Friday, 5 February 2010

Review of “Doing Business by the Good Book” by David L. Steward

Reaction to “Doing Business by the Good Book” by David L. Steward

Written by a self-made African-American entrepreneur, who obviously holds deep convictions about how his faith impacts his life in the business world, this book claims to provide “52 lessons on success straight from the Bible.” David Steward’s life is a “rags to riches” story. Born into a poor family on the wrong side of the tracks, through hard work and faith, he built a billion dollar Technology Company. The stories he relates from his own life and the history of the company demonstrate his business nous and personal integrity.

Although separated into 52 chapters, there is a lot of repetition throughout the book. The same themes are revisited over and over again. Especially prevalent are encouragements to be confident of God’s promised blessing for you personally; the importance of serving others; to recruit others based on “internals” rather than skills; and to value your (and your company’s) reputation as an ambassador for God. These themes are often considered counter-cultural in our contemporary business world although, as Steward says, “only a small percentage of business leaders were actually guilty” of self-interest and corruption during the public scandals of 2002 . These same themes are promoted by many other well-known writers on leadership in the business world .

My strongest reaction to the book was as a result of his use (or should I say abuse) of Scripture. For a book that was supposed to draw its principles from the Bible, Steward consistently tried to make Scripture allude to the wisdom he was espousing, some of which was biblical and some of which was ungodly. Clearly he is familiar with lots of Scripture, but his understanding of it is woefully inadequate for the task he undertook. I was not just uncomfortable with his use of Scripture; I was deeply offended by it.

The worst abuse of Scripture appeared in his chapter entitled “Building Long-term Relationships” . He claimed that the parable of the sower “illustrates how relationships take time.” Not every relationship will yield results, says Steward, but in long-term relationships the yield is substantial and we are abundantly rewarded! Of course, this parable is actually about people’s heart response to the preaching of the kingdom. The abuse of this beautiful parable is a pet peeve of mine, but Steward takes its misinterpretation to a new level. He uses this parable to advocate the unbiblical practice of favoritism within the “old school network.” Such discrimination, based on the parent’s ability to afford elite education, is the very thing that Steward himself testifies to having overcome!

Another ridiculous abuse of Scripture occurs in the chapter entitled “Creativity and Innovation.” In describing how these two expressions complement each other, he quotes from Isa 41:6-7, where the prophet is describing the construction of an idol! Steward then says, “Here we are reminded that we must work together, praising and encouraging each other, so that the sum total of our efforts becomes greater than our individual efforts. ” Only if we want to be emulating those constructing idols!!!
Numerous other abuses and misuses of Scripture (almost every time the Bible is used!) could be cited. Suffice it to say, though, that this is the worst book on “biblical” principles for leadership or for doing business that I have read. I wish I could somehow recover the hours I wasted reading it. In fact, I found this book so offensive that, if I had the wherewithal, I would purchase every copy in existence and pulp it. My recommendation to David Steward would be to do that very thing in order to protect those with even less understanding of the Scriptures from being led astray by his example, and to rescue his reputation from the derision that such a publication must provoke.

Saturday, 30 January 2010

Introduction
The core of the Jewish understanding about God is revealed in the shema: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” (Deut 6:4-5) God is revealed as a being with integrity. The response demanded of us is one of integrity. This response is not limited to our religious worship but engages our whole lives, including our vocation.
The God of Integrity
The doctrine of the Trinity affirms the oneness of God , while teaching that he expresses himself in three persons: the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This is evident in his work, such as the work of creation and redemption. Scripture affirms that creation was the work of the Father (Gen 1:1), and of the Son (Col 1:16), and of the Holy Spirit (Gen 1:2). In the same way, our redemption was the work of the Father (Col 1:13), and of the Son (Tit 1:4), and of the Holy Spirit (Rom. 8:2).
Integrity is not just the three persons of the Godhead working in harmony; it is also God’s consistency over time and his congruence between his words and his actions. The oracle of Balaam explicitly states that, unlike humans, God cannot lie or change his mind . The writer of Hebrews affirms this by using God’s promise to Abraham as an example of the ongoing congruence of God’s words and actions , the purpose of which was to exhort his readers to remain steadfast in their faith over time.
The question arises, then, whether God’s integrity is an expression of his incommunicable attributes, such as his immutability, or is it something which we can aspire to? Based on the shema, the response is that we must aspire to imitate God in this respect. Created in the image of God, we were created as whole beings. As a result of the corruption of the Fall, however, our integrity was lost. We no longer maintain congruence over time between our words and our actions. Yet integrity is an expression of holiness, and we are commanded to imitate God’s holiness in all we do .
Human Struggles with Integrity
Henry Cloud writes that integrity is “the whole thing working well, undivided, integrated, intact and uncorrupted. ” According to his earlier work , this is the result of the successful completion of four developmental tasks: bonding, establishing boundaries, accepting good and bad, and relating to others as adults. As a result of the Fall, however, none of us have had perfect childhoods and therefore each of us have failed to complete these tasks to varying degrees and so experience a lack of integrity.
These ideas accord with the testimony of Scripture, even in the experience of the Christian. In Romans 7, the apostle Paul describes his internal struggles between his best intentions and his inability to carry them out in his own strength. Despite the exhortation of the shema, we cannot love the Lord with our whole heart, soul and might. It is only as we walk in the power of the Holy Spirit and experience his sanctifying work that we are able to live with integrity.
The New Testament Commends Integrity for Christian Leaders
The only New Testament reference to explicitly use the word “integrity” (ἀφθορία) is Titus 2:7-8, where Titus is instructed: “Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity, and sound speech that cannot be condemned.” Integrity is a quality commended to this early church leader.
“It is used with σεμνότης to describe the moral attitude of Titus, who will not let himself be led astray; it refers, then, to his conduct relative to teachers and teaching. We are not to think in terms of the impregnability against false teaching that Titus is establishing in the churches, nor in terms of doctrine safeguarded by the truth, but rather of innocence in the sense of not being, or not able to be, corrupted. In other words, what is described is the disposition of Titus. ”
Integrity, in this sense, then means imperviousness to external influence, the ability to withstand outside pressures to conform, and strength of character to hold fast to God’s purposes.
A contrast to this form of integrity might be made with James’ “double-minded” person . This person is like a wave, “susceptible to change and manipulation, because it has no shape of its own. It is always shifting, never solid, never sure where or what it is, without foundation... One cannot live a life of integrity and faith if one is waffling ”
Wisdom Literature Commends Integrity for Believers
The wisdom literature, informed particularly by the blessings and curses of Deuteronomy 28, describes general principles for living in light of God’s covenant. Integrity (תֹּם) occurs seven times in Proverbs. It is the basis on which the Lord gives protection (2:7). The person of integrity faces the future with confidence, in contrast with the inevitable exposure of the crooked (10:9). A person of integrity finds God’s way a source of strength and protection, whereas the evil are condemned by it (10:29). The protection attracted by integrity is contrasted with the assault attracted by sin (13:6). It is better to be poor with integrity than wealthy and perverse (19:1; 28:6) . Finally, the result of living with integrity is a positive family legacy (20:7) . In summary, the result of conducting ourselves with integrity is to attract God’s blessing and protection and to leave a positive family legacy.
This understanding is affirmed by the testimony of the psalmists. Six times they claim a right to attract God’s blessing and protection based on how they have conducted themselves with integrity . Similarly, Eliphaz recognises that Job claims to have confidence before God because he has conducted himself with integrity (Job 4:6). It appears to be the consistent testimony of Scripture that conducting ourselves with integrity is the foundation for attracting God’s blessing and protection.
Other Biblical Examples
When God accused Abimelech of unlawfully taking Abraham’s wife , the king’s defence was that he had conducted himself with integrity and had been a victim of Abraham’s duplicity. Similarly, when Absalom was conspiring to overthrow his father David , he deceived two hundred leaders from Jerusalem who were innocently caught up in his scheme. Finally, God promises to bless Solomon if he will conduct himself with integrity , and to enact the covenant curses if he fails to obey the Lord’s commands, that is if he pursues other gods.
Contemporary Implications
God’s promise to Solomon provides significant instruction for contemporary Christian leaders in the marketplace. Integrity is contrasted with abandoning the Lord and serving other gods. Leaders face the common temptations offered by the gods of power, money and sex. As James warns, we cannot be swayed by these temptations. We cannot be faithful to the Lord only when the sky is blue and the breeze is gentle. We must continue to be steadfastly loyal to him when the storm hits. It is when the sponge is squeezed that what is really inside is revealed. The dark times reveal whether we truly trust him with our whole heart, soul and might, or whether we have held a small part in reserve, as a “backup”, to solve the problems ourselves, just in case God doesn’t come through for us.
The stories of Abimelech and Absalom show us that individual actions can be undertaken with integrity, even when we have been deceived. However, the focus of the wisdom literature was that God blessed and protected a whole life characterized by integrity. A wise leader realizes that maintaining integrity over the long haul requires two things. Firstly, commitments to act in a godly way need to be worked out well in advance of the pressure situation arriving, so that we do not just react to external pressures. For example, an executive who has predetermined never to pay graft will find it significantly easier to navigate a particular situation than one who is trying to work out their position on the fly. Secondly, systems, structures or habits need to be implemented to support those decisions over time. For example, an executive might arrange with his personal assistant to never set up a meeting with a woman where they cannot be seen.
Finally, the underlying values of the covenant relationship God established with Israel, and reaffirmed in Jesus’ teaching about the kingdom, should be reflected in our conduct today. Leaders are stewards of everything God allows them to have – wealth, influence, expertise - and they must recognize that they will one day give an account to him for their use of those things. Material prosperity, which is often the worldly reward for marketplace leadership, is not to be hoarded , but is to be distributed to achieve God’s purposes for his kingdom.
Conclusion
Our triune God is one. He always works in harmony with himself and he maintains his congruence between his words and actions over time. We are exhorted to reflect his integrity in our relationship with him, with ourselves, with other believers and with the world. A life that is conducted with integrity attracts God’s blessing and protection, whereas a life of duplicity experiences his judgment. Integrity requires knowing who we are and whose we are.

