Archive for the ‘Theology’ Category

The claim that Jesus rose from the dead is a central truth in Christianity. Much has been published and said about the evidence for this miracle. But what about today? When one reads the Bible, it is chalked full of miracles. This naturally causes one to aks “Why don’t we see miracles today?” While I am highly skeptical of some claims of miracles (such as the miracle healers at healing revivals, which have been demonstrably debunked as charlatans) there actually is solid evidence for miracles happening today. Today’s post explores the question: do miracles happen today?

Sean McDowell has recently spoken to this questions on this video:

The peer-reviewed medical journal article (pictured below) discussed in McDowell’s video is titled the “Case Report of Gastroparesis Healing: 16 years of a Chronic Syndrome Resolved After Proximal Intercessory Prayer.” The abstract for the article states:

For 16 years he was completely dependent on j-tube feeding. In November 2011, he experienced proximal-intercessory-prayer (PIP) at a church and felt an electric shock starting from his shoulder and going through his stomach. After the prayer experience, he was unexpectedly able to tolerate oral feedings. The g- and j-tube were removed four months later and he did not require any further special treatments for his condition as all symptoms had resolved. Over seven years later, he has been free from symptoms.

Craig Keener’s two-volume work titled Miracles: The Credibility of the New Testament Account (also mentioned in McDowell’s video) describes that “hundreds of millions of people today claim to have experienced miracles. . . . many miracle accounts throughout history and from contemporary times are best explained as genuine divine acts, lending credence to the biblical miracle reports.”

A video of Keener presenting on the topic of miracles in general can be found in the video below. He talks about modern miracles beginning at minute 9:15:

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A good (and more accessible book in size) about miracles has been written recently by Lee Strobel: The Case for Miracles: A Journalist Investigates Evidence for the Supernatural. Strobel begins the book interviewing the skeptic Michael Shermer and then proceeds to interview Craig Keener as well as experimental particle physicists Dr. Michael G. Strauss and Detective J. Warner Wallace.

It seems evident that miracles can occur and do occur today. One more case to point out: Duane Miller

While Pastoring a church in 1990, Duane Miller lost his voice to an ordinary flu virus.  Over the next 3 years he saw some 63 specialists plus their teams, over 300 professionals, who arrived at the conclusion that he would never speak normally again, and, the raspy whisper he had would not last past another 18 months.

GOD had another plan…

Given the evidence of miracles, one might still ask, “why don’t we see miracles happen as frequently as we read them in the Bible?” This question needs to be answered in light of the context of miracles in the Bible.

There are approximately 250 miracles recorded in the Bible. When we read them, it seems that every time someone turns around there is another miracle being recorded. But if the Bible covers about a 10,000 year time period, that is about a miracle every 40 years. On top of that miracles tended to be grouped around three periods of time: Moses and Joshua, Elijah and Elisha, and in the time of Christ and the apostles. None of those periods lasted longer than a hundred years. There is a reason they tended to be grouped in those time frames:

Miracles Confirm the Message

Those three time periods that miracles are grouped around involve extraordinary messengers of God. Each of those periods was an outpouring of God’s revelation such as the law to Moses for the children of Israel and Jesus as the Son of God. The healing of the paralyzed man in Mark 2:1-12 demonstrates this principle of the miracle confirming the message. Most remember that Jesus healed the paralyzed man when he was lowered to Jesus through the roof of the home, when in actuality Jesus said to him, “son, your sins are forgiven.” Jesus went back to teaching and it wasn’t until the teachers of the law said, “Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” It was then that Jesus turned to the paralyzed man and I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” So he said to the man, “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.” He got up, took his mat and walked out in full view of them all.

Notice that the reason Jesus performed the miracle was to confirm that he had the authority to forgive sins which only God could do. Miracles confirm the message. A think that is true today as well.

“LET’S GET READY TO RUMBLE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

A controversy has been brewing over the past several years over interpreting the Gospels and how to defend their basic historic reliability. This match of the century is sure to interest those concerned with biblical accuracy, scriptural interpretation, and New Testament studies.

In this corner is:

And in this corner is:

  • Lydia McGrew
  • Ph.D. in English Literature at Vanderbilt University
  • Published analytic philosopher
  • Weighing in with “undesigned coincidences” and “harmonization”
  • Author of The Mirror and the Mask (DeWard, 2019)

Background of Match:

Michael R. Licona, after publishing his voluminous dissertation on the topic of the resurrection with The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach, began to explore the possibility of explaining differences in the Gospel accounts by turning to Plutarch, the first century Greek historian who wrote on the lives of Greek and Roman individuals. The issue here concerns how the Gospels report on the same events in different ways.

