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Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Top Five Apologetics Books

Just as in any "career" we might pursue, we should be progressively preparing ourselves to be increasingly better at it. No one becomes an expert overnight, if ever (!), but we should be gradually, faithfully increasing in knowledge and ability as time goes by. I think this is especially true in our Christian witness. It is one thing to say "I don't know my Bible well" or "I don't know how to respond to what people are thinking" when we are first saved. But if 5, 10, 20 years have passed and we're STILL where we were, then that's a shame!

Now, of course, the REAL #1 Book to know well is the Bible. With that as a "given", lets encourage one another with suggestions for apologetics books that have enhanced our witness.

1a. Christian Apologetics, Norm Geisler

This isn't a "quick-read", but I found it quite useful for historically tracing philosophical thought. If you get this down, a lot of other things will suddenly make sense to you and you'll begin to recognize how the different elements of modern thought developed. It's worth the work! Take notes. Type it up on your computer and save it for future reference. Review your notes periodically. You'll remember.

1b. Tearing Down Strongholds and Defending the Truth, R.C. Sproul, Jr.

If the first book is a bit more than you can take in, try this one instead.

1c. Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis

Lewis also approaches from the philosophical angle. It's true this isn't a one-size-fits-all approach, but you WILL find a lot of people who like to reason and meditate on things. God may use that approach to reach them, so it's good to know enough to ask them a few questions they can chew on.

2. When Critics Ask, Norman Geisler and Thomas Howe

The approach in this book is to highlight difficult Biblical sections, book by book. For example, Jeremiah15:6 talks about God repenting. What does that MEAN? I like this one for people who have been trivialized to death by cult members. Cults love to confuse people by majoring on trivialities out of context, so it's good to be able to give someone an accurate answer when they ask you about something they have been told. And don't just "tell" them... open up your Bible and SHOW them HOW you came to that conclusion. Ask them questions such as "Who is the author addressing?" and have them find the answer; "What is he talking about in this context?" and have them find the answer. Just "telling" someone an answer seldom convinces them. Taking them to God's Word and having them come to a correct conclusion on their own lays it on the line. Once they get it, then they must choose whether or not to acknowledge it. It's not so easy to discount once YOU are convinced you know what it says!

If you don't know the answer off the top of your head, tell them that's a good question and you want to look at it and get back to them. We've all done that. It is absolutely amazing, though, how the Holy Spirit so often uses the very Scripture you have been studying that week! I can't tell you how many times that has happened to me! And I usually don't even realize it until I reflect upon it later. How good God is!

3. Whatever Happened to Truth?, Andreas Kostenberger, R. Albert Mohler, Jr., J.P. Moreland, Kevin J. Vanhoozer

This little book gives you a good overview of the Postmodern thought so prevalent in modern Western culture. There are other books going into more detail, but this is a good intro.

3a. From God to Us, Norman L. Geisler & William Nix

Ummm...I just happened to notice a pattern here. That's probably because Geisler is so well known for Apologetics and is a good writer to boot. It's a good idea to have a little Bibliology under your belt for those who talk about the supposed unreliability of the Bible.

3b. On the Reliability of the Old Testament, K.A. Kitchen

Kitchen is an Archaeologist and Egyptologist. [Hard to go wrong there! ;)] While I don't completely agree with his dating, he does a good job defending the accuracy of the Bible. This is a thick book you might want to break down into chunks as you study through the books of the OT.

3c. John J. Davis, an Archaeologist and Professor of OT at Grace Theological Seminary, has a series of Commentaries on OT books with an apologetic flavor. The next time you go through the OT, I strongly recommend you use these books as you read and study. Read discerningly, though, and be humble. Archaeology is in constant change and these books were written a while ago. But they will give you a solid head start.

Paradise to Prison: Studies in Genesis
Moses & the Gods of Egypt: Studies in Exodus
A History of Israel: Studies in Joshua, Judges, Ruth, Samuel and 1 Kings, with John Whitcomb

4a. The First Seven Ecumenical Councils: Their History and Theology, Leo Donald Davis

The next time you run across someone who read The DaVinci Code , and they start to tell you what supposedly happened at The Council of Nicaea, wouldn't it be nice to tell them the TRUTH?

4b. Exploring Church History, Howard F. Vos

If you'd like your church history "short and sweet", then this would be a good choice.

