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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.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Ancient Egyptian Creation Myths

I'm always fascinated while studying early civilizations to find "pieces" of Truth buried in their myths. Creation myths are of particular interest. Some of you may be familiar with the Mesopotamian 'Enuma Elish'. The Greeks, btw, incorporated Mesopotamian mythology when developing their own. [I know that may come as a shock to the Greeks, who have a national belief in Hellas being the source for ALL civilizations, a POV reaching back to the time of Herodotus! ;) The world DID receive much from the Greeks...but not everything originated with them.] None of these creation myths, btw, hold a candle to the presentation in Genesis. While there are similarities, the differences are absolutely GLARING! I attribute the similarities to their having had an original knowledge of the Truth. [Romans, Chapter 1] And I find it's a universal phenomona - even reaching to the Americas.

When considering Ancient Egypt we sometimes lose sight of the variations of beliefs over their 3000 years of existance- it varied according to regions and time periods. So I thought I would tell you about four of their creation myths.

Heliopolis: The self-created Atum-Ra (the sun) emerged from the primeval ocean, Nun, and produced the divine pair Shu (air) and Tefnut (moisture) [2nd Day Division of Firmament & waters?]. They, in turn, became the parents of Geb (earth) and Nut (sky), who were in turn the parents of the four primary gods: Osiris and his wife Isis, Seth and his wife Nephthys. This system of nine gods ["The Ennead"] became the dominant view, and was centered in Heliopolis [Biblical "On"; "Heliopolois" is its Greek name...there go those Greeks again ;)], just north of modern Cairo].

Hermopolis: Eight shadowy gods (including Amon, "The Hidden One") produced out of the formless watery waste an egg, from which the sun (Atum-Ra) emerged.

Memphis [So. of Modern Cairo; residence of the Pharaohs during time of Abraham]: All things originated as thought in the heart of Ptah and issued through the commands of his tongue. [Sound familiar?]

Elephatine: Mankind was shaped by the ram god, Khnum, on his potter's wheel.

Next Post I'll tell you a few of the Mesopotamian Creation myths.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Top Five Mystery/Suspense Authors

Ok...time to lighten up a bit. Admittedly this is not an area I've been doing much reading in lately, but there are times you need "an airport book" or "a waiting room book" and I have enjoyed these authors. Besides, isn't it nice to be able to finish a book quickly once in a while? There's nothing like reading a mystery to make you feel like a speed-reader!

1. Laurie R. King: "Mary Russell" series. King combines history and literature by creating a young female character who accompanies Sherlock Holmes on adventures. My favorite is "O Jerusalem", which takes place in Jerusalem in 1918. (Yes, Allenby is there.) The first book in the series is "The Beekeeper's Apprentice".

2. Lindsey Davis: "Marcus Didius Falco" series. As you might suspect by his name, Marcus is a Roman living at the time of the Emperors Vespasian and Titus. [Remember the Destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD? Yeah...THAT father/son team.] Davis really gives you a taste of 1st Century Rome and Falco is a fun character. "Silver Pigs" is probably my favorite.

3. Edward Marston: "The Domesday Book" series. This series takes place in Medieval Britain during the reign of William the Conqueror. The two main characters solve mysteries as they travel around Britain as royal judges during the compilation of the famous "Domesday Book". [I think I'm noticing a pattern here... there seems to be a lot of history mixed in with my mystery! ;)]

4. Susanna Kearsley: I think she has only four [The Shadowy Horses; Season of Storms; Named of the Dragon and Mariana]. Each is tied into an historical past event (here we go again...) that somehow impacts the present day. While I get the previous books from the library, I think I had to order the Kearsley books from Amazon.

5. A Toss Up - Dorothy Gilman: "Mrs. Polifax" series and Lilian Jackson Braun: "The Cat Who..." series. Mrs. Polifax is a hoot! She is a sweet, elderly woman who travels around the world secretly working for the CIA. Very funny. And I'm sure all of you have read at least ONE "Cat"'ve just got to love Jim Qwilleran's two intuitive Siamese cats. I don't think all of the books are consistent in execution, so pay attention to Amazon ratings.