There is no doubt that the reporting of the same event between two Gospels are different. For example, it is well known that the narrative of the empty tomb of Jesus being discovered by the women have divergent accounts. In Matthew 28:5-7 the narrative only mentions one angel at the empty tomb, while the same narrative event in John 20:10-13 mentions two angels being at the empty tomb. Another example is the servant of the Roman centurion that Jesus healed in Capernaum (which is recorded in both Matthew 8:5-13 and Luke 7:1-10). Matthew makes it seem that the centurion met Jesus face to face, while Luke explains that the centurion used the Jewish elders to speak to Jesus as emissaries. Traditionally, biblical scholars have attempted different harmonizations between the accounts.

Round One: Compositional Devices

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Entering the arena is Licona with his Why Are There Differences in the Gospels?: What We Can Learn from Ancient Biography (2016) in which he presents compositional devices (or literary devices) as commonly employed by ancient authors (such as Plutarch). This powerhouse of a punch was published by Oxford University Press, no less (hey, I haven’t published with OUP, but I have published with wordpress.com, yeah, that’s right, you envious). With endorsements from J. I. Packer, Scot McKnight, and Michael Kochenash, it looked like Licona was going to win the match with no one showing up to challenge him (except for Bart Ehrman, who is always good for a sparring match).

Licona applies this approach to various narratives that are in two or more of the Gospels, arguing that the major differences found there are likely a result from the same compositional devices employed by Plutarch. His aim is to “investigate compositional devices that are often inferred by classical scholars in order to see if the existence of these devices may be more firmly established and provide insights into many of the differences in the Gospels.” (3)

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The compositional devices apparently found by Licona in the works of Plutarch include: Transferal, Displacement, Conflation, Compression, Spotlighting, Simplification, Expansion of Narrative Details, and Paraphrasing.

Some of these devices are defined by Liconas –Compression: When an author knowingly portrays events over a shorter period of time than they had actually occurred. Transferral: When an author knowingly attributes words or actions to a person that he knew belonged to another. Displacement: When an author knowingly removes an event from its original context and places it in another.

So, returning to the example of the centurion in the narrative of Matthew and Luke, instead of harmonizing the accounts, Licona employs the compositional device called transference in which “Matthew simplified the story by transferring what one character said to the lips of another.”

In short, Licona says that some of the differences in the gospels (such as the baptism of Jesus by John the baptist, the man with the withered hand, the two blind men, the resurrection accounts, etc.) are explained by these literary devices.

Licona concludes that certain apparent points of difference in the gospels reflect common first-century narrative devices by which some events, sayings, and so on may be reported differently at different times for different purposes. Because these were common devices, Licona suggests that first century readers would not see that the gospels as needing reconciling, because ancient biographies employed this standard practice of compositional devices.

This approach to the Gospels “will require a paradigm shift,” according to Licona. “Especially for those outside academia who may tend to read the Gospels anachronistically as though ancient biographers and historians wrote with the same objectives and conventions as their modern cousins.” Traditional, straightforward readings of the text will have to be replaced with this new approach. “Fortunately, historical nearsightedness can be corrected with the proper glasses. We craft the proper lenses by reading a significant amount of literature from the period, which improves our understanding of the genre to which the Gospels belong. Like anyone who begins to wear glasses, some initial discomfort and adjusting will occur.” (201)

Round Two: The Challenger

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But, a challenger has arisen. Entering into the arena is Lydia McGrew. McGrew, the wife of esteemed husband Timothy McGrew, has turned her attention to the usage of compositional or literary devices by Licona, after publishing Hidden in Plain View: Undesigned Coincidences in the Gospels and Acts (an aside: interestingly, the titles of Lydia’s books sound more like a British mystery novels than rigorous analysis of New Testament texts) which is a revival of an argument for the historical reliability of the New Testament that has been largely neglected for more than a hundred years. Undesigned coincidences are casual, yet puzzle-like “fits” between two or more texts, which the best explanation is that the authors knew the truth about the events they describe.

After writing her highly praised book on undesigned coincidences, she has donned the gloves once again and is challenging the current champion of literary devices. Lydia claims that Licona has has failed “to establish the existence and acceptance, even in non-biblical literature [i.e., Plutarch], of the fictionalizing devices he defines, and he fails a fortiori to establish that the authors of the Gospels ever employed such devices.” The term fictionalizing devices is McGrew’s term not Liconas. But that is McGrew’s point. She is pointing out that most of these compositional devices Licona is utilizing deliberately alters the facts, which Licona readily admits. For example, Licona states in a online published debate with Bart Ehrman over the reliability of the New Testament that “if Plutarch can alter the year in which Caesar wept in order to emphasize Caesar’s ambitious character, John could alter the day and time of Jesus’s crucifixion to symbolize the sacrificial quality of Jesus’s death and be well within the bounds of the literary conventions under which both operated.”

She began by jabbing at Licona’s thesis on her blog with numerous and extensive critiques. Her first blow was “A Gospel Fictionalization Theory Is No Help to the Gospel” landed just before the release of Licona’s Why Are There Differences in the Gospels?

