour feasts were celebrated in that month. Now they designate that Paschal season by her name, calling the joys of the new rite by the time-honoured name of the old observance.

The first question, therefore, is whether the actual Christian celebration of Easter is derived from a pagan festival. This is easily answered. The Nordic/Germanic peoples (including the Anglo-Saxons) were comparative latecomers to Christianity. Pope Gregory I sent a missionary enterprise led by Augustine of Canterbury to the Anglo-Saxons in 596/7. The forcible conversion of the Saxons in Europe began under Charlemagne in 772. Hence, if “Easter” (i.e. the Christian Passover festival) was celebrated prior to those dates, any supposed pagan Anglo-Saxon festival of “Eostre” can have no significance. And there is, in fact, clear evidence that Christians celebrated an Easter/Passover festival by the second century, if not earlier. It follows that the Christian Easter/Passover celebration, which originated in the Mediterranean basin, was not influenced by any Germanic pagan festival.

What’s in a name?

The second question is whether the name of the holiday “Easter” comes from the blurring of the Christian celebration with the worship of a purported pagan fertility goddess named “Eostre” in English and Germanic cultures. There are several problems with the passage in Bede. In his book, The Stations of the Sun, Professor Ronald Hutton (a well-known historian of British paganism and occultism) critiques Bede’s sketchy knowledge of other pagan festivals, and argues that the same is true for the statement about Eostre: “It falls into a category of interpretations which Bede admitted to be his own, rather than generally agreed or proven fact.”

This leads us to the next problem: there is no evidence outside of Bede for the existence of this Anglo-Saxon goddess. There is no equivalent goddess in the Norse Eddas or in ancient Germanic paganism from continental Europe. Hutton suggests, therefore, that “the Anglo-Saxon Estor-monath simply meant ‘the month of opening’ or ‘the month of beginnings,’” and concludes that there is no evidence for a pre-Christian festival in the British Isles in March or April.

There is another objection to the claim that Eosturmonath has anything to do with a pagan goddess. Whereas Anglo-Saxon days were usually named after gods, such as Wednesday (“Woden’s day”), the names of their months were either calendrical, such as Giuli, meaning “wheel,” referring to the turn of the year; metereological-environmental, such as Solmónath (roughly February), meaning “Mud-Month”; or referred to actions taken in that period, such as Blótmónath (roughly November), meaning “Blood Month,” when animals were slaughtered. No other month was dedicated to a deity, with the exception (according to Bede) of Hrethmonath (roughly March), which he claims was named after the goddess Hrethe. But like Eostre, there is no other evidence for Hrethe, nor any equivalent in Germanic/Norse mythology.

Another problem with Bede’s explanation concerns the Saxons in continental Europe. Einhard (c. 775-840), the courtier and biographer of Charlemagne, tells us that among Charlemagne’s reforms was the renaming of the months. April was renamed Ostarmanoth. Charlemagne spoke a Germanic dialect, as did the Anglo-Saxons in Britain, although their vernacular was distinct. But why would Charlemagne change the old Roman title for the spring month to Ostarmanoth? Charlemagne was the scourge of Germanic paganism. He attacked the pagan Saxons and felled their great pillar Irminsul (after their god Irmin) in 772. He forcibly converted them to Christianity and savagely repressed them when they revolted because of this. It seems very unlikely, therefore, that Charlemagne would namea month after a Germanic goddess.

Spring holiday

So why, then, do English-speaking Christians call their holiday “Easter”?

One theory for the origin of the name is that the Latin phrase in albis (“in white”), which Christians used in reference to Easter week, found its way into Old High German aseostarum, or “dawn.” There is some evidence of early Germanic borrowing of Latin despite that fact that the Germanic peoples lived outside the Roman Empire—though the Angles, Saxons, and Jutes were far very removed from it. This theory presumes that the word only became current after the introduction of either Roman influence or the Christian faith, which is uncertain. But if accurate, it would demonstrate that the festival is not named after a pagan goddess.

Alternatively, as Hutton suggests, Eosturmonath simply meant “the month of opening,” which is comparable to the meaning of “April” in Latin. The names of both the Saxon and Latin months (which are calendrically similar) were related to spring, the season when the buds open.

So Christians in ancient Anglo-Saxon and Germanic areas called their Passover holiday what they did—doubtless colloquially at first—simply because it occurred around the time of Eosturmonath/Ostarmanoth. A contemporary analogy can be found in the way Americans sometimes refer to the December period as “the holidays” in connection with Christmas and Hanukkah, or the way people sometimes speak about something happening “around Christmas,” usually referring to the time at the turn of the year. The Christian title “Easter,” then, essentially reflects its general date in the calendar, rather than the Paschal festival having been re-named in honor of a supposed pagan deity.

Of course, the Christian commemoration of the Paschal festival rests not on the title of the celebration but on its content—namely, the remembrance of Christ’s death and resurrection. It is Christ’s conquest of sin, death, and Satan that gives us the right to wish everyone “Happy Easter!”

Detached from Reality: @drpenn

This entry is part 4 of 4 in the series Detached from Reality

There is much I could and may say in future posts regarding one of Dr. Caner’s most ardent blind defenders, Diana Penn. She is a student at Liberty University so she has a horse in this race and she’s made sure to “toe the party line” when it comes to slinging mud, lying, misunderstanding basic theology, misrepresenting basic theology, and just generally being unable (or unwilling?) to use logic and reason.

I was directed to her newest post that is entitled James White – Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus. Now, let me begin by just saying that Mrs. Penn has never interacted with a single piece of evidence against Dr. Caner. She refuses to. Instead, she’s just attacked the messengers which is, as we all know, totally Scriptural and the Christian thing to do. In this newest show of illogic, Mrs. Penn writes:

To claim that you have to expose a fraud (which has been debunked by the way – and I’m not arguing that with you) – in order for *you*to be a true servant of truth is ridiculous.