Classics: I should mention Agatha Christie, but I don't enjoy her as much as I used to [Her 2 best: "And Then There Were None" (a/k/a "Ten Little Indians") and "Murder on the Orient Express". Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes - "The Hound of the Baskerville". Josephine Tey - "The Daughter of Time". P.D. James. Elizabeth Peters (Amelia Peabody [Egypt] series). Any of those great English period authors who crop up on PBS's "Mystery". Btw, I've been watching a BBC series, "Campion", which takes place in 1930's Britain, starring Peter Davison [who played Tristan in "All Creatures Great & Small"& one of my favorite Doctors in the old "Doctor Who" series.] Nobody does period pieces like the BBC... all those great old houses, costumes and cars.

As you can see, I like more humor than darkness. A little bit of scary, but not too much. No graphic murders or language. And if they're good at historical research and character development...

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Two POVs: Puritan vs Emerging Church

Even though I have lots of homework and lesson preps to do, this post has been twirling around in my mind and just HAS to get out. I recently read both "Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church", by D.A. Carson and "Worldly Saints: The Puritans As They Really Were", by Leland Ryken. I was struck by their completely opposite Points of View concerning how we should approach and handle God's Word, the Bible.

The Emerging Church, by their own admission, is purposeful in having "fuzzy" definitions. [WARNING: 2Cor. 4:2] Their approach is "built on the assumption that postmodernism has effected such a gigantic and irreversible shift in people's thought patterns that the church is faced with a fundamental choice: adapt so as to respond better to postmodernism, or be relegated to irrelevance." Postmodernism believes there is no overriding Truth, that unless one is completely omniscient (which none of us are) one cannot know ANY Truth, only "individualized truths" particular to each person. There are "hard" Postmodernists and "soft" Postmodernists, depending how far one wishes to go in this line of thinking (which has strong undertones of Eastern philosophy, btw).

Now, to me, the proper response to Postmodernism is the Truth of God's revelation in His Word, NOT adopting a worldly Postmodern approach! If everyone is "in error" (from God's POV, as revealed in His Word), you do NOT also become "in error" in order to approach the lost more effectively! This has a decidedly Arminian world view. The Bible teaches that God chooses, God effects - it doesn't matter WHAT you thought before, when God regenerates a man, he receives spiritual life and responds to God in faith. [This reminds me of 1Cor.1-3, where the regenerated Corinthians tried to base their thinking and actions on the inferior knowledge of Greek sophia/wisdom, instead of the superior sophia/wisdom of God they already possessed as believers!] It's true that none of us, as humans, has omniscient knowledge, but God does...and He has given His revelation to us.

The Emerging Church stresses "forms" of worship [Menu-style, "pick and choose": robes, liturgy, candles, "personal narrative" journaling, Eastern-style meditation, icons, etc. Pretty much everything the Reformation fought to cleanse the church of!] and steers away from metanarrative - doctrinal Truths. [Brian MacLaren, a prominent writer for the movement, wrote that the Doctrine of the Atonement was "cosmic child abuse".] The focus of the movement appears to be the "worship experience" of the Individual, with a Postmodern capital "I", rather than on the Object of our worship. I am reminded of God's attitude towards those who worship Him in the manner THEY choose, rather than in the manner HE chooses. There can be NO real "worship" without Truth. [John 4:23-24; Rom 1:18; Rom 2:8]

Now lets look at the Puritan POV. John Owen wrote, "Pin not your faith upon men's opinions, the Bible is the touchstone." Ryken writes, "The Puritans' line of reasoning on biblical authority is impeccable: if God is the author of Scripture, it cannot lie, and if it does not deceive, it must be inerrant and infallible." (in reference to the original autographs)

They also believed in the Perspicuity of Scripture: John Milton wrote, "The very essence of Truth is plainness, and brightness...The Scriptures [protest] their own plainness and perspicuity, calling to them to be instructed, not only the wise and learned, but the simple, the poor, the babes." John Lightfoot wrote, "The foundation of the true church of God is Scripture." The preface to the Geneva Bible reads: The Bible "is the light to our paths, the key of the kingdom of heaven, our comfort in affliction, our shield and sword against Satan, the school of all wisdom, the glass wherein we behold God's face, the testimony of his favor, and the only food and nourishment of our souls."

"The Protestant Reformation, whether Continental or Puritan, stood for a word-based piety. Beginning with a conviction that the Bible was where a person encountered God most directly...The Puritans expected the verbal imagination to do the work that Catholic/Anglican worship had placed on the visual and aural imagination." The Puritans had a passion for doctrinal Truth. They expected worship to include an appeal to the understanding. They were especially preoccupied with religious Truth because they lived in an age of religious upheaval and doctrinal controversy. Is it any different today?