It was shortly there after that Lydia began a volley of punches, one after the other, seeming to stun Licona with no response. From the beginning of 2017 to the end 2018, Lydia published 34 posts on the issue of literary devices (the total number of posts now exceeds 45). Some of the issues she wrote included:

Some of the issues of concern brought up in her posts include:

  • Did Jesus actually say, “I thirst,” or was that made up by John?
  • Did Jesus actually say, “It is finished,” or was that made up by John as a “redaction of the tradition”?
  • Did Jesus breathe on his disciples and say, “Receive the Holy Ghost,” or was that incident invented by John?
  • Did Mark deliberately suppress the conversion of the thief on the cross in order to make Jesus appear to have been rejected by all?
  • Did John deliberately change the day of the crucifixion to make a theological point?
  • Does Luke “put” all of the events of Jesus’ resurrection on Easter Sunday when he knew that all didn’t occur on that single day?

Tom Gilson, editor at The Stream (mentioned below for more detail), who is a personal friend of Licona, asks, “Where the text says Jesus says, ‘It is finished,’ can we we be confident he actually said that? Lydia’s position is to say yes; Mike’s position takes that as a possibly a redaction or summary of some other saying, for example ‘Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit.’ ” Gilson goes on to point out, “I’ve heard plenty of sermons on ‘It is finished.’ If Jesus didn’t actually say that, then a whole lot of conservative pastors and churches need to know that their sermons on this — in which they confidently claim Jesus spoke these very words — are  uninformed, incorrect, and misleading. They are wrong, that is, to the extent that they attribute those very words to Jesus. But this is really quite important, isn’t it? It’s too important to pass by.”

Some of the concerns caused by Licona’s literary devices deal with the historical accuracy of the Gospels. For example, Licona (as well as Craig Evans) doubts that Jesus uttered the “I am” statements in the Gospel of John; Luke “compressed” the location of Jesus appearance to Jerusalem when he knew they were in Galilee; and other alterations of the facts.

Licona believes this was the norm for ancient biography and that “it would be plausible that we would see the same amount of flexibility in the Gospels as we observe in other ancient biographies. So, I wanted to learn what those flexibilities were. By carefully reading ancient biographies written around the same time as the Gospels and comparing how they tell the same stories differently, I began to recognize that some of the differences resulted from compositional devices. Then when I went to the Gospels, I could see that the authors were probably employing the same compositional devices as other ancient biographers; specifically Plutarch. I began to realize that the differences across the Gospels are not so much contradictions but the result of compositional devices that were the standard practice in historical writing of that day.”

Nevertheless, Lydia has raised some major concerns with this approach to the Gospels. And the concerns are not just from conservatives or evangelicals, but also from skeptics such as Bart Ehrman. In a written exchange on the reliability of the New Testament, Ehrman notes that if literary devices are used in the Gospels to change details, that doesn’t lend itself to confidence in the historical accuracy of the accounts, it actually leds one to lose confidence in the accounts:

So, does Matthew accurately describe what actually happened in Jesus’s life? Mike [Licona] has already told us that he thinks in some cases the answer is no. Matthew has employed literary license in order to change details in his accounts so they didn’t happen as he described, and he tells some stories that are “non-historical” — that is, they didn’t happen at all. But Mike then wants to say that Matthew is, despite all that, historically reliable. I don’t think most people would think that this is what we today mean by “historically reliable.” And I think a lot of people — including many people reading this back and forth — would very much like to know how often Mike thinks this sort of thing happens in Matthew. Does Matthew frequently change his stories and make up other ones that he doesn’t think happened? How would we know? If an author is willing to change the details of one story, why not other stories? Why not lots of stories? Why not most of his stories? And how would we know? Moreover, if he is willing to make up a story and present it as something that happened when he knew full well that it didn’t happen (as Mike concedes Matthew did), then how often did he do that? A few other times? Lots of other times? If he did it lots, how is he accurate?

Returning the match between Lydia and Licona, we find Licona dancing around the ring as Lydia takes swing after swing after swing in her blog posts. Licona finally answers with a uppercut on his website Risen Jesus: “Are We Reading An Adapted Form of Jesus’ Teachings in John’s Gospel?” Blocking the barrage of punches from Lydia, Licona responds by stating:

One of my recent online critics, Lydia McGrew (Ph.D. in English Literature, Vanderbilt University), asserted that Professor Evans’s view of the “I am” statements in John is dangerous and that, in my explanation of why most scholars have arrived at a similar conclusion, I had thrown “all of the ‘I am’ statements under the bus.” For by saying John was paraphrasing Jesus with the “I am” statements, it was just another phrase for “making stuff up.” She then adds, “Licona is expressly arguing that Jesus would not and hence did not publicly, clearly, and overtly claim to be God in the real world. But in John he does do so. No use of the term ‘paraphrase’ nor the phrase ‘ipsissima vox’ (which I believe Evans originated) can get around this.” The error with Lydia’s statement is that I did not say this. Here is what I wrote: “Those are just some of the reasons why scholars see John adapting Jesus’ teachings.”