First off, what “debunk[ing]” is she referring to? Well she won’t say because she refuses to actually discuss the evidence proving Dr. Caner to be a liar. As she says “I’m not arguing that with you.” But I’m really confused how she thinks someone can be a “true servant of truth” and NOT exposes frauds like Dr. Caner when you learn of them. Would she rather us do what she does and just ignore the evidence and stick our heads in the sand? If you are aChristian and you are aware of another Christian publicly lying their pants off, you are commanded to bring that sin to light. Mrs. Penn would have you just sweep it under the rug and put a smile on your face. Apparently, she doesn’t understand what Scripture says on the issue.

Highlighting said ignorance Mrs. Penn then writes:

On whom are you basing your decision to serve; the actions of a mere fallible man??!!

Mrs. Penn doesn’t understand that “truth” is directly derived from the character of God. It is one of God’s attributes. Just read passages such as Deut. 32:4; Ps. 19:9; 33:4; John 8:31b-32; 17:17; 18:37-38; 2 Thess. 2:10-13 and you’ll quickly see that God is very much concerned for truth and that Christians are to be lovers of truth. Mrs. Penn would have us forsake such things and instead be lovers of lies.

Dr. Caner’s lies certainly led to the debacle that he and Liberty University are currently facing but that by no means makes the actions of truth-loving Christians based on Dr. Caner himself. That’s a non sequitur.

Mrs. Penn continues:

This is obviously the case, because in less than three months you have blogged 25,000+ words about the topic of a single man – Ergun Caner.

I’d like to know what the Bible says is the word limit that we are to abide by in matters such as this. Can Mrs. Penn show me? No, she cannot. Apparently she thinks that truth-seeking and ministerial honesty should be limited. To what she doesn’t say.

Your own time and countless words prove you place your ability to serve in the actions of a man, and NOT in the GOD you pretend to profess.

I don’t really know what this means and neither, I’d guess, does Mrs. Penn. Again, does she have some standard that we are to follow when it comes to exposing Christians who lie in the pulpit? Could she please direct me to the book, chapter, and verse where this is found?

Continuing, Mrs. Penn writes:

Serving in truth?   How about serving the One who said, “I am The Way, THE TRUTH, and The Life.”

For some unknown reason, Mrs. Penn believes its possible to serve Christ but not worry about truth. I don’t know how this works but invite her to regale us with such an explanation. Is it also possible to serve as a police officer but at the same time be committing crimes? Possible, sure. Would it count as a “true servant”, no. And you’d be fired upon being found out. Like Dr. Caner.

Mrs. Penn concludes with:

Jim – your consistency, your integrity, your service is *your* responsibility and it is not dependent on mere men, but on the God who empowers you to do and be as HE commands you.

Why she thinks that Dr. White ever claimed that these attributes of his ARE dependent of “mere men” is beyond me. Can she show us where Dr. White says such a thing? No, she cannot.

So again and again we see Dr. Caner’s defenders ignore truth, honesty, integrity, and commands of Scripture and instead engage is worldly attacks on fellow Christians. Mrs. Penn and the like will not engage in debate over the evidence proving Dr. Caner a liar as they know they can’t refute it so, instead, they just attack the messengers and show the world their ignorance. Liberty University’s classes on logic, philosophy, and ethics obviously need aMAJOR overhaul.

Detached from Reality: Dr. Norman L. Geisler

This entry is part 3 of 4 in the series Detached from Reality

There is really not much I can add to the responses already given by more than capable parties regarding Dr. Norman Geisler’s recent, shall we say, innefective “defense” of Dr. Ergun Caner. The following articles were written by both Dr. James R. White of Alpha & Omega Ministries and TurretinFan, a very capable believer who wishes their identity to remain anonymous. They were complied by The Squirrel and I thank him for doing so. It saved me a bit of time.

Dr. White has done a detailed 4 part analysis of Dr. Geisler’s statement in defense of Dr. Caner:

Of Joseph Smith and Ergun Caner (Part 1)
Of Joseph Smith and Ergun Caner (Part 2)
Of Joseph Smith and Ergun Caner (Part 3)
Of Joseph Smith and Ergun Caner (Part 4)

TurretinFan has also responded to Dr. Geisler in 3 parts:

Responding to Norman Geisler’s Defense of Ergun Caner – Part 1
Responding to Norman Geisler’s Defense of Ergun Caner – Part 2
Wrapping Up Geisler’s Defense of Caner

There is a lot of overlap between the articles but that’s to be expected. At the beginning of this post, I said that there wasn’t much I could add but there is something, albeit inconsequential to the grand scheme of things. In Dr. Geisler’s article, he lists a few, but by no means all or even the most pressing, of the accusations against Dr. Caner and then attempts to refute them. He writes at one point:

The Charges that He was not Turkish as He Claimed to be.–This stems from a confusion of his nationality and the country of his birth.  Ergun was born in Sweden, but he was a Turkish citizen.  According to Swedish law a child born in Sweden has the nationality of his father, and Ergun’s father was Turkish.  Indeed, he traveled to Turkey with his father to establish his Turkish citizenship.  When he came to America, he came as a Turkish citizen with a Turkish passport. (emphasis author)

This one caught my eye, specifically “According to Swedish law a child born in Sweden has the nationality of his father, and Ergun’s father was Turkish.” It interested me right off the bat because if you actually spend half-a-second thinking about it (unfortunately most of Dr. Caner’s defenders do not) you will quickly come to the same question that I had. That is, “By what authority does Sweden (or any country, for that matter) have the power to declare that because Dr. Caner’s father was Turkish then Dr. Caner is also Turkish?” You see, Country A does not have the power to assign citizenship to Country B upon a person. For example, the United States cannot make a law saying that all those born in the country with a Mexican citizen as their father are also Mexican citizens. That’s beyond the authority of the United States or any other country BUT Mexico. Only Mexico can give citizenship to their country. Not another country. The same is true for Sweden, according to Dr. Geisler, having the power to give Turkish citizenship to one born there. It just isn’t possible.

(NOTE: I am convinced that Dr. Caner provided Dr. Geisler with explanations regarding these accusations and, therefore, with Dr. Caner is where this “Swedish law says…” excuse comes from. Why? Because where else could Dr. Geisler get this explanation from? It had to come from Dr. Caner unless Dr. Geisler made up an explanation himself.)

This led me to do some research. I wanted to see if Sweden did, in fact, have a law that resembled what Dr. Geisler claims. My investigation came up with the following.