The Emerging Church promotes a preaching style of "story-telling" and "personal narratives". The Puritans were jailed and died over the right to preach God's Word! When Puritan preaching became popular in England, the Anglican establishment made numerous attempts to limit the role of preaching in the worship service. And now, the "newest", the "latest" type of worship being promoted by the Emerging Church is, in fact, actually going backwards to that erroneous form of "worship"!

Forgive the length of this post, but I think this is an important issue that most believers, at least on the East Coast, are unfamiliar with. We need to be thinking about these things, instead of being so anxious to "meet people's needs" (read: emotional; as opposed to their REAL need: spiritual), "increase our numbers", offering forms of worship that aid people in having a "personally valid experience". So be paying attention as the Christian book industry promotes these books and "everyone" at church is talking about them and thinking they're full of "good ideas".

I leave you with the words of the Puritan, Richard Greenham, "The more ceremonies, the less truth."

Thursday, September 14, 2006

"Reading Greek all day" Pays Off

Well, it happened to me again. Because I had become so used to hearing a particular passage OUT of context, I completely misunderstood its meaning, which became evident when read IN the context. I've been going SLOWLY over 1 Corinthians, Chapters 1-2 and following Paul's flow of argument [which FORCES me to keep in context].

The Corinthian believers had become enamored with trying to apply Greek sophia (wisdom) to Paul's message. The result was they wanted to abandon Paul, and ultimately his teaching [the gospel: "Christ crucified"], which they apparently considered "milk". ["You started us off, Paul, but now we've gone on to higher things."] They thought they had matured into a "higher", Greek sophia-type of knowledge, with the result that they no longer needed Paul, nor his message. [Remember that they had previously been corresponding with Paul (1Cor.5:9), so Paul is responding to a previous letter they wrote to him, and he is likely using their own terms, but giving them more accurate definitions.]

Now here is where all that Greek reading comes in handy. Greek sophia is a "higher" spirituality that is divorced from ethical consequences (as the Corinthians certainly demonstrated!). Paul is telling them that the purpose of the HS's coming was NOT to transport the believer ABOVE the present age, but to empower him to live in a holy manner within it. Greek sophia was an intellectual or theoretical, rational knowledge as the Stoics would have understood it. [Btw, the Stoics believed death brought the merging of the soul with deity, with a resultant loss of personality. The Epicureans, as you know, denied there was any existence beyond physical death.] Paul tells the Corinthians that God's sophia has nothing to do with Greek sophia's insight into a god's secrets, disclosed in ecstasy or in a mystical way, as Philo had (erroneously) explained Abraham's and Moses' knowledge of God. True sophia of God is rather the profound content of God's revelation - Christ crucified [Paul's "kerygma" (message preached)]. The Corinthian church's error was to conceive of God as "ultimate Reason", meaning what THEY deemed "reasonable" (and they didn't find wisdom based on "Christ crucified" to be reasonable). But faith trusts God, recognizing His superior wisdom to that of the human mind.

In 1Cor.3:1, "infants" is the opposite of "spiritual", indicating that the "mature/teleioi" of 1Cor.2:6 are those who have received the Spirit (1Cor.2:12). Those "in Christ" (1Cor.1:30) are "the mature", and thus the Corinthians are included. BUT their behavior indicates that they are THINKING like "infants" [i.e. unsaved human Greek sophia]. Paul's concern is to persuade them to adopt the godly thinking, that results in godly behavior, which goes along with being "mature ones"/believers in Christ, instead of thinking like "infants"/the unsaved. (cf. 1Cor.14:20)

So, basically, Paul is NOT comparing immature believers with mature believers (as I had previously thought), but unsaved ["infants"] with saved ["mature ones"]. He points out that the Corinthians' perception of themselves as "mature" because they had added Greek human sophia [which was, in truth - the wisdom of the lost] to what they considered to be a "foolish" gospel message (1Cor.1:23) was, in fact, error. In reality, what they had done was to add the philosophy of a "kosmos/world" that had already been judged, and was "passing away". As believers they had God's wisdom [1Cor.2:16 "the mind of Christ", i.e. "understanding" of God's activity in the world, anchored/foundationed upon "Christ crucified"] and they had no need of an inferior Greek-type sophia/wisdom.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Interpreting the Bible