Friday, 6 November 2009

Reflection on "Why We Are Who We Are: Mission and the People of God" by Dr Mark Young

http://geofffolland.wordpress.com/2009/11/06/reflection-on-why-we-are-who-we-are-mission-and-the-people-of-god-by-dr-mark-young/

“Why We Are Who We Are: Mission and the People of God” by Dr Mark Young

Dr Young’s presentation was a succinct and biblical summary and development of the more thoughtful elements of the missional church conversation that has been occurring for several years . His central thesis was that the ecclesiology of the Western Protestant church developed during the Reformation essentially as a conversation between Christians in the context of Christendom. Therefore, these definitions of the church were formulating their own positions in opposition to other definitions of the church in Christendom, as opposed to in relation to any pagan culture. This resulted in a church which is oriented towards believers, and produced seminaries where “Christians trained Christians in how to teach Christians to be better Christians”.

As the US has become increasingly post-Christian , following the lead of other Western countries , the cultural pre-understandings with which we come to the Biblical text have changed causing us to re-examine long held interpretations. Decreasing effectiveness has also caused us to question traditional church approaches to ministry. Two of the most pressing tasks demanded in this environment are a thorough re-examination of our Biblical interpretations and the development of Biblical church models reflecting this missional understanding.

Biblical Interpretation
Luther and Calvin have retained lasting influence because of how they shaped our understanding of the Scriptures through written systematic theologies and commentaries on the Scriptures. More recently, traditional, scholarly commentaries have been attacked as recording irrelevant debates with dead Germans. One reaction has been the development of “practical commentaries”.

Missional interpretations of Scripture have already influenced our understanding of some classic doctrines and produced some excellent biblical theologies . The next logical step appears to be the production of a comprehensive commentary series.
Dr Young quoted several passages, such as Genesis 12:1-3 and Exodus 19:4-6, which are transformed when viewed with an understanding of God’s grand purpose of making his glory evident in all the earth. We do not need to limit our approach to a few select texts. Rather, this should influence our understanding of all of Scripture.

Missional Church Models

Defining the Church by means of its practices, whether they be sacraments or whatever, focuses attention on its activities when it gathers . The Reformation emphasis on the preaching of the Word though a necessary corrective, is an example of this. The contemporary outcome of this emphasis, however, has been event-based ministry which results in the question “how do we get the members to support the mission of the church? ”

A missional church model will mobilize the laity to engage in mission throughout the week. The question must change to, “how does the church support the mission of the members? ” Also, we need to re-examine our church models from the perspective of the community we are trying to reach. For example, is a local suburban gathering reflective of how mission will best be carried out in a particular community? Parish ministry may have been effective in England in the 1700’s or in rural areas, but what about complex urban and suburban cities ?

Within Christendom, mission was popularly defined as something that occurred overseas, or in another culture. Western cultural dominance translated into Western missionaries taking the gospel to those they colonized. The Evangelical church in the US runs the risk of translating mission into something the affluent, middle-class churches do among the poor of their cities. While ministry to the poor is important, of equal importance must be considering how to mobilize each lay person to reach those with whom they have equal social standing.
In conclusion, Dr Young is correct to say that the church must take its place as those elect by God to bring his blessing and demonstrate his glory to the whole earth.