1. According to the Swedish Citizenship Act of 1950, Section I states “A child acquires Swedish citizenship by birth: 1. if the mother is a Swedish citizen…” (source: EUDO Citizenship PDF) Dr. Caner’s mother was, in fact, aSwedish citizen and, therefore, so was Dr. Caner.

2. Of the 50 different amendments, repeals, and introduction of new laws found HERE to the Swedish Citizenship Act, I have not found one single reference to anything remotely resembling “a child born in Sweden has the nationality of his father.”

Now, before the Dr. Caner defenders run off to “research” this issue on Wikipedia, I will note that the Wikipedia article on Swedish nationality laws states that “Swedish mothers have only been able to pass on their citizenship since 1 July 1979.” The problem is that (1) there is no citation for such, and (2) after reading what English documents I could this does not appear to be true. Anyone remotely familiar with Wikipedia will know and concur that it is a very unreliable source because of its open community of contributors. Again, the facts that I have access to have no information regarding to such an addition made in 1979 or at any other time.

In conclusion, as I said above, this is really an inconsequential fact considering the seriousness of the myriad of other accusations and the mounds of irrefutable evidence against Dr. Caner’s claims. It was just something that sparked my attention and I wanted to verify Dr. Geisler’s claims. As we have seen, they cannot be.

Detached from Reality: SBC Tomorrow

This entry is part 2 of 4 in the series Detached from Reality

Much of what I would say regarding Peter Lumpkins’ delusions have been said regarding the same delusions from Tim Rogers so please forgive any overlapping.

Let’s delve right in.

Mr. Lumpkins really hits the nail on the head with the statement:

Obviously, the statement is not without ambiguity.  Were it precise, perspicuous, and altogether lucid we’d surely not have quite the polarities in interpretation we find it seems to me. Unless, of course, there is a bit of literary fudging at work.

He’s very much correct. Liberty’s statement (only 7 sentences) was very, shall we say, indirect. Most likely because they were covering their behinds so as lessen the damage as much as possible. If that’s right or wrong I’ll let the reader decide.

…the investigation bore “no evidence to suggest that Dr. Caner was not a Muslim who converted to Christianity as a teenager…”…which by all accounts was the original charge leveled against Dr. Caner first by a British Muslim, then by two Calvinists—one a Southern Baptist and the other a Hyper-Calvinist “Reformed Baptist”.

Apparently Mr. Lumpkins, like every other Ergun Caner defender, doesn’t pay attention or know just basic theology. They don’t pay attention because the “hyper-Calvinist” he mentions is James White and he asserts that Dr. White’s original charge against Dr. Caner was that he wasn’t ever a Muslim. Mr. Lumpkins knows this isn’t true. He’s been told this isn’t true. So Mr. Lumpkins is lying. He’s not making “factual statements that are self-contradicting”, he’s lying through his teeth. If Mr. Lumpkins can produce evidence to the contrary then I will be the first to offer my apologies but I know he will not because he cannot do so. This is the kind of “integrity” you will find from Dr. Caner’s defenders.

Mr. Lumpkins doesn’t know basic theology because he labels Dr. White a “hyper-Calvinist” which is just as false and just as much a lie as his first claim. Mr. Lumpkins doesn’t know what a hyper-Calvinist is or he wouldn’t make such an assertion. Why doesn’t he know what a hyper-Calvinist is? He hasn’t spent any amount of time studying Calvinism and, therefore, can’t differentiate between the two. But that doesn’t stop him from voicing is unlearned opinion on a subject he is woefully ignorant about.

Mr. Lumpkins really starts departing from reality when he writes:

Hence, on the one hand there is definitive vindication (similar to what others have dubbed exoneration); that is, Ergun Caner did not make up his life testimony. He is who he said he is.

This is a patently false statement. I don’t believe that Mr. Lumpkins is lying, though. I think he truly believes this. The problem is that he has no reason to other than his refusal to look at plain and conclusive evidence. Dr. Caner is NOT who he said he was. Dr. Caner said he was raised in Turkeylearned about America from the Dukes of Hazard, and came to America in 1978. The truth is that he was born and raised in SwedenDukes of Hazard didn’t come on TV until 1979He was in America by 1969. That does not qualify as Dr. Caner “not mak[ing] up his life testimony.” That’s exactly what he did. HE MADE IT UP!

Nonetheless, the committee found “discrepancies” within the larger picture of Dr. Caner’s public life–“dates, names and places of residence.” No details were offered. From my perspective, that’s good and bad. I for one do not need to know all the details. That’s the good part.

The reason that Mr. Lumpkins doesn’t “need to know” the details of Dr. Caner’s multiple lies is that he doesn’t WANT to know the details. He’s consistently refused to look at the evidence. Why start now?

Some oddly think the statement proves Caner lied—at least lied about some things even though LU offered no details whatsoever. However, we cannot deduce what is not there…

I’ve said this before but it is unfortunate for these people that Liberty University doesn’t decide truth. If they did then, well, Dr. Caner’s defenders would be justified in their beliefs. But the fact of the matter is that truth stands with or without Liberty’s approval. I do not think that the statement proves Dr. Caner lied. What proves he lied are his own words! Regardless of Liberty’s statement, Dr. Caner’s lies still exist.

Whatever the case, the discrepancies were potent enough to solicit a sincere apology from Dr. Caner, an apology LU fully accepted; an apology the Christian community should accept…indeed are required to accept.

What apology? Is Mr. Lumpkins referring to the statement that Dr. Caner released on his website (and almost immediately took down)? That wasn’t an apology. He “apologized” for making “mis-statements.” He didn’t apologize for lying. He didn’t apologize for attaining his position at Liberty through a false testimony created so as to somehow show him to be more qualified. He didn’t apologize to the thousands of Christians he’s spoken before and bald-faced lied to. He didn’t apologize to the Muslims that he’s lied about. He didn’t apologize about saying he’s debated such and such when, in fact, no such debate ever took place. Bottom line is that Dr. Caner has NEVER apologized, NEVER come out publically, and NEVER offered anything sincere since this whole thing began. I’m not required to accept a non-apology. Dr. Caner is required by Scripture to repent. Not just say “I’m sorry.” He’s done neither.