While I am trying to get back into the swing of things because of my new "grandmother" experience, I thought I'd share a blog from Todd Bolen, an Instructor at IBEX in Israel (where Tim spent time when he was at The Master's College). This is a good reminder to all of us.

from Todd's blog, 9/7/06:
I was asked, isn’t the Bible God’s love letter to us? Uh, no. Not exactly.
It’s easier to speak in specifics rather than in general terms, so let’s take the book of Samuel as our example. The book of Samuel had an author (or authors) and it had an audience. That is, the person(s) who wrote Samuel wrote it for a reason and for a certain readership. And it wasn’t me (or you). This sounds basic, but it is increasingly important in a world (and church) that doesn’t seem to appreciate context and recognize boundaries. While the book of Samuel may be difficult to nail down exactly who wrote it, when they wrote, and exactly to whom they wrote, I think we can all agree that the audience was a group of Jewish people sometime between 1000-500 B.C. We don’t need to be more specific for our purposes now. So the point is that the original audience cannot be me (I’m not Jewish) and it can’t be you (unless you’re 2500 years old).

But, you ask, isn’t there a way in which Samuel is for us. Yes, indeed. But that way is not to pretend as if that book was written to and for us. Instead, it is to understand the meaning of Samuel as intended by its original author(s) to its original hearers/readers. That, and only that, meaning is what you must seek. You cannot start with “what is Samuel saying to me?”. Once you’ve determined what Samuel is saying to its audience, then you can determine what application it has for your life.

So here’s an example. You read the story of David and Goliath (chapter 17). First, determine what it meant when it was written. I’ll save you some time: the answer is that it was written to show David’s military superiority to Saul (not Goliath, Saul), which of course reflects God’s hand upon David. Once you understand the original meaning (and there’s no magic except for careful attention to the context and some knowledge of history, geography, and language), then you can determine how it applies to you today.

Valid “Principles” include:
1. God empowers those whom he chooses to do what he wills.
2. God expects his people to embrace the leader he has chosen for them.
3. God can defend his honor in unexpected ways
These of course lead to proper “Application”:
1. If you are doing the will of God, He will give you the strength you need to accomplish His purposes.
2. Honor those in authority over you.
3. Don’t try to outsmart God.

The problem with the “love letter to me” approach is that you end up making the Bible say things that it does not intend to say. For instance, you can say that God will always allow you to conquer the giants in your life. You can say that God’s servants need to be prepared with extra stones in their pouch. You can say that those who denounce God should have their heads cut off. The problem with all of these applications is that they are not what the writer intended to say (and by the way, I’m not making a significant distinction between the event itself and the recording of that event, but there is a difference and thus it’s easiest and best to speak about the written record). And I think they are all false. Let me say it more strongly: All applications which do not derive from the passage are dangerous! They must be forgotten or denounced, as the case may be. If the statement is true and you know so from another passage, then base it on the other passage and not this one.

If the question is “Can I profit from all of the Bible even though it was not written directly to me?”, the answer is a resounding, “Yes!”. Paul knew that Samuel wasn’t written to him, yet he told Timothy that all Scripture was useful. The key here is in using it as it was originally intended and not as a horoscope.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Faith and Works

This summer I have been translating the Book of James as my Pastor preaches through it. Not only is it good practice [I didn't KILL myself for 2 years to allow that knowledge to atrophy!], but it also brings another layer of understanding to his preaching. Translating the last verses of James 2 has resulted in a better grasp of an epistle that has often proved confusing in light of the epistles of Paul. It is much clearer in the Greek, as often proves true. I thought I'd offer YOU the "BMT" English translation of James 2:21-22. [No publishing house has been knocking on my door begging for my English translation, nor are they likely too. ;) But maybe a literal translation will add a bit to your understanding, too.]

James 2:21 "Was not Abraham our father rendered righteous/justified by [means of] works, by [means of] having offered his son Isaac upon the altar?"

Wait a minute, you say, doesn't this fly in the face of Paul in Romans 4:1-5? It would if they were talking about exactly the same thing, but they are not - context, context, context. Paul is talking about Abraham having faith BEFORE he was circumcised. (Rom.4:10) Paul points out it is not circumcision that saves a person. Circumcision is a SIGN of an ALREADY existing faith.

James, on the other hand, is using Abraham's willingness to offer up Isaac on the altar as a confirming EVIDENCE of the faith he already had [a PROVEN faith, Jms.1:12 "tried", "approved", "tested"; a faith evidenced by obedience to God (Heb.11:19 "...concluding that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead...")].