Full article (with footnotes)...
http://geofffolland.wordpress.com/2009/11/06/reflection-on-why-we-are-who-we-are-mission-and-the-people-of-god-by-dr-mark-young/

Monday, 2 November 2009

Don't Scoff: God's Promise is Sure: Judgment will come and Righteousness will find a home.

http://geofffolland.wordpress.com/

Inductive Bible Study: 2 Peter 3:3-13

1. Literary Context of Passage

The passage under discussion begins about two thirds of the way through this short letter. Peter begins the letter positively with an affirmation that God has promised believers everything they need for a godly life and an exhortation to grow in effective and productive godliness. He then asserts his credentials for claiming to have a reliable message before turning, in the second chapter, to strongly worded teaching on the presence and nature of false teachers within their assembly. This teaching follows a similar argument outlined in Jude. He then moves into a specific warning about scoffers who deny the coming of the Lord. Peter challenges the scoffers’ teaching by outlining some clear theological principles and then concludes with an exhortation to live holy lives and to be on guard against false teaching.

2 Peter Outline[1]

Salutation (1:1-2)

Excordium (1:3-15)

Implications of Divine Goodness (1:3-11)

Grace-based Godly Life (1:3-4)

Intentional Development of Godly Character (1:5-9)

Confirmation of Calling and Election (1:10-11)

Testamental Purpose (1:12-15)

Probatio (1:16-3:13)

Proof 1 – Apostolic Testimony (1:16-18)

Proof 2 – Prophetic Testimony (1:19-21)

Proof 3 – Certainty of Judgment (2:1-10a)

Digressio – Denunciation of False Teachers (2:10b-22)

Tranistio – Recapitulation and Introduction of Rest of the Probatio (3:1-2)

Proof 4 – Mocking of Prophecies Unfounded (3:3-7)

Scoffer’s First Challenge: “Where Is This Coming He Promised?” (3:4a)

Scoffer’s Second Challenge: Nothing Ever Changes (3:4b)

Peter’s Response to Second Challenge: God Created and Destroyed in the Past, Sustains Now and Will Judge in the Future (3:5-7)

Proof 5 – Delay Does Not Mean Uncertainty (3:8-13)

Peter’s Response to First Challenge: God’s Eternality, His Patient Purpose and His Certain Coming (3:8-13)

Preratio – Final Encouragement to the Readers to Remain Stable (3:14-18)

2. Historical-Cultural Background

The author identifies himself as the apostle Peter, although this has been much disputed throughout the history of the Church. Many have argued the letter is pseudonymous[2]. The reasons given for these doubts are many, and beyond the scope of this paper. The position adopted in this paper is that the self-attestation of the epistle demands strong alternative arguments to overcome, and that those arguments fail, primarily because there is a lack of sufficient other Petrine sources with which to compare 2 Peter.

This theory of authorship then supposes a date for the letter between 64AD and 68AD. However, even pseudonymous authorship is limited to 140AD, the latest probable date of the Apocalypse of Peter, which borrows from 2 Peter[3].

There is little direct information about the recipients, unless one believes that 2 Peter 3:1 indicates that 2 Peter was written to the same communities of believers to which 1 Peter was addressed[4]. The internal evidence of the letter regarding the recipients is sparse, especially compared to the information regarding those who threaten them. They were believers, although we are unable to determine whether they are Gentiles, more familiar with Greek thought than with the Hebrew Scriptures, or Jewish believers. They had some familiarity with Paul’s writings, which would fit with a location in Asia Minor, but is not conclusive.[5]

These believers were under threat from false teachers and “scoffers”. The identification of these threats is more complex than simply assigning them to one well-known school of thought or heresy. The internal evidence of the letter suggests these false teachers:

1) were part of their Christian communities (2:1a)

2) would subtly introduce destructive heresies – esp. Christological (2:1b)

3) would greedily exploit the believers using fabricated stories (2:3) c.f. 1:16

4) had abandoned Christian morality for sensual (and sexual) indulgence (2:2,13-14; 3:3)

Many scholars have identified Epicurean ideas in this false teaching. However, given the marketplace of ideas that characterized the Greco-Roman world, we need not necessarily think of these teachers as Epicureans per se, but as those who had picked up Epicurean ideas, probably without realizing their source.[6]

The most relevant Epicurean ideas that seemed to have influenced these false teachers were:

“(1) The world is made of chance occurrences of passing atoms; (2) a doctrine of providence would destroy freedom; (3) since the world came about by chance, there can be no prophecy and such prophecies that have been made are largely unfulfilled, and (4) injustice in the world shows that there cannot be a provident deity.[7]”

3. Word Studies

Last Days (ἐσχάτων τῶν ἡμερῶν, 3:3)

The adjective ἔσχατος occurs 52 times in the New Testament meaning the last or final item of a series[8]. It is usually in comparison to the first or earlier items in a series. It is used to describe the last workers (Matt. 20:1-16), the last messenger sent (Mark 12:6), the last one to die (Mark 12:22), the last “deception” (Matt. 27:64) and the last Adam (1 Cor. 15:45).

It also carries the nuance of being the last thing when there is nothing to follow: the last penny paid (Matt. 5:26), the last enemy (1 Cor. 15:26), the last trumpet (1 Cor. 15:52).

Combined with “day” (ἡμέρα), ἔσχατος picks up on and develops Old Testament teaching. Not all the Old Testament references to the concept use the exact term “the last days”, but the general thrust is an expectation that God will bring a time where Israel will be delivered from oppression and exile (Ezek. 38:14-16; Dan. 10:14) by the Messiah (Gen 49:1, 12-14; Num 24:14-19; Isa 2:2-4; Micah 4:1-3). They will return to the Lord (Jer. 37:24) at which time the Holy Spirit will be poured out (Joel 2:28).

New Testament writers develop this theme by clearly calling the present, post-Ascension, age the “last days”[9]. Peter clearly applies Joel 2:28 to his contemporary experience on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:16-21). Paul describes the “terrible times in the last days” (2 Tim 3:1). James accuses the rich of accumulating wealth unjustly in the last days (James 5:3).

The New Testament writers are not limited to this exact term either. Peter uses the term “the last times” to describe when Christ was revealed (1 Pet. 1:20). Jude also uses “the last times” in the parallel verse (v.18) to 2 Pet. 3:3.

In New Testament usage, the term “last days” clearly refers to the period between Christ’s first appearance and his return. This appropriately supports the understanding found in 2 Peter 3:3, where the threat to believers from scoffers is in view. That threat will only be eliminated on the “day of judgment”.

Day of Judgment (ἡμέραν κρίσεως, 3:7) / Day of the Lord (ἡμέρα κυρίου, 3:10) / Day of God (τῆς τοῦ θεοῦ ἡμέρας, 3:12)

Matthew’s gospel records Jesus’ teaching about the “day of judgment” as a warning for those who reject the disciples (10:15), as a denunciation of those towns in which he had performed most of his miracles (11:22, 24), and against the Pharisees (12:36). The term also is used when discussing the judgment of angels (Jude 6), and the believer’s confidence (1 John 4:17).