Mr. Lumpkins ends his post with six lessons that he’s learned from this experience:

No matter how honest one may be with one’s words, some people will call you dishonest and a liar. They will ridicule, mock, and dismiss.

As shown above, Mr. Lumpkins has not been “honest” with his words. He’s been blatantly dishonest.

I learned the value of moderating comments on my site. Since 2006, I’ve had open commenting.  Once I began to critique James White, the Barbarian hordes thundered toward my site with avengeance.  My mistake. While I may leave some posts open in the future, no longer will my site remain besieged. Moderation rules!

Mr. Lumpkins blames any derision to his beloved beliefs on the “Barbarian hordes” of James White. He doesn’t offer any proof which is par for the course. What Mr. Lumpkins doesn’t realize is that a Christian who lies (like Mr. Lumpkins) will be attacked by other Christians. If he can’t handle the heat then he needs to get out of the kitchen. The comments that posted on his site could not have been anything compared to the cursing, threats of violence, and outright heathen behavior or Dr. Caner’s defenders.

Great leaders make verbal errors, misspeak, convolute facts, and have memory lapse.

Mr. Lumpkins assumes that Dr. Caner is a “great leader” but as the overwhelming evidence has shown, the only thing Dr. Caner leads is a second, third, and sometimes fourth life through his myriad of lies and falsities. Great leaders certainly “make verbal errors, misspeak…and have memory lapse” but that is not what Dr. Caner did. And I don’t know of anyone known as a “great leader” who convolutes facts. Does Mr. Lumpkins know what means? It means to twist facts. Surely Dr. Caner is guilty of this. But this isn’t a quality of a “great leader” at all. It is the quality of a liar.

No scholar, preacher, apologist, or pastor can stand publicly week-in and week-out without slips of the tongue, confusion of facts, wrong dates, wrong places, wrong timelines, etc. etc. It will never be done by anyone.  Period.  Some are more gross than others.  Nonetheless, the best we can do is propose to be better, to be more careful, to be humble.

Again, this is, for the most part true. Through hundreds of speeches, you’re going to find discrepancies and they are going to be honest mistakes. But again, this is not what Dr. Caner did. He created a false timeline, not just remembered it wrong. Let me ask you a question: If you were born in Sweden and moved to Ohio in 1969 when you were three years old would you ever “slip up” (repeatedly) and say you were born and raised in Turkey and came to America in 1979 when you were 13 years old with no knowledge of America except what you’d seen on Dukes of Hazard? No. You wouldn’t. That’s not a mistake. That’s a conjuring up of a deliberately false timeline. That’s exactly what Dr. Caner did.

Standing on principle remains a non-negotiable aspect of my life in Jesus Christ. I absolutely refuse to cater to the herd mentality. Throughout this exchange, I continued to sing one single song—innocent until proven guilty beyond reasonable doubt.

That’s all well and good. If it were true. Mr. Lumpkins has repeatedly refused to weigh the evidence and instead has adopted exactly what he says he hasn’t – a herd mentality. A blind herd at that. Dr. Caner was proven guilty very early on in the scandal. Only those who willfully kept themselves from looking at the evidence can claim otherwise.

The investigatory committee spoke, and I am publicly obligated to accept their findings.

Why? Why are you “publicly obligated” (what does that even mean?) to accept the findings of Liberty University? What makes their word trump truth? Where does this standard come from? Certainly not from Scripture. There is no passage stating “thou shall take the word of Liberty University, the Lord’s Anointed, over and against all others.” To make such a nonsensical claim is to seriously hinder one’s epistemological integrity. If Liberty came out and said that Dr. Caner was a Mormon Prophet and Jesus Christ incarnate would Mr. Lumpkins then be “publicly obligated” to accept this? One would hope not.

In conclusion, Mr. Lumpkins joins the ranks of those unwilling or unable to even look at the evidence and come to ahonest conclusion. He so very much wants Dr. Caner to be who he said he was that he is willing to sacrifice any and all credit to do so. To this, I can only say “facts are stubborn things.”

Detached from Reality: SBC Today

This entry is part 1 of 4 in the series Detached from Reality

On June 29th Tim Rogers over at SBC Today postedTo Clear from Accusation or Blame“, a post attempting to explain why he used the word “exonerated“ when describing Liberty University’s press release about removing Ergun Caner from his position as President of their seminary. It is a very interesting read and certainly qualifies as using some of the tactics outlined previously.

The first three paragraphs are Mr. Rogers complaining about the response he got when using “exonerated” and it’s not until paragraph four that he tells us what he was thinking. He begins with:

…allow me to inform you of my thought process in using this term.  I checked the definition before I used the term.

Mr. Rogers could have saved himself a lot of trouble if he’d just said “Look. I used this word not really knowing what it meant but after hearing it a lot on Law & Order I thought it’d make me sound good.” But no. Instead he admits that he did check the definition and then used the word anyways. So that excuse is out the window. He continues:

If one looks at the definition and then looks at the statement released from Liberty University, one has to admit that exoneration is not a stretch.

Sure Mr. Rogers. If by “not a stretch” you mean “the antithesis to the definition of the word” then, yes, it is certainly “not a stretch” to say Dr. Caner was exonerated.

Why? Notice what the statement says; “the committee found no evidence to suggest that Dr. Caner was not a Muslim who converted to Christianity as a teenager…” This was the initial charge leveled at Dr. Caner, but was later changed to Dr. Caner was not a devout Muslim. Dr. Caner’s not being aMuslim is something that has been challenged from the very beginning, and is still being challenged. Dr. Caner, after the committee has exonerated him, is still being charged with this by the very one who caused all of this hoopla in the first place.

Mr. Rogers is doing what we call “equivocating terms” (look it up Tim). He is taking one set of accusations (that Dr. Caner was never a Muslim) and equating it with an entirely different set of accusations (that Dr. Caner was not adevout Muslim) to form one umbrella accusation. Basically, he’s saying “we’ve got apples over here and oranges over here but we’re gonna combine them to make apploranges.” Unfortunately for him, these are two separate and distinct accusations.