5. The Case for Christ, Lee Strobel

I'm not a fan of all his books, but I found this one really useful. I admit I have not run across hoards of people who would necessarily find this enlightening, but there ARE some. This would have been a good book to give ME before I knew the Lord. It's how my mind works. It would have gotten me thinking at least. Loren used books like this to get me thinking and growing. He'd always hit me with the line, "Would you mind reading this and telling me what you think?" [It took me years to figure out what he was doing. ;)]

OK, I admit I cheated a little on "5", but it's nice to give choices! What apologetic books would YOU recommend?


You may have noticed that I changed the quote at the top of the blog. The author is a frequent contributor to my fave group, Assoc. for Biblical Research. I found this quote in an article he wrote on their website concerning recent claims made by Robert Cornuke and David Halbrook in their book "In Search of the Lost Mountains of Noah, the Discovery of the Real Mountains of Ararat", in which they contend they can prove Mt. Ararat is really in Iran.

It turns out that they haven't done their homework with much care, resulting in MAJOR flaws in their conclusions. But that won't stop just about EVERY Christian who buys this book in their local Christian bookstore (having seen it advertised in their favorite monthly Christian magazine) from believing it is gospel truth. Soon they will begin to tell others about it with missionary zeal, without even checking out the efficacy of its conclusions. And other Christians will BELIEVE them without even checking it out! In time, if someone who has a little knowledge in the field happens to point out the inaccuracy of an assertion, they will then defend the book to the point of death, charging the "unbeliever" with persecuting Christians.

If you think that scenario is outrageous... then you haven't been paying attention lately! Something has happened to American Christianity, turning us into The Gullible, who equate every self-named "Christian" book with Scripture itself. Over time, someone who has impressive initials after their name will publicly torpedo the false assertions made in such a book. The National Media will eagerly pick it up as another example of those foolish, silly Christians. That just makes it easier to discount ANYTHING a Christian may present them with in the future... even the glorious gospel of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. After all, everyone KNOWS how stupid and uninformed Christians are!

How did we get to be this way? First and foremost, we stopped reading our Bibles as the very Word of God. We can't discern error if we don't even know what the Bible teaches! Why did we stop reading our Bibles seriously? Pick one: Listening to the million and one views on Christian radio & TV instead of reading the Bible, reading books about the Bible and not holding them up to the Truth, letting worldly ideas creep in until you can't tell the difference any more, allowing things other than preaching to become the primacy in our worship services, being distracted with the things of the world to the point we're only playing at Christianity (BUT we know how to TALK Christianese), allowing our doctrine to drive our Biblical interpretation instead of vice versa, being too lazy or too distracted to bother teaching ourselves about the world, culture & time of the Bible (resulting in being unable to catch even obvious errors), being affected by our Post Modern culture to the point we forget there IS Truth... I could go on and on...

The thing that is most disturbing about the particular debacle with this book is that before anyone even criticized it, a friend of the authors preempted possible critics by declaring that any disagreements would be spiteful persecutions by jealous Christians! What kind of an attitude is THAT? That alone sets my "spidey senses" tingling!

Let's start reading more critically. Let's get to know our Bibles so well we can pick up on it when someone makes a false statement. [Do you know most Christians don't even LOOK UP the verses cited in books, never mind their CONTEXT? They just assume the author must be correct!] Let's spend regular, progressive time getting to know a little about the world of the Bible. It IS a lifetime quest, but you've got to START somewhere. (I'd be happy to give you some recommendations to head you down the path! ;)

Friday, December 22, 2006

In the News: Rival Monks Clash in Greece

For those of you who may not have picked up on this AP story out of Thessaloniki, Greece, it seems there is rather a to-do about efforts made by the Greek Orthodox Church to improve relations with the Roman Catholic Church. Now a Protestant may not appreciate the doctrinal differences between the two, and I certainly can't claim to be up-to-date on all the specific issues. In the US Roman Catholics greatly outnumber Greek Orthodox, and it is not uncommon for us to unite the two in our minds. BUT... there are major doctrinal and practical differences. The current disagreement did not come as a great surprise to me... but the actions it spurred seemed decidedly "un-monklike" to me. Here is an excerpt:

"Police posted a guard yesterday outside a chapel at an Orthodox monastic sanctuary where rebel monks remained barricaded following clashes that left seven people injured. Wednesday's violence involved rival groups of monks carrying crowbars and sledge-hammers." Not very Friar Tuck-ish, huh?