Paul and James use the same words, but are talking about different acts. Paul discusses Abraham's faith, not his circumcision, as the basis for his justification. James, in context, points to Abraham's offering of Isaac as a proof/evidence of his ALREADY existing faith. Circumcision (for an OT Hebrew) and obedience to God's commands are the natural outcomes of saving faith. [It's also helpful to remember that James and Paul agreed with each other at the Jerusalem Council in 49 AD. (Acts 15; Gal.2).]

James 2:22 "You (singular) are seeing that faith was working together [in association with] his works, and faith by [means of] works was perfected/made complete."

You can't understand v.21 without reading v.22! Abraham's "works" (actions, deeds) were the natural outcome of his faith. They worked together with his faith to form a "completed", "perfected" faith...which is true of saving faith. Faith is not just an intellectual exercise [Jms.2:19 "...Even the demons believe and tremble." - BUT they DON'T respond to God in obedience...the sign of true, saving faith].

Monday, August 14, 2006

"No Evidence" - Really?

If you haven't done much reading in the field of archaeology, you may not be aware of the raging controversies. There is no such thing as "Archaeologists believe...", because they are NOT a unified group. The Biblical evidence concerning events in Genesis 37 to Exodus 14 has been spurned by those with reductionist tendencies, because they believe them to be "ideologically and theologically shaped". [Now many of these same "reductionists" become quite "maximalist" when evaluating NON-biblical sources. There's a real lack of consistency in examining ancient literature, with the Bible seldom accorded the same respect as other ancient works, even though Biblical integrity is far above that of other documents from the same time periods. This doesn't come as a great surprise, but it does seem smack of intellectual dishonesty.]

The "official" reason usually given for discounting the Biblical record is that no historical or archaeological evidence has been found to back it up. I guess that would depend how fine a definition you use...and how patient you are for archaeologists to officially write up the results of their findings. There IS evidence there were Semites in Ancient Egypt's Eastern Delta from the end of the Old Kingdom (ca.2160 BC) to the height of the 108 year reign of the Hyksos (ca.1648-1540 BC) and the entire Second Intermediate Period (ca.1786-1550BC) , and even into the New Kingdom (ca.1550-1069 BC). To an ancient Egyptian, "Semites" would include Syrians, Arab Bedouins and Hebrews. To try to break it down any further would be pretty tough, though I believe there ARE some distinctive Hebrew artifacts, such as pottery. But it's not likely they will ever find a diary entitled "Joseph, the Hebrew, and Me". ;) [Btw, I believe Joseph entered Egypt during Dynasty 12 and the Exodus was ca. 1446 BC, maybe during the reign of Amenhotop III, Dynasty 18.]

Existing epigraphic evidence includes such works as "The Instruction for Merikare" [Dynasty 10, ca.2106-2010 BC - the time of Abraham. Remember he went to Egypt due to a famine in Canaan? Apparently he was not the ONLY one to do so.]. Egyptians referred to the residents of Syro-Palestine as "Asiatics" and "bowman" (meaning foreigner), a synonym. The cited document states "The east (Delta) abounds with foreigners" and complains that "these foreigners...the miserable Asiatic" had infiltrated the eastern Delta region.

"The Prophecy of Neferti", likely written during Dynasty 12, the time of Joseph, discusses conditions during the First Intermediate Period. "Asiatics" are referred to metaphorically: "A strange bird will reproduce in the marsh of the Delta, having made its nest by the people" and "those feeders, Asiatics who are throughout the land" and "Asiatics have come down to Egypt". There's also a document from Thebes called the "Papyrus Brooklyn 35.1446" from the late 12th/early 13th Dynasty containing a ledger of servants on just ONE Egyptian estate. Over 40 are labeled as "Asiatics" and have Syro-Palestinian names! [Joseph was a servant on an Egyptian estate, remember?]

In the next post I'll get into some of the archaeological evidence for Semites residing in Ancient Egypt.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

A Ring and A Curse

In the Summer issue of Britain's "National Trust Magazine" there was an interesting article about two "finds" in Britain that might have ended up having particular significance. In the late 18th Century a farmer found an engraved gold ring from the 4th-5th Century at the remains of the Roman town of Silchester. The ring has a chunky bezel with an engraving of Venus and engraved letters surround the band, which is in the shape of a ten-sided hoop. By amazing coincidence, a few decades later a Roman lead tablet bearing an inscription concerning this ring was found at a Roman temple site at Lydney in Gloucestershire. The tablet was engraved with a curse imprecating woe upon the person who had stolen this very ring! [Written curses left at temples must have been quite common. I remember seeing many examples uncovered at the temple connected to the Roman baths at Bath. Interestingly, people they wanted to curse were often mentioned by name, along with the wrong they had committed! (No "forgive and forget" in THOSE days!) At Bath they were usually written upon ostraca, broken pieces of pottery.]