There is one group of accusers who say that Dr. Caner was never a Muslim. Typically this group is made up of actual Muslims (hint, hint). And then there is another group of accusers who say that Dr. Caner was a Muslim but was certainly not a devout Muslim.

Frankly I’m more of a latter group kind of guy. Dr. Caner may have been raised briefly as a Muslim but converting in high school doesn’t come close to being a devout Muslim. Would we call a convert from Christianity to Islam adevout (not to mention an “expert”) Christian if they convert while in high school? Of course not. At the same time, however, the former group has a point. As Christians, we see converts to other religions as never being a Christian to begin with so I can see their case, too.

Either way, the former is not the latter and they cannot be grouped together and then brushed off as Mr. Rogers does. The press release addresses ONLY the former group’s claim and says nothing in regards to the latter group’s claim. Therefore, there is no exoneration as that would require Dr. Caner to be cleared from ALL blame.

Also, the committee said; “…that Dr. Caner has made factual statements that are self-contradictory.” The committee did not find that Dr. Caner “lied”…

Correct. The committee did not say that Dr. Caner lied. Why? Because then every single Liberty student (or anyone able to prove harm done to them) would be able to sue Liberty and Dr. Caner for a myriad of legal reasons. They were covering themselves.

…they found that he made statements of fact but sometimes had wrong dates, times and places.

Wait. What? Dr. Caner made “statements of fact” that had “wrong dates, times, and places”? So then they weren’t facts. Right? If I were to say “Independence Day in America is on December 25th” I would not be stating a fact. I would have the wrong date (or name of holiday) and, therefore, be stating a non-fact. The same is true for Dr. Caner and Mr. Rogers needs to understand this. You cannot state a fact that has any wrong information or it ceases to bea fact. Just a FYI.

These are the same as “mis-statements”, of which Dr. Caner apologized publicly and we ran that statement here on SBC Today.

No Mr. Rogers. A misstatement is “Independence Day in America is on December 25th” when you really meant to say July 4th or Christmas Day. What Dr. Caner said was that he was raised in Turkey, learned about America from the Dukes of Hazard, and came to America in 1978. None of these are facts. He was born and raised in Sweden.Dukes of Hazard didn’t come on TV until 1979. He was in America by 1969. Those are facts. Facts that Dr. Canerhimself speaks in various places.

Thus, I used the term “exoneration” because according to the statement released by the committee from Liberty University they cleared him from accusation or blame.

As demonstrated above, that is an incorrect conclusion. They did not clear him from blame. They removed him from his office as President. Do you do that to people who have been “cleared…from accusation or blame”?

Furthermore, let’s assume that Liberty did clear Dr. Caner from any and all blame. What does that prove? Absolutely nothing. Why? Because Liberty University doesn’t decide what truth is or isn’t regardless of how much some want them to. Neither Liberty University or Dr. Caner or any of his defenders has addressed the overwhelming evidence against him. The fact is they cannot. You can’t change reality. You can delude yourself like Mr. Rogers but that doesn’t change anything. That stove top is hot even if I think it’s cold.

In the end, using terms such as “exonerated” is just wishful thinking and nothing more.

Stay tuned for more in the exciting series Detached From Reality

Some alternative explanations for the resurrection of Christ

I have argued in the past that the possibility of an argument does not necessitate probability. The idea is that just because someone offers an alternative explanation for something, this does not make it likely. For example, if I were to point my remote at the TV and push the power button and the TV turned on, the most probable explanation is that the radio waves from the remote triggered the TV’s main power switch. Are there other possible explanations for this? Sure. There could have been a glitch in the TV. My neighbor’s remote could have somehow activated my TV at the exact same time as when I pushed the power button. There could have been a timer set on the TV to turn on and it happened to be when I pushed the remote. There are infinite possibilities. The question is, what is the most probable?

When it comes to the resurrection of Christ, there are an infinite number of possible alternative explanations for the rise of a belief in a risen Christ other than opting for the most obvious (i.e. Christ actually rose from the grave). For centuries skeptics and non-believers have offered their possibilities, but, in my opinion, they are never a probability.

Recently I read these possibilities:

1) Jesus’ body was taken straight from the cross to the criminal graveyard by a devout Jew. We know that the Jews did not want to leave a person hanging on a tree or a piece of wood overnight. Deuteronomy 21:23 says: His body shall not remain all night upon the tree, but thou shalt in any wise bury him that day; (for he that is hanged [is] accursed of God;) that thy land be not defiled, which the LORD thy God giveth thee [for] an inheritance.

Is this a possibility? Absolutely. Probability? I don’t think so. How could it be? There is simply no evidence to believe such. It would take a blind leap of faith to turn this possibility into a personal creed.

2) Jesus’ body was taken straight from the cross and thrown into Gehenna. Perhaps a Roman soldier did this. Louis Feldman has argued that it was the Romans who put Jesus to death and that the Jews had nothing to do with it. See Who Really Killed Jesus? A Critical Response to “The Passion” . Feldman maintains that the gospel accounts, which place the blame on the Jewish leaders, are so full of mistakes that it obviously did not happen the way they describe it.

Here we are again with a possibility without any historical warrant to make it responsible to believe. (Notice the overstatement here: it “obviously did not happen the way they describe it.” Obvious to whom?

3) Jesus’ body was taken by Joseph of Arimathea and placed into a different tomb. We know that the first tomb where Jesus is said to have been placed was a new family tomb and maybe Joseph had another tomb somewhere else to which he moved the body. The Bible says he was a rich man, so it is reasonable to assume, he may have had another tomb.

Yes, it is reasonable to believe that he may have had another tomb, but… so? It is reasonable to believe that Joseph’s son had another tomb that Jesus was taken to. It is reasonable to believe that Josephus donated tombs out of his good fortune to many who were in need so he had dozens of tombs. But because a possible condition of a historical theory (i.e. Joseph could have had another tomb) has been met, this does not mean that people are justified in placing their faith in such a theory over another that is much more probable, being supported by real evidence.