It reminded me of an article in 2004 about Greek Orthodox and Franciscan priests getting into a fist fight at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, after arguing over whether a door in the basilica should be closed during a procession. Club-wielding Iraeli riot police had to break up the fight.

I mention all of this because I have talked to believers who live, or have had extended visits, in Israel. When you say you are a "Christian", not only are you identifying yourself with the Spanish Inquisition and any & all Crusader atrocities wreaked upon the Jews, you are also identifying yourself with the Greek Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches. That is their picture of "Christianity". I would hazard a guess that similar assumptions are made in other foreign countries. It's bad enough that we have to be identified with the Jimmy Swaggerts and Tammy Fay Bakers, but we also carry the burden of every brawling priest or monk.

So what's the answer? First, I think we need to realize that everything WE do reflects upon the name "Christian". I can't control the actions of every person who takes on the name "Christian", but I can control my own witness. Second, we have to use God's Word as the basis for Truth. How many times have you witnessed Christ to someone who believed all churches were "full of hypocrites"? I've certainly heard that a lot. My response is that some churches are "full of forgiven sinners", who do not always obey their Lord. Then I point them to God and His Word as being what they ultimately need to deal with.

Any other thoughts? Ideas?

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Goodbyes...Or "As the Culture Turns"

A year-end ritual involves reviewing famous personalities who have died during the past year. I was reviewing the list on MSNBC and noticed writers, directors, musicians and writers who were a major part of my growing-up years. Most of them weren't necessarily "favorites" of mine, but they were part of the fabric woven into the background of my youth. As a child, teen, young adult you become introduced to these personalities, whom you just assume will exist forever. Just think... can you imagine not having Harrison Ford, George Lucas, Stephen Spielberg around? It WILL happen some day!

My generation was the original "TV" generation. I can even remember when we got our first one! There was no cable back then, we received only two networks and all the programs were in black and white. When the TV had to go into the shop for repair, we'd listen to stories on the radio... but it was only a "back-up". So here are some fond farewells from the kid in me who remembers.

Jane Wyatt (the Mom on Fathers Knows Best) - I'd dream about having a family like this one, or Donna Reed's or Ozzie & Harriet's.

Dennis Weaver (Chester on Gunsmoke and later McCloud)

Don Knotts (Barney Fife on Andy Griffith)

Mike Douglas (I watched his talk show almost every day; they were MUCH kinder then!)

Jack Palance (Palladin (I LOVED westerns!), his more recent movie role in City Slickers & doing one-handed pushups at the Academy Awards!)

Al Lewis (Grandpa Munster)

Aaron Spelling - produced Starsky & Hutch, Fantasy Island, TJ Hooker (I didn't watch his later shows!)

Then there are the movie People -
Glenn Ford (so many movies, I can't even begin to name them)

Red Buttons and Shelley Winters (did you see the ORIGINAL "Poseidon Adventure"?)

Director Robert Altman (saw & loved irreverent M*A*S*H in my college days)

Lou Rawls (what a smooth voice!)

Wilson Pickett (I saw him in concert at Homecoming at Springfield College)

And writer Gordon Parks (I read "The Learning Tree" when I was in college and discovered a whole world of prejudice I had never known existed - quite shocking for a young woman who grew up in rural NH where the only prejudice I was ever aware of concerned the French Canadians!)

So good-bye childhood memories. Today I disdain "the cult of personalities" and no longer is the entertainment industry a major influence in my life. But I have to be honest and admit that once it was an integral part of my culture... and it's always hard to say good-bye.

"Saint" George Got Around

Because of my interest in Ancient, Medieval and Renaissance Great Britain, I was quite familiar with St. George being "the Patron Saint" of England. (Sort of like Athena being the "patron goddess" of Athens and Artemis/Diana being the "patron goddess" of Ephesus, isn't it?) I had assumed, therefore, that he had British roots. But when we traveled through France what do I discover? The French also claim George as theirs! Then we visited Greece... lo and behold... they consider George theirs! I talked with a native Greek friend at home about it and he claimed George was originally a martyred Greek believer. I had trouble trying to figure out how a Greek martyr ended up slaying dragons and saving damsels-in-distress in England. I was just amazed at how this guy happened to "get around" to such disparate areas!