The reference to this concept is also not limited to just one term. Paul uses the term “day of the Lord”, specifically the Lord Jesus Christ, to refer to end-time judgment (1 Cor. 1:8, 5:5; 2 Cor. 1:14; 1 Thess. 5:2, 4 and 2 Thess. 2:2). The 1 Thess. 5 reference is especially important because of its close parallel to 2 Peter 3:10. In both references the “day of the Lord” is compared to the coming of a “thief in the night” and speaks of destruction.

Additionally, Matthew describes the “day” or “hour” of the coming of the Lord, which is unknown (Matt. 24:36, 42, 44; 25:13). Paul also uses the single “day” (Rom. 2:16; 1 Cor. 3:13; 1 Thess. 5:4), as do other New Testament writers (Heb. 10:25; 2 Pet. 1:19), to speak of future judgment.

In summary, the Day of the Lord refers to a future event, whose exact timing is not revealed, at which all will experience God’s judgment. The righteous will be able to face that day with confidence because of the sufficient work of Jesus. The unrighteous will experience destruction.

Promise (ἐπαγγελία, 3:4, 9)

This feminine noun occurs 52 times in the New Testament. Eight of these uses are in Acts, twenty two in Paul’s writings and eighteen in Hebrews[10]. It is striking that it only occurs twice each in the Synoptics and in 1 John. In all except one occurrence (Acts 23:21) it is best translated “promise” and generally means the “promise of God”[11]. The neuter noun form, which only occurs twice, both in 2 Peter (1:4; 3:13), also means promise.

The promise sometimes refers to the Holy Spirit (Luke 24:49; Acts 1:4; 2:33; Gal 3:14; Eph. 1:13). More often it refers to God’s promise to Abraham, and his descendents – both the general promise of a people, land and blessing (Rom. 4:20, 15:8; Gal. 3:29; Heb. 6:12, 7:6, 11:13, 17; Acts 26:6) and the specific promise of a Messiah (Acts 13:23; Gal. 3:16).

The usage in 2 Peter has a different nuance as it specifically refers to the, as yet, unfulfilled promise of Christ’s return.

Heavens (οὐρανοὶ, 3:5, 7, 10, 12, 13)

The word occurs 274 times in the New Testament, 91 of which are in the plural. The use of the plural is unknown in secular Greek, and so scholars have speculated that it may have entered the New Testament through the Septuagint[12]. However, a survey of usage in the Septuagint reveals that almost every occurrence of the plural occurs in the poetic language of the Psalms.

Matthew uses the term in unique ways. He specifically refers to “your Father who is in Heaven”, and the “Kingdom of Heaven”, where other gospels use the “Kingdom of God”.[13]

The word “Heaven” occurs most frequently in the Gospels and Acts, but is also used in the Epistles. Five of its six occurrences in 2 Peter occur in this passage.

Heaven includes both physical and metaphysical components. Heaven is part of God’s creation (Gen. 1:1, 2 Pet. 3:5), yet it is also above and beyond the earth. Thus it includes the sky (Ps. 19:1), but also designates God’s dwelling place (Matt 5:16), which should not be thought of as a spatial location. In fact, the concepts of God and heaven are so closely intertwined that they can, on occasion, be used interchangeably, such as Matthew’s expression, “the Kingdom of Heaven”.

In 2 Peter 3, though, the physical component is clearly in view. In each occurrence, the word is partnered with “earth” to express the totality of creation (c.f. Gen. 1:1)[14]. In v.5 both heaven and earth were created. In v.7 both heaven and earth are reserved for fire. In v.10 the heavens will pass away, the “elements” will be burned up and the earth will be tested by fire. In v.12 the heavens are only partnered with the “elements”, and both will burn. In v.13 the new heavens and the new earth are the object of our anticipation.

Heavenly Bodies/Elements (στοιχεῖα, 3:10, 12)

This word occurs seven times in the New Testament, and three times in the Apocrypha of the New Testament. In Greek philosophy it meant the “principles of something”[15] in linguistics, science or music. In Galatians 4:3 and 9, Paul uses the word with a clearly pejorative sense, the “enslaving” and “weak and worthless” elementary principles of the world[16], in contrast to the message and experience of the sonship of God through his Son and by His Spirit. In Colossians 2:8 and 20, he again uses the term negatively, although with a more “spiritual” twist. He describes the elements as the spiritual foundation for hollow and deceptive philosophy, in contrast to Christ. He also denies that the rules of these elements have any authority over those who have “died with Christ”.

In Hebrew 5:12, the writer uses the term to describe the basic principles, the milk, of God’s word which their reader needed to know.

Finally, in 2 Peter 3:10 and 12 the term occurs in the context of the destruction of the heavens, the elements and the earth by fire[17]. This is in keeping with Stoic philosophy, and would suggest that the term refers to the basic building blocks of the created world. There is no reason for spiritual forces to be included in this passage.

4. Structural-Grammatical Analysis

Peter begins by saying that the believers can presently know what will certainly characterize the last days (v.5): scoffers will come with their scoffing.

He then uses a chiasm[18] to outline the scoffer’s two part argument and his response (v.4-9). The parallel between the scoffers, who deliberately “overlook” (v.5) the fact of the three changes, and the believers, who are exhorted not to “overlook” (v.8) the fact of God’s different perspective of time, serves to drive a wedge between his readers and the his opponents[19].

V.10 uses powerful imagery to describe the “day of the Lord”. It’s coming is like a thief, an image similar to Jesus’ and Paul’s teaching. Peter then uses onomatopoeia (ῥοιζηδὸν) to describe the sound of the passing of the heavens.

Using a genitive absolute (Τούτων οὕτως πάντων λυομένων) to provide a causal connection (v.11)[20], Peter then exhorts the believers to holy and godly living in anticipation of the day of God. He concludes the section with a return to the theme of God’s promise (v.13).

5. Major Interpretive Issues

Who are the scoffers? (v.3) Peter clearly has in mind that they are the false teachers described in the previous chapter[21]. As recognized above, the identification of the content of these false teachings is significant for a correct interpretation of this passage. We concluded that these teachers had been influenced by elements of Epicurean thought, without necessarily being formal proponents of Epicurean philosophy, which would have excluded them from the Christian community[22].

The contemporary label for their worldview would be “naturalism”[23], which is characterized by the belief that only the material world exists and that the supernatural world does not.

Who are the “fathers” who have fallen asleep? (v.4) One option is that these are the first generation of Christian leaders[24]. This view requires the letter to be pseudonymous, since otherwise the author, the apostle Peter, would be included in this group. Green argues, though, that the early church did not refer to the first generation of Christians in this way[25]. A better option is to understand it as a reference as “ancestors” in general. The point of the scoffers was that things had not changed for a long time. Peter’s response confirms this, by mentioning three changes: the creation of the world, the destruction of creation by flood, and the future destruction of creation by fire. This discussion centers on evidence from the natural order, as revealed by Peter’s omission of the great salvation-historical change wrought by the incarnation of God’s Son.