4) The empty tomb story was a later embellishment of the gospel narrative. In other words, the story as we have it in the gospels did not happen at all. This is certainly possible. We know that the earliest account of the resurrection in I Cor. 15 contains no mention of the empty tomb nor of the women visiting it. The earliest gospel record, Mark, ends abruptly with the women leaving the tomb scared and silent. As Robert Price remarks: Isn’t it obvious that the claim that the women “said nothing to anyone for they were afraid” functions to explain to the reader why nothing of this had been heard before. By This Time He Stinketh.

Yes, this is certainly possible, but it has no evidence to back it up. It purports, but does not create any reasonable doubt in the event of the resurrection. Especially since there is so much other collaborative evidence that Christ did rise from the grave besides the tomb (i.e. the phenomenon of the rise of Christianity in a hostile environment, the willingness of the Apostles to die for their confession, the early testimony of the New Testament, the embarrassment factor in the Gospel accounts, and the inability of skeptics to produce a body in the first century. Not to mention how foreign it was for such a belief (i.e. a crucified and risen Messiah) to arise in this first century Jewish setting.

In the end, there can be all kinds of possible alternative explanations (I could come up with a thousand more), but we should never be fooled into thinking that just because an explanation is possible that this makes it worthy of actual consideration.

In the end, the simplest explanation is that Christ did rise from the grave. If you do not start with anti-supernaturalistic presuppositions (i.e. dead bodies can’t rise, therefore, Christ did not rise from the grave), then you can truly follow the evidence and not search for far-fetched, yet possible, explanations. It is because of acrobats like these that I think it takes more (blind) faith not to believe in the resurrection of Christ than to believe.

(Parchment and Pen)

What is Covenant Theology?

Question:  What is Covenant Theology?

Answer:  Covenant Theology isn’t so much a ‘theology’ in the sense of a systematic set of doctrine as it is aframework for interpreting Scripture.  It is usually contrasted with another interpretative framework for Scripture called Dispensational Theology, or Dispensationalism.  Dispensationalism is currently the most popular interpretative grid for Scripture in American Evangelicalism, and has been so from the latter half of the 19th century on through to the 21st century; but Covenant Theology remains the majority report for Protestantism since the time of the Reformation, and it is the system favored by those of a more Reformed or Calvinistic persuasion.

Where Dispensationalism sees the Scriptures unfolding in a series of (typically) seven ‘dispensations’ (a‘dispensation’ can be defined as the particular means God uses to deal with man and creation during a given period of redemptive history), Covenant Theology looks at the Scriptures through the grid of the covenant.  Covenant Theology defines two overriding covenants:  The Covenant of Works (CW) and the Covenant of Grace (CG).  A third covenant is sometimes mentioned; namely, the Covenant of Redemption (CR), which logically precedes the other two covenants.  We will discuss these covenants in turn.  The important thing to keep in mind is that all of the various covenants described in Scripture (e.g., the covenants made with Noah, Abraham, Moses, David and theNew Covenant) are out workings of either the CW or the CG.

Let’s begin to examine the various covenants detailed in Covenant Theology beginning with the CR.  As mentioned previously, the CR logically precedes the other two covenants, so we will look at this covenant first.  According to Covenant Theology, the CR describes a covenant made within the Trinity to elect, atone for, and save a select group of individuals unto salvation and eternal life.  As one popular pastor-theologian has said, in the CR, “the Father chooses a bride for His Son.”  While the CR is not explicitly stated in Scripture, Scripture does explicitly state the eternal nature of the plan of salvation (e.g., Ephesians 1:3-14; 3:11; 2 Thessalonians 2:13; 2 Timothy 1:9; James 2:5; 1 Peter 1:2).  Moreover, Jesus often referred to his task as carrying out the Father’s will (cf. John 5:3, 43; 6:38-40; 17:4-12).  The salvation of the elect was God’s intention from the very beginning of creation cannot be doubted; the CR just formalizes this eternal plan in the language of covenant.

From a redemptive historical perspective, the CW is the first covenant we see in Scripture.  When God created man at the end of creation week, he placed him in the Garden of Eden and gave him one, simple command:  “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Genesis 2:16-17).  We can see the covenantal language implied in this command.  God sets up Adam in the Garden and promises eternal life to him and his posterity as long as he is obedient to God’s commands.  Life is the reward for obedience and death is the punishment for disobedience.  This is covenant language.

Some scholars see in the CW a form of what is called a Suzerain-Vassal covenant.  In these types of covenants, the suzerain (i.e., king or ruler) would offer the terms of the covenant to the vassal (i.e., the subject).  The suzerain would provide blessing and protection in return for the vassal’s tribute.  In the case of the CW, God (the Suzerain) promises eternal life and blessing to mankind (the vassal represented by Adam as the head of the human race), in return for man’s obedience to the stipulations of the covenant (i.e., don’t eat from the tree).  We see a similar structure in the giving of the old covenant through Moses to Israel.  Israel made a covenant with God at Sinai.  God would give the Promised Land, a reconstituted ‘Eden’ (“a land flowing with milk and honey”), and his blessing and protection against all enemies in return for Israel’s obedience to the stipulations of the covenant.  The punishment for covenant violation was expulsion from the land (which occurred in the conquest of the Northern Kingdom in 722 BC and the Southern Kingdom in 586 BC).

When Adam failed in keeping the CW, God instituted the third covenant, called the CG.  In the CG, God freely offers to sinners (those who fail to live up to the CW) eternal life and salvation through faith in Jesus Christ.  We see the provision for the CG right after the fall when God prophesies about the “seed of the woman” in Genesis 3:15.  Whereas the CW is conditional and promises blessing for obedience and cursing for disobedience, the CG is unconditional and is given freely on the basis of God’s grace.  The CG takes the form of ancient Land-Grant treaties.  In a land-grant treaty, a king would give land to a recipient as a gift; no strings attached.  One can argue that faith is a condition of the CG.  There are many exhortations in the bible for the recipients of God’s unconditional grace to remain faithful to the end, so in a very real sense, maintaining faith is a condition of the CG.  But the bible clearly teaches that even saving faith is a gracious gift from God (Ephesians 2:8-9).