He goes on to counter punch by replying:

Throughout the book [Why Are There Differences in the Gospels?], I provide various options of what I think could be going on that resulted in one Gospel reporting an event differently than another. On most occasions, I state which option I think best explains the difference and why, while on others I reserve making a choice and merely note the difference. Lydia then writes, “Saddened as I am by what Dr. Licona is apparently endorsing, I’m afraid that I think this is a crucial enough matter that it needs to be known. Jesus’ claims to deity are, to put it mildly, important, and so people should know when scholars think he didn’t make them. I pray that the Lord will use any such publicizing and/or criticisms that come as a result to motivate Dr. Licona to reconsider.” To this concern I want to be clear: I have not denied that Jesus made claims of deity. I have argued in public debate that he did (http://bit.ly/2ydv1dA). And last week I submitted a chapter arguing the same in even more depth to be included in a book published by T&T Clark. So, it is not a matter of whether Evans, I, or another scholar think Jesus made claims of deity. I think that He did. It’s a matter of whether Jesus made those claims implicitly and John recast them in an explicit manner. In John, are we reading Jesus’ words or the message behind them? That’s the question. Asserting that I or Evans or another are denying that Jesus made claims of deity is simplifying the matter to a point that it borders on deceit.

After throwing this punch, and McGrew responding with a quick jab, Licona returned to his corner of the ring and something surprising occured (or should I say something didn’t occur):

-Licona never returned to the match.-

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The Match That Never Took Place

Here is where it gets interesting (if you haven’t found compositional devices, harmonization, and the reliability of the Gospels interesting enough). As the match was getting ready to enter the third round, Licona refused to continue.

Lydia posted about this on her website “Licona Declines Exchange in Philosophia Christi.” I will let her words fill in the details:

About a month ago, after J.P. Moreland had endorsed my work concerning alleged literary devices in the gospels, I made the suggestion to several people that Mike Licona and I might have a scholarly exchange in the pages of Philosophia Christi about his work. Phil. Christi is an excellent journal and has hosted symposia of this kind before. Over a decade ago, Tim McGrew and I had an exchange on the historical argument for the resurrection with Alvin Plantinga in the pages of Philosophia Christi. Phil. Christi was open to the idea. If Dr. Licona had been agreeable, the discussion would have come to pass. A third party made contact with him to suggest it. I have just recently been told that he has declined, without citing a reason.

At this point of the match, a referee enters the ring to officiate between Licona and Lydia. Enter: Tom Gilson.

Tom Gilson (mentioned above), is an author and speaker and senior editor and ministry coordinator at The Stream. He blogs at Thinking Christian. Gilson begins to narrate the issue between Licona and Lydia on his blog site with a series of posts about the disagreement. He begins with “On the Disagreement Between Lydia McGrew and Michael Licona Regarding Differences in the Gospels.” His candor and openness is evident in the first lines of his blog:

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Two friends of mine are in deep disagreement. Because it involves friends, it’s become one of the more painful things I’ve ever had to watch unfold. I’ve spoken at length with both of them about it. I’m in no position to judge their disagreement on the merits of their positions, and I won’t begin to try to comment on that part of it here. But I’ve been named publicly on Facebook as having been involved behind the scenes, so I think I need to say something more about it in public.

Gilson explains the situation by stating that Lydia is claiming that Licona is misreading Plutarch, and he is inaccurate in drawing the conclusions he’s drawn from Plutarch; and that differences in the gospels can easily explained through harmonization. “In essence he’s [Licona] using wrong means to solve problems that don’t need solving.”

Gilson explains that both Licona and Lydia had read earlier drafts of his post, except for the closing three points. The three points are a call by Gilson for Licona to respond to Lydia’s critiques: “I’m convinced it would behoove him to respond to Lydia’s critique, in the right public venue, for three reasons.”

The three points Gilson concludes with are:

  • Lydia’s position is much closer than Liconas to the traditional and natural reading of Scripture.
  • If Licona’s position is right, he has a duty to explain it in such a way that the rest of conservative Christianity can get on board with it, and begin teaching the Bible correctly.
  • The usual way hermeneutical disagreements work their way toward agreement — agreement the Church can own as its own — is through vigorous debate; and not just debate carried on between individuals but across a broader community of scholars. That debate doesn’t seem likely to happen unless Licona takes the next step.

Eight days after this post by Gilson, Licona returns to the ring with a response on Gilson’s blog page. His response was that he would not respond: “Allow me to explain why I have declined to engage her. My schedule is filled to the brim.” He goes on to explain:

Engaging with Lydia would require a significant amount of time. . . . I’d probably be looking at a solid week of work. Then, if Lydia’s past actions are indicative of what would happen next, she would write very long replies to my responses. And those now desiring me to reply would also want for me to reply to her reply. To do that would require another week’s work. . . . I’m virtually certain things would not end there, since Lydia would feel compelled to reply to my second reply. And the process goes on, requiring even more hours. (Even a back and forth for Philosophia Christi would require a chunk of time.)