What is the meaning of the double reference to the earth being created out of and through water? (v.5) Some have suggested this is influenced by the Greek philosophers, such as Thales of Miletus[26]. This is unnecessary, as the verse clearly refers to the event described in Genesis 1:6-10, where the earth is formed out of water by God’s word. However, it is less clear how Peter’s cosmological description of the creation event correlates with the Genesis account.

2 Peter 3:5 says the earth was formed “out of water and through water”. Both occurrences of water (ὕδατος) are a singular noun in the genitive form following their respective prepositions. Nicoll argues that two types of water are meant: the “primeval watery chaos”, and those waters which are “gathered into one place”[27]. On the surface, this fits with the Genesis account. But even so, it is less clear how the earth was formed “through” or “by means of” water.

One verb “formed” (συνεστῶσα, exist, endure[28]) governs both prepositions, so another possibility is suggested by Ps 24:2, to understand the prepositions not as describing discrete events but providing two dimensions to the same event. The poetic language of Ps 24:2 (“for he has founded it upon the seas and established it upon the rivers”[29]) provides a parallel for this approach. However, the Hebrew words for “seas” (יַמִּים) and “the rivers” (נְהָרוֹת) are sufficiently different from the generic term “waters” that Peter uses not to make this a compelling parallel.

However one interprets this phrase, Peter’s general message is clear. Water combined with the word of God as the means of God’s creation of the earth.

How do we understand God’s relationship with time? (v.8) There is a strong allusion to Psalm 90:4 (“For a thousand years in your sight are but as yesterday when it is past, or as a watch in the night.”[30]) Some have taken these verses to suggest a literal correspondence between each day of creation and a thousand year period in history[31]. Thus, the six thousand year period of history would be followed by a thousand year “Sabbath”. However such an understanding neglects the argument of both the Psalm and Peter’s letter. “The Psalm speaks of the judgment of God that comes upon humanity and the transitory nature of life.[32]” Similarly, Peter’s argument is that God’s perspective of time is different to ours. What may seem like an interminably long delay to a mortal person does not test God’s patience because he is intent on fulfilling his purposes. Thus, it is better to interpret this verse metaphorically, as the use of the particle (ὡς) would suggest.

What does it mean “he is patient with you”? (v.9) Green, correctly, notes that the addition of the words “εἰς ὑμᾶς” are surprising, and identifies the “you” as those members of the congregation listening to the public reading of this letter who may have been enticed to follow the false teachers[33]. Davids suggests that the “you” refers to believers who have benefited from God’s patience and already responded to the message of grace[34]. These passive interpretations may be contrasted with a more activist understanding. In conjunction with v.12, these believers may in some way be able to contribute the fulfillment of God’s purposes and “hasten the day” of his coming. With this understanding, God’s patience is directed towards those believers who have yet to fulfill God’s purpose for their life. As shall be seen from v.12, the activist interpretation provides a better understanding of the whole passage than the passive interpretation.

How do we understand “not wishing that anyone should perish, but that all should reach repentance”? (v.9) This phrase addresses the complex issue of God’s will. Some have taken this verse to support universalism. However an interpretation which is more consistent with teaching of the rest of Scripture and our own experience - that some will perish - is to distinguish between God’s desire and his decree or plan. God does not desire the destruction of any of his creation, even the scoffers. His desire is that everyone be saved by turning from sinful thoughts and actions and humbly returning to him. Peter does not, here, address the issue of why God’s desire might not be fulfilled[35], except to suggest it has to do with time.

What is the significance of the present tense “being dissolved”? (v.11) At first glance the use of the present tense in the participle (λυομένων) appears unexpected. In v.10 the “heavenly bodies” are predicted to be dissolved in the future, and there is a clear connection of thought between that statement and this. The genitive absolute has a causal connotation[36]. In this case, the present tense must be understood as being a “futuristic present”[37], describing something that is certain.

How do the people of God “hasten the day”? (v.12) Peter writes that a true understanding of the temporality of this fallen Creation should motivate believers to live holy and godly lives, characterized by “waiting for” – an intellectual response[38] - and “hastening” – an active response - the coming of the day of God. Clearly this verse suggests that the activity of believers has some influence on the timing of the Day of God. Green states that people’s “repentance” will accelerate that timing. Peter teaches in Jerusalem (Acts 3:19-21) that repentance would bring times of refreshing from the Lord, as the prophets expected. The same thought is echoed in later Judaism, where one rabbi wrote, “If the Israelites were to repent for one day, the Son of David would come.[39]”

Is there a more specific behavior commended to believers that might influence the coming of the Day? From v.9 we understand that the delay is to allow God’s purposes to be fulfilled, and those purposes involve the repentance of “all”. Jesus teaches that the end will come after the gospel of the kingdom is preached in the whole world (Matt. 24:14). Therefore, it is not just the repentance – holy and godly living – of those who are presently believers that is commended, but the proclamation of the gospel of the kingdom to the whole world that will hasten the coming of the Day of God[40].

6. Analytical Outline

Don’t Scoff. God’s Promise is Sure: Judgment will come, and Righteousness will find a home.

Scoffers are characteristic of this age (v.3).

Their argument is two-fold (v.4):

There is no evidence of God’s present concern for this world[41];
There is no evidence that God has ever been directly involved in the world.
Peter’s Response is also two-fold (v.5-9):

B’. There are three movements in creation history that dramatically display God’s intervention: creation from/by water and word (v.5); destruction by water and word (v.6); and future destruction by fire (v.7).

A’: God’s experience of time is different (v.8). He is patiently accomplishing his purposes (v.9)

The Day will come unexpectedly and dramatically (v.10).

Believers must keep in mind this certain judgment and devote themselves to promoting the gospel of the kingdom so that everyone may repent (v.11-12)

The ultimate goal is an eternal home for righteousness in this creation (v.13)

7. Interpretive Summary

Meaning Summary

Those whose world view may be characterized by “naturalism” study the evidence of contemporary existence and fail to find any evidence of supernatural intervention. They say that God does not seem to be active in the present, and extrapolate this to say that there is no evidence of him ever having been involved.

Peter’s response is that the Bible reveals that the universe had an originator, and that he destroyed the world once already. This proves that he is willing and capable of destroying it again.

Peter also argues that the involvement of God in the world at the moment does not express judgment but a desire for their salvation. He is patiently waiting for those he loves, whom he has commissioned, to fulfill his purpose for them – the universal proclamation of the gospel.

Still, his judgment is certain and believers must always keep it in mind[42] as they commit themselves to holiness and the accomplishment of God’s purposes, anticipating the time when righteousness will characterize God’s creation again.