We see the CG manifested in the various unconditional covenants God makes with individuals in the bible.  The covenant God makes with Abraham (to be his God and for Abraham and his descendants to be his people) is an extension of the CG.  The Davidic covenant (that a descendant of David will always reign as king) is also an extension of the CG.  Finally, the new covenant is the final expression of the CG as God writes his law upon our hearts and completely forgives us of our sins.  One thing that should be apparent as we look at these various OT covenants is that they all find their fruition in Jesus Christ.  The promise to Abraham to bless all the nations was fulfilled in Christ.  The Davidic King who will eternally rule over God’s people was also fulfilled in Christ, and the newcovenant was obviously fulfilled in Christ.  Even in the old covenant there are hints of the CG as all of the OT sacrifices and rituals point forward to the saving work of Christ, our great High Priest (cf. Hebrews 8 – 10); which is why Jesus can say in the Sermon on the Mount that he came not to abolish the Law, but to fulfill it (Matthew 5:17).  We also see the CG in action in the OT when God spares his people the judgment that their repeated sin deserves.  Even though the stipulations of the Mosaic Covenant (an application of the CW) promised God’s judgment upon Israel for their disobedience to his commands, God deals patiently with his covenant people.  This is usually accompanied by the phrase “God remembered the covenant he made with Abraham” (cf. 2 Kings 13:23; Psalm 105; Isaiah 29:22; 41:8); God’s promise to fulfill the CG (which by definition is a one-sided covenant) oftentimes overrode his right to enforce the CW.

That’s a brief description of Covenant Theology and how it interprets Scripture through the lens of the covenant.  Aquestion that sometimes arises regarding Covenant Theology is whether or not the CG supplants or supersedes the CW.  In other words, is the CW obsolete since the old covenant is obsolete (cf. Hebrews 8:13)?  The old (Mosaic) covenant, while an application of the CW, is not the CW.  Again, the CW goes all the way back to Eden when God promised life for obedience and death for disobedience.  The CW is further elaborated in the Ten Commandments, in which God again promises life and blessing for obedience and death and punishment for disobedience.  The old covenant is more than just the moral law codified in the Ten Commandments.  The old covenant includes the rules and regulations regarding the worship of God.  It also includes the civil law that governed the nation of Israel during the theocracy and monarchy.  With the coming of Jesus Christ, the promised Messiah of the OT, many aspects of the old covenant become obsolete because Jesus fulfilled the old covenant types and figures (again see Hebrews 8 – 10).  The old covenant represented the “types and shadows” whereas Christ represents the “substance” (cf. Colossians 2:17).  Again, Christ came to fulfill the law (Matthew 5:17); as Paul says, “For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory” (2 Corinthians 1:20).

However, this does not abrogate the CW as codified in the moral law.  God demanded holiness from his people in the OT (Leviticus 11:44) and still demands holiness from his people in the NT (1 Peter 1:16).  As such, we are still obligated to fulfill the stipulations of the CW.  The good news is that Jesus Christ, the last Adam and our covenant head, perfectly fulfilled the demands of the CW and that perfect righteousness is the reason why God can extend the CG to the elect.  Romans 5:12-21 describes the situation between the two ‘federal’ heads of the human race.  Adam represented the human race in the Garden and failed to uphold the CW; thereby plunging him and his posterity into sin and death.  Jesus Christ stood as man’s representative from his temptation in the wilderness all the way to Calvary and perfectly fulfilled the CW.  That is why Paul can say, “As in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive” (1 Corinthians 15:22).

In conclusion, Covenant Theology views the Scriptures as manifestations of either the CW or the CG.  The entire story of redemptive history can be seen as God unfolding the CG from its nascent stages (Genesis 3:15) all the way through its fruition in Christ.  Covenant Theology is, therefore, a very Christocentric way of looking at Scripture because it sees the OT as the promise of Christ and the NT as the fulfillment in Christ.  Some have accused Covenant Theology as teaching what is called “Replacement Theology” (i.e., the Church replaces Israel).  This couldn’t be further from the truth.  Unlike Dispensationalism, Covenant Theology does not see a sharp distinction between Israel and the Church.  Israel constituted the people of the God in the OT, and the Church (which is made up of Jew and Gentile) constitutes the people of God in the NT; both just make up one people of God (cf. Ephesians 2:11-20).  Given this explanation, the Church doesn’t replace Israel; the Church is Israel (and Israel is the Church; cf. Galatians 6:16).  All people who exercise the same faith as Abraham are part of the covenant people of God (cf. Galatians 3:25-29).

Many more things can be said regarding Covenant Theology, but this should suffice as a brief description of this doctrine.  The important thing to keep in mind is that Covenant Theology is an interpretive gird for understanding the Scriptures.  As we have seen, it is not the only interpretive grid for reading Scripture.  Covenant Theology and Dispensationalism have many differences, and sometimes lead to opposite conclusions regarding certain secondary doctrines; but both adhere to the essentials of the Christian faith:  Salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone in Christ alone; and to God alone be the glory!

Soli Deo Gloria!


Evangelical Syncretism

I am astonished at how many evangelicals think that it is okay to observe a Ramadan fast with Muslims. Christianity Today has published remarks from ten evangelicals, five (or perhaps seven) of which think that it’s okay to fast with Muslims during Ramadan. Douglas Wilson is the last of the ten, and he sounds the clearest note against such practice. He writes:

“It is not appropriate to fast alongside Muslims. I wouldn’t make a point, if I were in a heavily Muslim state where everybody is fasting during the day, of fixing a hot dog and walking outside and eating it… but to observe Ramadan along with your Muslim neighbors and friends, letting them know that you’re observing Ramadan as an act of some sort of religious or spiritual solidarity, is simply aa fundamental compromise. They’re observing Ramadan in the service of a false God and a false gospel, and we shouldn’t be trying to express our solidarity with that.”

wrote about this topic last August when Brian McLaren announced that he would be observing a Ramadan fast this year. I said then, and I reiterate now that such a fast is a total compromise of the gospel. Christians like Richard Mouw and Brian McLaren, who are observing a fast during Ramadan offer the most theologically vacuous reasons for doing so. In fact, they sound as if they have no real understanding what the Bible teaches about fasting.