Then I opened up this month's issue of "Christian History and Biography" and got the REAL lowdown on George. It turns out George was really a ROMAN general and Christian martyr, probably under the reign of Emperor Diocletian (just before Constantine). Now I should have been suspicious when my Greek friend claimed George was a Greek [it's that Greek thing again], though I concede that he COULD have been a Roman officer of Greek descent. By the time of Diocletian, emperors, officers and soldiers hailed from all over the Roman Empire, not just Italy. At the very least, it makes sense that George would have been recognized as a Christian martyr in Greece at a very early date.

Perhaps he also became familiar in Roman Britain and Gaul during the Christian era of the Roman Empire and thus entered into their respective cultural histories. Then along came those terribly romantic and inventive French troubadours [who, btw, originally hailed from Britain (migrating to the Brittany region of France - hence the NAME "Brittany", when the Anglo-Saxons pushed their way into England and pushed them out) bringing all of their British legends with them]. They probably added all the interesting "details" to the story. That's my guess, anyway. Isn't history fun? Has anyone run across George anywhere else?

Monday, December 18, 2006

Jude 12 Variants [Updated]

I was translating today for my Monday night Bible Study and came across something interesting. To refresh your memory - The Book of Jude concerns ungodly men who have infiltrated the local assembly. These men are described in Jude 12 by the following BMTT [Beth'sMomToo Translation]. I'd like to show you how it all indents and lines up, but this format won't allow it - So imagine each comparison indented & lined up to together under "These are..." and the "who/which are" indented again and lined up under each other:

"These are
the (morally) damaging reefs/sunken rocks within your love-feasts,
who are boldly/fearlessly feasting themselves together (with you), [continuously]
who are feeding/sheperding themselves [continuously]

clouds without water
which are being driven about by the agency of a strong/tempestuous wind [continuously]

fruitless autumn trees
which have died twice,
which have been rooted out/plucked up by the roots."

The word for "feeding" also refers to shepherding. There is an VARIANT Greek text instead of "who are feeding/shepherding themselves" that offers the following translation:

"to whom you are feeding/shepherding" [continuously]

Both of those variants are interesting. The first one gives me the idea of the member of a local assembly who does not submit to the leadership and insists on shepherding/feeding himself. (We've all seen that occur).

The second gives me the idea of the member of a local assembly who constantly demands/requires feeding/shepherding - the person surrounded by turmoil who never learns or applies the knowledge he is given. THAT kind of church member is equally familiar. Either would be a danger to the rest of the assembly.

A simpler [K.I.S.S. method of interpretation... which is probably better than my vain imaginations] interpretation of this metaphor, into which either variant fits nicely - the idea that these people are right among you in the assembly... participating in worship alongside the believers... looking just like a believer on the outside, but being "ungodly men" in their hearts, i.e. unregenerate.

So...I like either variant and it seems to me either would fit into the context. What do you think? Is one a better fit than the other? How do you think the metaphor best applies to the subject/context?

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Theories of "Myth"

Doug brought out a good point in his comment on the first "myth" post. He mentioned just ONE proposed theory about myth. Several theories have developed over time, with the earlier theories now judged to be greatly flawed, and one POPULAR theory so disdained that it's not even worth consideration by anyone in the field! So I thought it might be helpful to give a little background in Theory of Myth. All societies have myth, but they were MOST important in preliterate cultures.

1) Myths are a form of ALLEGORY: Max Muller (1823-1900) Also known as "Solar Mythology Theory" - myths are misunderstood statements about the battle b/w sunlight and darkness. Mythology is a "disease of language", as terms changed meanings people misinterpreted them. Thus, "maiden dawn" came to be seen later as a female deity. Too narrow a theory!

2) Myths are basically AETIOLOGICAL: Andrew Lang (1844-1912) Myth was driven by the same impulse that would later develop into science; myth is basically "primitive" science.