Theological Summary

The Day of Judgment

This is the only place in the New Testament to explicitly describe the end of the world as a massive fireball, although “the idea of divine judgment by fire is frequent in the Old Testament”[43]. Peter’s three-fold repetition (v.7, 10 and 12) graphically emphasizes the fiery destruction and purification of fallen creation.

God and Creation

God is portrayed as the originator of the created order as well as its final judge. Through the flood, he is also demonstrated as having been dramatically involved in the past. There is no part of creation – the earth, the elements or the heavens – that are outside of his domain.

God and Time


The eternality of God lies behind his present dealing with humanity. Peter stresses, by developing the thought of Psalm 90:4, that God’s experience of time is different to ours by an incomprehensible order of magnitude. His purposes determine his activity, not human impatience.

God and Humanity

God desires the salvation of his beloved humanity. This requires our repentance. He also deigns to use the community of believers to accomplish his purposes through the world-wide proclamation of the gospel.

Application

Campus Crusade for Christ Australia’s mission statement is to “build spiritual movements everywhere so that everyone knows someone who truly follows Jesus”. As the Regional Campus Director for Sydney, I am committed to seeing spiritual movements be established and developed on the thirty-six campuses and among the 280,000 university students in my region. In a community where only 3% are evangelicals, and 60% of university students do not even know someone who attends church, our mission is a practical response to God’s desire that everyone be saved.

The prevailing approach among the two largest factions within the evangelical church in Sydney – Anglicans and Hillsong – is to exhort their laity to bring friends to events where experts will present the gospel to them. In contrast, our approach is to mobilize the laity by exposing each believer to a new approach to evangelism, equipping them with basic training and tools, and encouraging them to share the gospel among their own relationship networks. Effective and bold witness, combined with spiritual multiplication through discipleship in the context of a community of believers, is work which will “hasten the day”.

One of the great challenges for students is to shrug off the suffocation of naturalism. The life ambition of materialistic students in Sydney may be summarized as “get good grades in school so that you can enter the university course you desire so that you can get into a good career so that you can afford to buy a house and get married and have children and put money towards retirement.” This meta-narrative presumes that all that we currently observe in the natural world informs our expectation of the future, and our belief about the past. Yet Peter’s exhortation to his readers explicitly contradicts it. We do not look to the “here and now” to define our life ambition, but to eternity. From a present perspective, surrendering a lucrative secular career in order to raise financial support to pursue full-time ministry may not appear rational. However if this is the role that God calls one to in order to “hasten the day” then it is perfectly sensible. If, as Jesus proclaims, the harvest is plentiful and the workers are few, then I can have no shame in challenging each believer to consider whether they might devote themselves to an appropriate role laboring full-time at this task.

Following Peter’s example, the challenges of scientific naturalism to the doctrine of creation, specifically, and of God’s involvement in the world generally, must be met and responded to with passion and intellectual vigor. Apologetics is a valid and necessary discipline for both evangelism and discipleship. The assumptions of naturalism, like the Epicurean philosophies in the early church, readily pervade our thinking. It must be countered with explicit teaching. My old campus ministry at Macquarie University holds “Worldview Wednesday” meetings to examine intellectual challenges to a biblical worldview.

Naturalism supports the indulgence of our sinful natures. Thinking clearly about our eternal destiny promotes holiness and a reassessment of priorities. Included in our ministry’s standard program for introductory Bible studies is the topic of “the eternal perspective”. Teaching this material regularly has proven valuable for keeping my own spiritual life in perspective.

Finally, we need to understand the nature of God’s work in the world if we are to cooperate with him. As in Jesus’ parable of the weeds (Matt. 13:24-30), now is not the time for judgment, but for patient proclamation. We must not withdraw from unbelievers, but engage them in love with the gospel of the kingdom. While I live at Denver Seminary I must intentionally pursue genuine relationships with unbelievers.

Bibliography

Arndt, W., Danker, F. W., & Bauer, W., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature. (2000) Chicago, IL. University of Chicago Press.

Balz, H. R., & Schneider, G., Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament. (1990-c1993) Grand Rapids, MI. Eerdmans.

Bauckham, Richard J., “The Delay of the Parousia” Tyndale Bulletin 31 (1980): 3-36

Bauckham, Richard J., Jude, 2 Peter. Word Biblical Commentary. (1983) Nashville, TN. Thomas Nelson

Black, David Alan, It’s Still Greek to Me (1988) Grand Rapids, MI. Baker Academic.

Blomberg, Craig L. “The New Testament Definition of Heresy (Or When Do Jesus and the Apostles Get Really Mad?)” JETS 45/1 (2002): 59-72

Davids, Peter H., The Letters of 2 Peter and Jude (2006) Grand Rapids, MI. William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

De Silva, David A., An Introduction to the New Testament (2004) Grand Rapids, MI. InterVarsity Press.

Deterding, Paul E., “The New Testament View of Time and History” Concordia Journal (1995): 385-399

Green, Gene L., Jude and 2 Peter (2008) Grand Rapids, MI. Baker Academic.

Green, Joel B., “Narrating the Gospel in 1 and 2 Peter” Interpretation (2006): 263-277

Hayes, Richard B., “’Why Do You Stand Looking Up Toward Heaven?’ New Testament Eschatology At The Turn Of The Millennium” Modern Theology 16 (2000): 115-135

Kistemaker, Simon J. Exposition of the Epistles of Peter and the Epistle of Jude New Testament Commentary (1987) Grand Rapids, MI. Baker Book House.

Kuhn, Karl “2 Peter 3:1-13” Interpretation (2006): 310-312

Nicoll, W. Robertson. The Expositors Greek New Testament Volume V. (1960) Grand Rapids, MI. Wm B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Sire, James. The Universe Next Door. (2004) 4th Edition. Downers Grove, IL. InterVarsity Press.

J.L. Sumney “Adversaries” in Dictionary of the later New Testament and its developments Ed. Martin, R. P., & Davids, P. H. (2000, c1997). Downers Grove, IL. InterVarsity Press.

Thiede, Carsten Peter., “A Pagan Reader of 2 Peter: Cosmic Conflagration in 2 Peter 3 And the Octavius of Minucíus Feux” JETS 26 (1986): 79-96






--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

[1] Adapted from: Peter H. Davids The Letters of 2 Peter and Jude (2006) p.144-145.

[2] A recent helpful survey of various opinions is provided by Gene L. Greene Jude and 2 Peter (2008) p.139-150. C.f. David A. De Silva An Introduction to the New Testament (2004) p. 876 states that this is the NT epistle “for which the theory of pseudonymity has most to commend to itself.”

[3] Davids Letters p.130-131.

[4] Davids Letters p.132.

[5] Simon J. Kistemaker Exposition of the Epistles of Peter and the Epistle of Jude p.224.