Interestingly, Licona offers a pinch hitter (sorry for mixing my metaphors, but there wasn’t as good a term from boxing):

Therefore, I will leave to others the task of engaging with her. And there is one who is both qualified and willing to do just that. My friend Kurt Jaros has already engaged with Lydia in the CAA Facebook group.

As if on a tag team for wrestling, Licona taps in Kurt Jaros to enter the ring. Jaros runs a website and podcast called Veracity Hill and has gone on to host Licona’s podcast for Risen Jesus. (the entry music for this blog is the best entry music of any blog I have ever heard). Over at Veracity Hill Jaros begins to respond to some of Lydia’s critiques.

Lydia’s response to Licona is linked in Gilson’s post of April 21. She makes three points: 1) Dr. Licona appears to have not even read her critique of his work, 2) Dr. Licona’s repeated references to “what would happen”–to endless debates and so forth–are not addressed to the exchange in Phil. Christi, which would be limited in scope, and 3) “The reference to Mike’s personal friend Kurt Jaros as offering to debate me, and my alleged decline of that suggestion, is quite pointless.”

On of the more awkward issues to arise in this match was mentioned by Licona in his response to Lydia in Gilson’s post: Lydia’s tone. Licona says, “I do not feel a necessity to spend the sort of time and emotional capital required to engage Lydia, especially when her critiques are seasoned with a tone that I consider less than charitable, to put it mildly.” (emphasis added) Gilson comments that “I’m aware there are differences of opinion on whether Lydia’s approach, venue, and tone have been appropriately scholarly.” Jaros, who Licona tapped in (again mixing sport metaphors), began to blog on Lydia’s “tone.”

It seemed that the match was over before it even began. But, Lydia was not out for the count yet. Lydia went on to publish in Themelios, an International Journal for Students of Theological and Religious Studies a critique titled “Finessing Independent Attestation: A Study in Interdisciplinary Biblical Criticism” which she argues that “multiple attestation is crucial in biblical studies, particularly in historical Jesus studies. While doubts are often conceded about the historicity of a singly-attested incident, when there is reason to believe that an event has been attested in multiple independent sources it is often accepted despite a hesitation to affirm the strong historical reliability of the individual documents.” In this critique she interacted extensively with Licona’s work as well as other New Testament evangelical scholars like Craig Keener, Daniel Wallace, and William Lane Craig.

But that article was just a wind up for her real power punch:

Lydia’s Power Punch:

At the end of 2019, Lydia published The Mirror and the Mask: Liberating the Gospels from Literary Devices. Weighing in at 560 pages the book description states:

In recent years a number of evangelical scholars have claimed that the Gospel authors felt free to present events in one way even though they knew that the reality was different. Analytic philosopher Lydia McGrew brings her training in the evaluation of evidence to bear, investigates these theories about the evangelists’ literary standards in detail, and finds them wanting. At the same time she provides a nuanced, positive view of the Gospels that she dubs the reportage model. Clearing away misconceptions of this model, McGrew amasses objective evidence that the evangelists are honest, careful reporters who tell it like it is. Meticulous, well-informed, and accessible, The Mirror or the Mask is an important addition to the libraries of laymen, pastors, apologists, and scholars who want to know whether the Gospels are reliable.

With endorsements from scholars such as Peter J. Williams, J. P. Moreland, Craig L. Blomberg, and John Warwick Montgomery, The Mirror and the Mask is Lydia’s detailed and officially published critique of Licona’s literary devices. Tom Gilson posted the article: From Friend to Friend: My View on Lydia McGrew’s The Mirror or the Mask, and Why Mike Licona Won’t Want to Ignore It saying “Mike and his colleagues need to engage with Lydia in this. He’s put a set of questions on the table. Lydia has answered, and persuasively. Who’s right? The Church needs them to work toward an answer, one that all conservative, believing Christians can be confident of. It’s crucial to everything we know, or think we know, about the Gospels.”

In a follow up post Gilson asks a serious question: Does Mike Licona’s position require plutarch as the key to the gospels? He expands on the point of his question:

Mike’s position seems to require Christians to know and understand classical Greek and Roman models of authorship. It is the key to understanding the Gospels. Without that knowledge, we are absolutely certain to misunderstand what the Gospels are saying. Mike holds as firmly as ever to the essential facts of Jesus’ life and teaching, but he stands there by running the Gospel content through a Plutarchian lens. Certain facts in the Gospels are not what they seem to be. Jesus never said, “I thirst,” and we know he didn’t because we’ve studied the account with this classical literature filter in place.