Fasting in the Christian tradition is irreducibly Christocentric. It involves praying to the Father of Christ (Matt. 6:18) and longing for the return of Christ (Matt. 9:15). The meaning and aim of the Muslim fast has nothing to do with Jesus. How can one observe Ramadan in any meaningful sense and do a Christian fast? The answer is that you can’t. If you try, you will end up distorting the Christian fast with syncretistic gobbledy-goop that is no longer recognizably Christian.

Unfortunately, gobbledy-goop is all that we get from at least seven of the evangelicals in the CT piece. What a sad commentary on the state of evangelical piety.

(Denny Burk)

Understanding the New Atheism: Attacks on the New Testament

This entry is part 2 of 2 in the series Understanding the New Atheism

Continuing his series on the new atheism, Dr. Douglas Groothuis explains and counters the new atheists’ claim that the New Testament is historically unreliable.

The New Testament: Historically Untrustworthy?

Part of the new atheism’s attack on religion and Christianity is not new at all — namely, its charge that the Bible is acollection of pre-scientific myths and legends. Beyond this, Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris and others claim that the Bible gives downright immoral advice and should, therefore, be utterly rejected. While a short article cannot adequately respond to all of their accusations, in this essay, I address the idea that the NewTestament is historically unreliable. My next installment will address the atheists’ rejection of the Bible as immoral.

The new atheists reject the New Testament as historically untrustworthy chiefly because of its antiquity and its miracle claims. However, in savaging the New Testament, these writers almost never engage the best conservativeNew Testament scholars.

For example, while Hitchens is quick to cite Bart Ehrman’s criticisms, he is loath to cite the works of reputable scholars such as Craig Blomberg, Ben Witherington or N.T. Wright. In fact, Hitchens and company often repeat boilerplate criticisms given by Thomas Paine, H.L. Menken and other skeptics, without so much as considering recent defenses of the historicity of the New Testament. 1

The standard practice of the ancient historian is to think through possible ways of reconciling seemingly conflicting passages, but Hitchens, et al, will have none of that. Harris, in his polemic, Letter to a Christian Nation, says that Matthew 27:9-10 mistakenly attributes a prophecy to Jeremiah when, in fact, it comes from Zechariah 11:12-13. 2 While much of the quote comes from Zechariah, the substance of the quote also refers to a theme in Jeremiah 19:1-13, which deals with apostasy. Rather than a clear error, Matthew makes a general reference to themes found most prominently in Jeremiah (although he cites Zechariah). 3

Hard Historicity

To a man, the new atheists fail to note that the New Testament possesses credentials of historicity that put it in category by itself with respect to ancient literature. First, it has been accurately transmitted over time through the copying of its documents. There are more than 5,000 complete or partial manuscripts of New Testaments books available today in Greek, let alone other ancient manuscripts in Latin and other languages. The wealth and antiquity of the documents established the basic trustworthiness of their transmission. Portions of the New Testament that are textually uncertain — which are noted in the marginal notes of a good Bible — are rare; further, they bring into question no Christian doctrine. 4

Second, the documents were written just a few decades after the events they describe by eyewitness eyewitnesses or those who consulted eyewitnesses (see Luke 1:1-4; John 21:24; 1 John 1:1-3). It is very likely that the synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke) were written before 70 AD. The Gospel of John was probably written about 90 AD. The Epistles of Paul were written even earlier than the Gospels, probably from the late 40s to the early 60s. Contemporary readers may deem the gap between the writing of these documents and the events themselves as being too long, but this ignores two pertinent facts. Historians generally trust ancient documents that have far longer gaps. Moreover, Jewish teachers of that day taught in very memorable styles and their disciples were known for great feats of memorization. This was common in a largely oral culture (unlike our own). Therefore, a gap of several decades between the writing of a document and what it describes provides no reason to distrust it. 5

These facts make the New Testament the most reliable document available concerning Jesus and the early church. Hitchens is quite wrong when he asserts that the Gnostic texts that speak of Jesus, which were found at Nag Hammadhi, Egypt, “were of the same period and provenance as many of the subsequently canonical and ‘authorized’ Gospels.” 6 These Gnostic texts date from the second and third centuries and present an entirely different worldview from that found in the New Testament. 7

Third, although Dawkins and Hitchens question whether Jesus ever existed, this can be refuted simply by considering the documents outside of the New Testament that refer to Jesus’ existence and message. Several historically credible sources corroborate some of the Gospel claims. The Jewish historian Josephus mentions Jesus twice in his Antiquities (AD 90-95), once in reference to James “the brother of Jesus who was called Christ,” 8 and once in a longer and disputed passage. Some think that later Christian editors added some favorable theological material about Jesus. 9 Nevertheless, it can be plausibly argued that Josephus wrote that Jesus existed, was known as virtuous, was crucified, attracted many followers, worked wonders and was believed to be risen from the dead. 10 Several decades after Josephus, the Roman historians Tacitus, Thallus, Pliny the Younger and Suetonius also note the existence of Jesus, pertinent facts about His life and the beliefs of His followers. 11

No God, No Miracles

The new atheists dismiss the miracles recorded in the New Testament because they have decided that there is no God to perform miracles. However, the miraculous is so intertwined with the Gospel accounts that there is virtually no history left if one tries to remove the miraculous. 12

Attempts to demythologize the New Testament are highly speculative and based on an anti-supernatural prejudice that is not justified given (1) the prima facie historical reliability of the New Testament and (2) the evidence for supernatural God’s existence. As I argued in the last installment, there is good evidence from science that a creator, designer God exists. 13 If so, one cannot rule out a priori that miracles might occur and be accurately recorded. Moreover, the grand miracle of Christianity — Jesus’ resurrection from the dead — was not a late addition to the message of the church, but its founding confession from the very beginning. As N.T. Wright says:

There is no evidence for a form of early Christianity in which the resurrection was not a central belief. Nor was this belief, as it were, bolted on to Christianity at the edge. It was the central driving force, informing the whole movement. 14

The Reliability of Christ

While the new atheists wrongly reject the New Testament as unreliable, the figure that dominates these texts still lives and calls all people to Himself for new and unending life (Matthew 11:27- 28; John 3:16-18 and 14:6; 1 Timothy 2:5).