[6] Green Jude and 2 Peter p.156.

[7] Ibid p.133, quoting Jerome H. Neyrey, 2 Peter, Jude (New York: Doubleday, 1993) p.122-23.

[8] Arndt, W., Danker, F. W., & Bauer, W. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature. p. 397

[9] Paul E. Deterding “The New Testament View of Time and History” p.397

[10] Balz, H. R., & Schneider, G. Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament Vol. 2. p. 18.

[11] BDAG Lexicon p. 355

[12] Balz, Exegetical Dictionary Vol. 2. p. 543

[13] Ibid.

[14] BDAG Lexicon. p. 737.

[15] Balz. Exegetical Dictionary Vol. 3. p. 277.

[16] BDAG Lexicon identify two main categories of meaning: (1) basic components, such as elemental substances, celestial constellations or fundamental principles; and (2) transcendental spiritual powers. p. 946.

[17] Carsten Peter Thiede “A Pagan Reader of 2 Peter: Cosmic Conflagration in 2 Peter 3

And the Octavius of Minucíus Feux” p. 79-80 discusses the cultural background surrounding Peter’s description of the destruction by fire.

[18] Richard J. Bauckham Jude, 2 Peter p.296

[19] Richard J. Bauckham “The Delay of the Parousia”, regarding Peter’s response to the scoffers, states that, “It is also, as we shall see, the most thoroughly Jewish treatment, reproducing exactly the arguments we have been studying in the Jewish literature. In fact the passage 3:5-13 contains nothing which could not have been written by a non-Christian Jewish writer... It is possible that the author is closely dependent on a Jewish apocalyptic writing in this chapter, just as he depends on the epistle of Jude in chapter 2.” p.19.

[20] Kistemaker Exposition p.341

[21] J.L. Sumney “Adversaries” in Dictionary of the later New Testament and its developments Ed. Martin, R. P., & Davids, P. H. (2000, c1997).

[22] Craig L. Blomberg “The New Testament Definition of Heresy (Or When Do Jesus and the Apostles Get Really Mad?)” identifies two scholars: one of whom identifies the scoffers as Epicureans and the other as Stoics. The evidence is obviously not straightforward. p.70

[23] James W. Sire The Universe Next Door p.61

[24] Bauckham Jude, 2 Peter p.290-2. Nicoll The Expositors Greek New Testament Volume V states, “The Fathers must mean those of the preceding generation, in whose lifetime the parousia was expected.” p.143.

[25] Green Jude and 2 Peter p.317

[26] Davids Letters p.268 dismisses this option.

[27] W. Robertson Nicoll Expositors p.143

[28] BDAG. Lexicon. p.973

[29] English Standard Version (ESV)

[30] ESV

[31] Green Jude and 2 Peter discusses the history of this approach, including the Jewish writings in the inter-testamental period and the probable early Christian use of this specific verse found in Barnabas 15:4. p.325 Bauckham Jude, 2 Peter says “this calculation lies behind the widespread Christian millenarianism of the second century.” p.306

[32] Green Jude and 2 Peter p.325

[33] Ibid p.328

[34] Davids Letters p.281

[35] Karl Kuhn “2 Peter 3:1-13” p.312

[36] Kistemaker Exposition p.341

[37] David Allan Black It’s Still Greek to Me p.107

[38] BDAG. Lexicon define this as “to give thought to something that is viewed as lying in the future, wait for, look for, expect the context indicates whether one does this in longing, in fear, or in a neutral state of mind.” p. 877

[39] Quoted by Kistemaker Exposition p.339.

[40] Ibid p.338

[41] Richard B. Hayes “’Why Do You Stand Looking Up Toward Heaven?’ New Testament Eschatology At The Turn Of The Millennium” p.132

[42] Green Jude and 2 Peter p.268-9

[43] Bauckham Jude, 2 Peter p.300

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Argument for the Existance of God

There seems little point in debating the existence of a god who has no impact on the contemporary world or on us personally. This paper will argue for the existence of the God of Christian orthodoxy – a personal God who is described as both transcendently powerful over the material universe and immanent in his creation, the Creator and Sustainer of all that exists and capable of supernaturally intervening in the world. The argument will prove the existence of God by examining evidence for his direct, supernatural intervention in the world, namely the argument from miracles. It will focus on the most significant miracle for the Christian faith, the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.

The Argument Defined

The argument may be stated in the following propositions:
1. The occurrence of even one supernatural event, i.e. a miracle, requires the existence of a supernatural cause, i.e. God.
2. One supernatural event, that God raised Jesus Christ from the dead, has occurred:
a. There are well established historical facts concerning the death, burial and subsequent appearances of Jesus Christ, and the beginning of the Church;
b. The hypothesis that “God raised Jesus Christ from the dead” provides the best explanation of those facts;
c. This hypothesis entails that a supernatural event occurred.
3. Therefore, God exists.

The Question of Miracles

Before launching into a proof for the resurrection of Jesus a more basic question must be addressed in light of the dominant naturalistic worldview in which we live: is it even possible for an enlightened person to accept miracles as a possibility?

David Hume has presented the most well-known argument against miracles. He defines a miracle as “a transgression of a law of nature by a particular volition of the Deity, or by the interposition of some invisible agent.[1]” Laws of nature, however, are established by "a firm and unalterable experience[2]”; they rest upon the testimony of multitudes of people in many different contexts.

"Nothing is esteemed a miracle, if it ever happens in the common course of nature. It is no miracle that a man, seemingly in good health, should die of a sudden: because such a kind of death, though more unusual than any other, has yet been frequently observed to happen. But it is a miracle, that a dead man should come to life; because that has never been observed in any age or country.[3]"

He argues that the testimony of a few cannot outweigh the testimony of many because of the unreliability of those few who are typically moved by the attractive sensation of surprise and wonder associated with miracles or reports of miracles, biased by religious predisposition, unchallenged by critical thinking, and ignorant, i.e. uninformed by the advances of the Enlightenment.

In response to Hume’s argument, it may be observed that he begs the question. He assumes our experience excludes a history of miracles[4]. Also his injudicious characterization of ancient witnesses does not match the historical evidence. The question must be addressed directly: do we have reliable evidence for the occurrence of a supernatural event, the resurrection of Jesus? If so, it must be caused by a supernatural being.