But it isn’t just passages like “I thirst” that have this filter placed over them. It’s the entirety of the Gospels, all four of them. The filter has especially powerful effects on how we interpret John, where changes were made in the reportage to emphasize Jesus’ deity. But the reason we know the filter is more prominent there, and has less of an effect in the Synoptics, is because we understand the filter. It isn’t just because John differs in significant ways from the Synoptics; those differences could be explained in other ways. (That’s the subject of Lydia’s next book.)

And if you read the quote above carefully, you heard Gilson correctly, Lydia is coming out of the corner with a one-two combo. She is already writing a second book on the historical reliability of John’s gospel, tentatively titled: The Eye of the Beholder.

While my post is not an exhaustive blow by blow of this match (lots have been mentioned about Lydia’s tone, Licona’s refusal to swing back, and a swing and miss about Lydia’s credentials (here, here, here, and here). These punches aside, what really needs to be examined is the case that Licona and Lydia give for and against literary devices in the New Testament, and the consequences of historical reliability for the Gospels in particular and the New Testament in general. As Gilson ended one of his posts about this match, I also find that this is “an urgent question. I’d be interested to hear what Mike would say in response” [emphasis in original].

Blow by Blow (Resources):

Left Hook (Books):

By Licona:

By McGrew:

Right Hook (Articles):

Uppercut (Videos):

  • “Six Bad Habits of New Testament Scholars (and how to avoid them): Dr. Lydia McGrew” at Apologetics Academy. – McGrew talks about six bad habits frequently committed by New Testament scholars, and gives advice on how to avoid them on Jonathan McLatchie’s Apologetics Academy webinar.
  • “Undesigned Coincidences – Dr. Lydia McGrew” – McGrew presents on undesigned coincidences to the student group called Ratio Christi on Western Michigan University.
  • “Are there Contradictions in the Gospels?” – Dr. Licona presents on the differences in the Gospels at Kennesaw State University on October 11, 2017 for Ratio Christi.
  • “Is the Bible Inerrant?” – Dr. Michael Licona debates Dr. Richard Howe on inerrancy in which many of the issues concerning compositional devices arise in the debate and discussion.
  • “Gospel Differences & Compositional Textbooks” – Licona claims that training in rhetoric was part of the educational process for aspiring authors in antiquity. That process included work using compositional textbooks, also referred to as rhetorical handbooks. Exercises in these trained the student to alter texts in the interest of paraphrasing. Not surprisingly, when reading ancient texts, including the Gospels, we observe their authors altering their source texts as trained. This practice resulted in differences in the way a story was reported. The differences are minor but of interest.

I had the privilege of participating in an InterFaith Dialogue at the University of Texas at Dallas on Thursday night November 14. The local university chapter of Reasonable Faith UTD and the Muslim Student Association of UTD organized the event and had a great turnout. Thanks to both organizations and my interlocutor Fahad Tasleem for a lively, civil, and intellectually stimulating evening.

Fahad Tasleem is the the head of U.S. Outreach for iERA. We hit it off like old friends the moment we meet. It was an honor and privilege to participate in the event, dialogue on the nature of salvation from the Islamic and Christian traditions, and share the gospel in my presentation. It was recorded and below is a video of the event. Hope you enjoy.

Animated Apologetics

Over the past several years there has been a boom in Christian Apologetic animated videos.  While there are plenty of apologetic videos from debates, podcasts, presentations, etc., here I want to focus on just those videos that are of high animated quality, relatively short (under 10 minutes), and are focused on Christian apologetics. Over at Prove the Bible, the whole website is videos (live and animated) all sorted by topic. It is definitely worth a look. You also can check out some YouTube channels dedicated to apologetics (both live and animated) such drcraigvideos, Sean McDowell, Mike Winger, Whaddo You Meme, Cross Examined, and Acts17Apologetics, amongst others.  Here, I have focused solely on animated apologetics videos.  I sorted them by topic.

God

Bible

Jesus

Resurrection

Problem of Evil

Science and Religion

Cults and New Religious Movements

Christian Doctrine

Philosophy of Religion

Social/Ethical Issues

General

1. Alisa ChildersScreen Shot 2017-08-09 at 1.35.20 PM

I recently came across a podcast that was posted on an apologetics facebook group.  It was by Alisa Childers.  Some might remember her with ZOEgirl, an American Christian teen pop and pop rock band formed in 1999. The group comprised Chrissy Conway-Katina, Alisa Childers and Kristin Swinford-Schweain.  On her website she describes “a period of profound doubt about my faith in my early thirties. I felt as though I had been tossed in a stormy ocean of uncertainty with no life jacket or lifeboat in sight. I didn’t know where to find answers to my questions, or if answers existed at all. Did I have to accept it all on some kind of blind faith? This is my journey from unreasoned doubt into vibrant, intellectually informed faith.”

She posted an excellent article titled “5 Signs Your Church Might be Heading Toward Progressive Christianity.”  It is definitely worth the read.  The signs include: a low view of the bible, feelings emphasized over facts, essential Christian beliefs are re-interpreted, historic terms are redefined, and the gospel shifts from sin and redemption to social justice.  For each point she includes comments you might hear making this blog post extremely practical and useful.