3) Myth is an explanation for RITUAL: Sir James Frazer (1854-1941) [his landmark work was "The Golden Bough"] and The Cambridge School. Myth originiated in primordial religious beliefs common to most human societies. Narratives of myth remain long after the rituals they are based on have disappeared. His methodology collecting world-wide myths was proven to be badly flawed & few scholars today accept his premises...except maybe Scully in X-files! "Mulder, I'm sure it's ritualistic..." ;)

4) The defining character of myth is FUNCTIONALITY: Bronislaw Malinowski (1884-1942) Myth contributes to society by helping to maintain the social system. Its origin is less important than its functionality. He called them "CHARTER MYTHS" - they provided validation for social institutions.

5) Myths tell us the WHY: Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) and Carl Jung (1875-1961) said myths are reflections of the human "collective unconscious" and contain archetypes such as the "Earth Mother" or the "Wise Old Man". 

5) The popular myth theorist no one but the public takes seriously: Joseph Campbell (1904-1987) Often considered a Jungian, his approach might be better described as METAPHYSICAL. His method depends on gathering examples of narrative similarities in different cultures. The problem is that he is "selective" in choosing the myths that fit his theory and ignoring those that don't... something frowned upon by academics actually trained in the field!

There are lots more, of course, but most today would agree that there is no mono-theory. Personally, I believe there is often a thread of truth buried in myths. There have certainly been plenty of instances, for example, where characters in ancient Near Eastern myths who were thought to be purely fictional actually turned out to have been real people! Corroborating evidence is found, like a "King List", or a treaty between them and another king. Obviously all the fabulous exploits in the myth are accretions and make for a good "story", but it started with a real person, a hero or king. That kind of experience would be true to a particular culture, but I also believe there are cross-cultural myths related to a shared actual event or previous knowledge. [Romans 1] Creation myths and Flood myths would fall into this category. That's MY working theory, anyway, and I find many, many examples the more I study ancient civilizations.

There are some, of course, who would place the Bible in the category of myth. But it seems clear to me that they don't know much about the Bible, literature in general or archaeology at all if they can come to such a conclusion! I would certainly be happy to argue that point with anyone!

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Mesopotamian Creation Myths, Part 1

The earliest Mesopotamian text, found thus far, having parallels with Genesis is a copy of the "Atrahasis Epic", dated to the 17th Century BC, from a story dating back centuries EARLIER. The story is presented from the theological perspective of the Old Babylonians [OLD Babylonian Period c.2000-1600 BC / NEO-Babylonian Period 625-539 BC, Nebuchadnezzar's time]. The story has details which appear to be corrupted versions of the Genesis account:

* The gods rule the heavens and the earth [Gen.1:1 "In the beginning God..."]

* The gods make man from the clay of the earth mixed with blood. [Gen.2:7, 3:19; Lev.17:11] for the purpose of taking over the lesser gods' chores of tending the land [Gen.2:15]

* When men multiply on the earth and become too "noisy" ;), a flood is sent (after a series of plagues) to destroy mankind. [Gen.6:13]

* One man, Atrahasis, is given advance warning of the flood and told to build a boat. [Gen.6:14]

* He builds a boat and loads it with food and animals and birds. Through this means he is saved while the rest of the world perishes. [Gen.6:17-22]

At this point the text is destroyed, so there's no record of the boat landing. However, the very end of the story HAS been found - it ends with Atrahasis offering a sacrifice to the gods and the chief god accepting mankind's continued existence. [Gen.8:20-22]

The literary style, of course, is completely different from the Genesis account and to even suggest that the Genesis story was copied from the Mesopotamian story only demonstrates you've never read the two accounts! Also, missing from the Atrahasis Epic is any kind of love of the gods for men (they are pretty much viewed as useful slaves, as long as they don't get too "noisy") or any element of morality, which are the warp and weft of Biblical accounts. Those two points hold true whenever you compare pagan writing with the Bible. But I believe it DOES demonstrate that both refer to events that were once commonly known.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

We All Love Surveys

I just came across a new "tag" survey. Here are the questions. Instead of "tagging" someone via email, just put your completed list on the comments page so we can all enjoy it. To streamline responses, EITHER choose only books of the Bible OR list books other than the Bible [otherwise we'll ALL have "Bible" listed under favorite book].

1. One book that changed your life.
2. One book that you’ve read more than once.

3. One book you’d want on a desert island.

4. One book that made you laugh.

5. One book that made you cry.

6. One book you wish had been written.

7. One book you wish had never been written.

8. One book you’re currently reading.

9. One book you've been meaning to read.