Then in 1928 Sir Mortimer Wheeler, a prominent archaeologist, was told of the ring and the "curse tablet" while he was excavating at Lydney. Wheeler had an advisor on his Lydney dig who was an expert in early English - an Oxford don, named Tolkein! Was it inspiration, do you think?

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Top Five Missionary Biographies

I've decided to separate "Missionary Biographies" from "Missions books" because I see the latter as a larger category. My Top Five would be as follows:

To the Golden Shore: The Life of Adoniram Judson, Courtney Anderson - If you were on my Christmas gift list last year, then this should come as no surprise. I LOVED this book and suspect it will make my REread list. Judson's attitude towards missions, the history of the early 19th Century American church concerning foreign missions, the cost of  serving on a foreign mission field, the difficulty of serving in Burma (modern Myanmar) ... all these make for fascinating reading AND it's an encouragement to the 21st Century believer.

Jonathan Edwards: A Life, George Marsden - Don't be intimidated by the size of this book. Marsden is a wonderful writer and you'll find yourself making quick progress. New Englanders in particular will enjoy the local history - the year Edwards was born the Deerfield (MA) Massacre occurred (involving members of his family!). Marsden also does an excellent job of presenting Edwards' ideas. (Iain Murray also wrote an excellent biography on Edwards.)

Zvi, Elwood McQuaid - You know the man who writes the column on the back page of "Israel My Glory" magazine? This is the story of his life as an orphaned Jewish child trying to hide out and escape from the Nazis in WWII, his subsequent faith in the Messiah and emigration to Israel. This autobiography will stay with you the rest of your life!

The Autobiography of George Muller - This little book is a gem and is sure to encourage you in your prayer life. I also read the Benge's children's book on Muller with my SS kids. Muller became a believer while in college and the transformation in his life was just breathtaking. I'm still looking for a more complete adult biography of him. Any suggestions?

Through Gates of Splendor, Elisabeth Elliot - No need to explain THIS one!

5 Classic Biographies on my "To Read" pile:

Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther, Roland Bainton
William Tyndale, David Daniell
Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, John Bunyan (autobiography)
Hero for Humanity: William Wilberforce, Kevin Belmonte
A Passion for Souls: D.L. Moody, Lyle Dorsett

What are YOUR Top Five?

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Top Five REreads

I have been meandering through a book called "Every Book Its Reader" (Nicholas Basbanes). He got me thinking about a better way to make "Favorites" lists. Rather than using impossible categories, such as Top 100 Books (for what? based on what? for what audience?), it makes more sense to make more specific lists. So I'm instituting a new series based on Favorite Books - By Category.

We'll start with our top 3-5 "REreads". What books do you find yourself coming back to? I've discovered there are some that have held my interest over the years, while others that were favorites in the past are now not so interesting to me. That's a good reason to never have an all-time favorites do you know it's still a favorite if you haven't read it recently? We change...and so do our tastes.

My Top Five REreads:
Lord of the Rings Trilogy, Tolkein (they count as ONE, right?): I think I've read them seven times now, starting back in my college days. They continue to hold my complete attention.

Wuthering Heights, Bronte: I'm convinced ONE of these times Heathcliff won't end up so angry and Cathy won't be such an immature idiot.

A Room with a View, E.M. Forster: This guy could write! England AND can you go wrong?

Ray Bradbury Reader: It's hard to understand how I can STILL enjoy his stories when I already know how they all end...but I do!

Amusing Ourselves to Death, Neil Postman: Nonfiction "issue" books can quickly become dated, but this one is even MORE applicable than when it was written!!

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

A Name of My Own

My computer crashed recently and while rebuilding everything I decided to have my own blog. I have enjoyed writing on T's blog, but have been concerned that I was perhaps "taking it over" at times. He hadn't written a disclaimer yet - disavowing any personal responsibility for what I had written, but I'm sure there were times he was tempted. This way I can post about LOST on his blog and my ramblings on this one. So welcome!