Because of her post she was “invited to come on the Bad Christian Podcast to talk about my article, 5 Signs Your Church Might be Heading Toward Progressive Christianity. As progressive-leaning Christians, the guys did not agree with my article but invited me on the show to discuss my views anyway. Even though we disagree on a lot of things, they were gracious and I think we had a fruitful conversation.”  I listened to the podcast and she rocked it (get what I did there, because she is a recording artist).  You can listen to the podcast here.

2. Mama Bear Apologetics Podcast

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Mama Bear Apologetics, which I have blogged about before, did a podcast on why you need to understand progressive Christianity.  Hillary Ferrer, the Mama Bear, interviews Alisa Childers on this podcast.  Mama Bear Apologetics tag line is “Mess with our kids . . . and we will demolish your arguments.”

Both Alisa Childers and Mama Bear Apologetics are great resources available online.  I highly recommend them.

3. Christian Mom Thoughts

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Natasha Crain, who I have also blogged about before, wrote an article early this summer on progressive Christianity as well: “Progressive Christianity is as Much of a Threat to Your Kids’ Faith as Atheism.”  Natasha Crain is the author of the book Keeping Your Kids on God’s Side: 40 Conversations to Help Them Build a Lasting Faith which is for parents and helps them “empower their children to respond well to the hard questions that threaten their faith. It’s no secret that children of all ages are being exposed to negative criticism of Christianity as they spend time at school, with friends, or online.”  She has a new book coming out this fall titled Talking with Your Kids about God: 30 Conversations Every Christian Parent Must Have.

 

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“There are people alive today who may live to see the effective death of Christianity within our civilization.”

-Rod Dreher (The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation)

One commentator (highlighted below) states that The Benedict Option might be”The most important book for Christians in this decade.”

If the death of Christianity occurs in our civilization (and Dreher means in Europe and America) how is Christianity to respond?  Dreher’s Answer: The Benedict Option.

Rod Dreher, has just published his this much discussed strategy (up until March 20 in blog and article form primarily) in book form: The Benedict Option.  Subtitled “A Strategy for Christian in a Post-Christian Nation,” Dreher opens by reminiscing about his 2006 best seller Crunchy Cons which he advocated for “a countercultural, traditionalist conservative sensibility.” He brought up the moral philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre who had proclaimed that Western Civilization has “lost it moorings.”

His introduction recounts the steady decline of Christianity with references to failure of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act in Indiana followed by a similar failure in Arkansas in 2015.  Two months later the U. S. Supreme Court declared a constitutional right to same-sex marriage with an immediate push by activists and political allies for transgender rights: “Post-Obergefell, Christians who hold to the biblical teachings about sex and marriage have the same statue in culture, and increasingly in law, as racists.”

So begins Dreher in what is surely to be a much discussed and debated option amongst post-Christian traditionalists and doctrinally orthodox believers.

I have written The Benedict Option to wake up the church and to encourage it to act to strengthen itself, while there is still time.  If we want to survive, we have to return to the roots of our faith, both in thought and in practice.  We are going to have to learn habits of the heart forgotten by believers in the West.  We are going to have to change our lives, and our approach to life, in radical ways.  In short, we are going to have to be the church, without compromise, no matter what the cost.

Dreher provides and Benedict Option FAQ page over at the American Conservative

This sounds like a book that needs to be read.  Much reaction has already being buzzing on the internet, articles, and podcasts concerning Dreher’s book.  Below are just a few samples of this dialogue The Benedict Option:

Sparking Renewal: A Review of ‘The Benedict Option’ ” by Gerald Russello | Intercollegiate Review Spring 2017

Along the way, Dreher has carved out his own space against that toxic culture and has called that space and that which he saw others creating “the Benedict Option.” The name is an homage both to Pope Benedict Emeritus XVI and the famous closing sentence of Alasdair MacIntyre’s influential book After Virtue: “This time . . . the barbarians are not waiting beyond the frontiers; they have already been governing us for quite some time. And it is our lack of consciousness of this that constitutes part of our predicament. We are waiting not for a Godot, but for another—doubtless very different—St. Benedict.”

This is our cultural moment, despite who occupies the White House or Congress, and with his unerring cultural radar, Dreher has written the book for this new moment: a central point in The Benedict Option is “put not your trust in princes.” Culture is more important than politics, and the currents of modernity did not change on Election Day. And one thing conservatives, and especially Christian conservatives, should understand is that they have lost the culture war, and, indeed, it was their obsession with politics—and their assumption that the culture and major institutions such as big business would always support them—that partially caused that loss.

Exploring the Benedict Option” by John Stonestreet | Breakpoint

Stonestreet concludes his podcast that explores the Benedict Option by saying:

the controversial aspect of the Benedict Option is Dreher’s call for “a strategic withdrawal.” To many, understandably, this sounds way too much like post-Scopes fundamentalism that abandoned the public square to non-Christians.

Dreher insists that it doesn’t mean the same thing, and I hope not. Because escape is never an option for Christians. We should never retreat into our institutions because we’re seeking safety. We should, however, strengthen them out of loyalty to each other and to the true, the good and beautiful, preserving the best of Christian culture so that we can—at some point—gift it back to the world in acts of grace.

Now whether you agree or disagree with the Benedict option, I am thankful that Dreher’s book is igniting a long-overdue conversation about what it means to live in a post-Christian context.

The Constantine Strategy in the Benedict Option!” by John Mark Reynolds | Eidos March 12, 2017

John Mark Reynolds, president of The Saint Constantine School and senior fellow in the humanities at The King’s College, declares that The Benedict Option may be the most important book for Christians in this decade:

Until the muddle or the collapse of this version of America  is settled, the sensible person builds an alternative culture. Rod Dreher thinks we may be at one of those points in the West of the world and argues what needs to be done. Traditional Christianity is hard to live in a decadent America and harder still to live where Daesh is torturing Christians.

and in the list of top Christian thinkers in the post below Reynolds declares “The Benedict Option is not a way, but the only way forward for Christians who wish to be more than nominal in their faith.”

Top Christian Thinkers Reflect on the ‘Benedict Option’ ” by John Stonestreet | Breakpoint

Breakpoint hosts the thoughts of top Christian thinkers on Dreher’s book:

Rod Dreher’s “The Benedict Option” is one of the most anticipated and talked-about Christian books in recent memory. How do Christians carry on and live out the faith in this “new Dark Age,” as Dreher puts it? We’ve asked leading Christian writers and thinkers to share their thoughts on “The Benedict Option.”

Bruce Ashford, Joshua Chatraw, Greg Forster, Michael Francisco, Tom Gilson, Mollie Ziegler Hemingway, Peter Leithart, Gerald McDermott, Karen Swallow Prior, John Mark N. Reynolds, Roberto Rivera, John Stonestreet, Glenn Sunshine, Andrew Walker, and Trevin Wax.

The Benedict Option and the Way of Exchange” by Alan Jacobs | First Things March 20, 2017

It would be a mistake, as Alan Jacobs at First Things and distinguished professor of the humanities at Baylor University states, to assume that Dreher’s Benedict Option is pessimistic, despairing, or hopeless:

Therefore, to argue, as many have, that the argument Rod Dreher makes in The Benedict Option is despairing, and hopeless, and a failure to trust in the Lord Jesus, is a category error. It takes a set of sociological and historical judgments and treats them as though they were metaphysical assertions. Anyone in Roman Cappadocia who had said that the culture Basil and his colleagues had built was not bound to last until the Lord returns would not have been deficient in Christian hope. Rather, he or she would have been offering a useful reminder of the vagaries of history, to which even the most faithful Christians are subject. Dreher’s argument in The Benedict Option may be wrong, but if so, it is wrong historically and prudentially, not metaphysically.

“The Benedict Option or the Constantine Project?” (Two part series) by David Kern | Circe Institute

Part 1, Part 2

Kern, the director of our multimedia initiatives for the Circe Institute (an acronym for the Center for Independent Research on Classical Education), hosts a skype call between Rod Dreher and John Mark Reynolds.  While the title sets the two positions as opposed to each other, in reality the discussion results in a much agreed upon strategy between Dreher and Reynolds. It is a 2 parts series

Other Articles and Responses to the Benedict Option:

Rod Dreher’s Benedict Option: Why I Have Mixed Feelings” by Michael Brown | Christian Post March 18, 2017

If Politics Can’t Save Us, What Will?” by Collin Hanson | The Gospel Coalition March 13k 2017

Why We Need the Benedict Option and How It Doesn’t Have to Return to Fundamentalism” by Heather Walker Peterson | Patheos March 9, 2017

9 Most Intelligent Takes on Rod Dreher’s ‘The Benedict Option’ ” | Intercollegiate Review Spring 2017

Reflections

John Calvin - Christian Theologian

John Calvin was one of the great voices of the Protestant Reformation, but what exactly did he believe, and what else did he contribute to Christianity? Here’s your crash course on the life and accomplishments of John Calvin—and why he still matters today.

Who Was John Calvin?

John Calvin (1509–1564) was born in Noyon, Picardy, France, to a devoted Roman Catholic family. He studied the liberal arts at the University of Paris, but his father wanted him to study law, so he went on to receive a law degree at the University of Orléans. Because John Calvin didn’t want to be a lawyer, he returned to the study of classical literature. In Paris, he left the Roman Catholic Church and became part of the Protestant Reformation movement that was then spreading through Europe. He later moved to Geneva, Switzerland, where he became one of the leaders of the emerging Reformed…

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