The Milieu of Jesus’ Palestine

N.T. Wright devotes almost 500 pages[5] to describing the milieu from which the testimonies to Jesus’ resurrection arose. Using the test of continuity and discontinuity, he provides six areas in which the Christian testimony of Jesus’ resurrection transformed pre-existing Jewish theology in such a way as to prove that the witnesses were not predisposed to expect Jesus’ resurrection. These areas are[6]: belief in resurrection moved from being a peripheral item of belief, as it was in Second Temple Judaism, to the centre; the meaning of the resurrection sharpened; there was a single understanding of resurrection in Christianity compared with the spectrum of beliefs that were found in Judaism and paganism; the understanding of the event of the resurrection changed to become a single event occurring in two moments; a metaphorical meaning of resurrection, to include baptism and holiness, arose; and, finally, no one in Second Temple Judaism expected a resurrected Messiah because no one expected a Messiah who would die! Yet that description became central to Christian belief. The evidence shows that there was no religious predisposition to expect Jesus’ resurrection so, as Wright says, “What caused these mutations within Judaism, and why, and how?”[7]

Wright also argues “that the idea of resurrection is not something which ancient peoples could accept easily because they didn’t know the laws of nature… the ancients knew perfectly well that dead people didn’t rise[8]”. The second and fourth of Hume’s objections concerning the reliability of the testimony have therefore been addressed.

Also, early church history shows that the witnesses were challenged about their testimony. Peter and John are asked to defend their testimony before the Jewish religious authorities (Acts 4:1-17), Stephen was killed for testifying to the resurrected Jesus (Acts 8:55-56), and Paul confronted Greek philosophers in Athens with the message of the resurrection (Acts 17:31-32). Other early Church Fathers followed their example.

The Textual Evidence

Evaluating a historical event requires evaluating the written testimonies concerning that event. The textual evidence in support of the resurrection of Jesus Christ is too extensive to allow for anything other than a brief survey here.

Non-Biblical sources, such as Josephus, Suetonius, Tacitus and Pliny the Younger contain brief references to Jesus Christ and events or beliefs related to him. Although a couple of the individual texts are disputed, or considered embellished, they corroborate the Biblical texts.
The Biblical text written closest to the actual event being reported is 1 Corinthians 15:3-8. Written about 55AD, this text claims to record an oral tradition that Paul had previously received and passed onto them. Presumably Paul received this tradition himself during an early visit to Jerusalem, perhaps as early as 36AD[9]. This text is clearly written within a generation of, and perhaps records eye-witness testimony from only 3 years after, the original event. This is incredible when compared with the textual evidence of other historical events, which usually are written several generations, if not hundreds of years, later.

The bare facts in 1 Corinthians 15 are fleshed out with more extensive, complementary treatments in each of the four Gospels[10]. These early records also provide eye-witness testimony and allow us to identify certain historically reliable facts.

The Historical Facts

William Lane Craig has consistently argued for three or four incontrovertible facts: “
Jesus was buried in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea; Jesus’ tomb was found empty by a group of his women followers; on multiple occasions and under various circumstances, different individuals and groups of people experienced post-resurrection appearances of Jesus; and, the original disciples suddenly and sincerely came to believe that Jesus was risen from the dead despite (as noted above) their having every predisposition to the contrary[11]”.
Habermas more precisely identifies twelve separate facts that can be considered to be knowable history:

“(1) Jesus died due to crucifixion and (2) was buried afterwards. (3) Jesus’ death caused his disciples to experience despair and lose hope, believing that their master was dead. (4) More controversially, the tomb in which Jesus was buried was discovered to be empty just a few days later. (5) The disciples had real experiences which they thought were literal appearances of the risen Jesus. Due to these experiences, (6) the disciples were transformed… (7) This message was the center of preaching in the earliest church and (8) was especially proclaimed in Jerusalem, the same city where Jesus had recently died and had been buried.

As a direct result of this preaching, (9) the church was born, (10) featuring Sunday as the special day of worship. (11) James, a brother of Jesus who had been a skeptic, was converted when he believed he saw the resurrected Jesus. (12) A few years later, Paul was also converted to the Christian faith by an experience which he, likewise, thought was an appearance of the risen Jesus. [12]

Testing the Hypothesis

Any successful hypothesis must account for all the facts better than any alternative hypothesis. Various hypotheses have tried to account for Jesus’ resurrection. Osborne lists the following[13]:
The Political Theory: the disciples stole the body in order to gain notoriety and recognition for themselves. This does not cohere with the ethical teaching of those same men, nor account for their willingness to suffer and die for their beliefs;
The Swoon Theory: Jesus merely fainted on the cross and was later revived in the tomb. However, could Jesus have recovered from a flogging, crucifixion and piercing so quickly as to appear strong and healthy to his disciples?
The Mythical View: the resurrection narratives are understood as myths created by the early church to portray the significance of Jesus’ message and death. But how could such an elaborate myth have developed in such a short period of time? Again, why would the disciples die for a myth? The character of the stories is different from pagan myths.
The Subjective Vision Theory: the disciples had a series of dreams in which they saw Jesus, and these became the basis for the resurrection narratives. But Jesus appeared to people who were not expecting him. A dream could not account for Paul’s turnaround. When and why did the dreams cease?
The Objective Vision Theory: the visions were sent from God to teach Jesus’ followers that his resurrection was a spiritual reality. This view is tries to attribute the account of the resurrection to a supernatural cause without an actual physical miracle.
The Corporeal View: God raised Jesus Christ from the dead, and this involved a transformation of his physical body so that it was capable of existing spiritually.

The naturalist hypotheses fail to successfully account for the known facts. Knowing that Jesus endured a severe flogging, crucifixion and impalement to the point of death, and that he was buried in a guarded, identifiable location, how do we account for the empty tomb? The disciples were in no state of mind to steal the body and had plenty of incentive over the successive decades to recant any such lie. The Jewish and Roman authorities had great incentive to produce the body as the sect grew in popularity. There do not appear to be any other parties with a vested interest who are viable alternatives for providing a naturalistic explanation for the missing body. The supernatural “God raised Jesus from the dead” hypothesis appears to be the most elegant explanation that fits with known facts.

How does one account for the many reported appearances of the resurrected Jesus? The subjective vision theory, which seeks to attribute the appearances to psychological breaks from reality, has been thoroughly discredited. The appearances were to people who were not expecting them. In the case of the men walking to Emmaus, they did not even recognize it as an appearance until it ended. This theory cannot account for how Mary by the tomb, and the disciples in a locked room, and two men walking to Emmaus, and a crowd of five hundred on a distant mountain top could all have the same vision. The supernatural “God raised Jesus from the dead” hypothesis appears to be the most elegant explanation that fits with known facts.

How does one account for the mutations of Jewish theology and practice, and the transformation of the individual disciples, that led to the birth of the Church? Neither the Political Theory nor the Myth Theory provides a credible response. The known facts state that the disciples were transformed: from demoralized and fearful to bold proclaimers of and sufferers for their witness. What did they gain? Stephen, for example, maintained his witness to the resurrected Christ even as he was being killed (Acts 7:54-60). Tradition records the martyrdom of almost all the remaining disciples.

Could these known facts simply be myths? Given that this message was being publicly proclaimed in the same city in which Jesus was killed and buried within weeks of the actual event, there was insufficient time for a myth to develop. The written testimony is sourced within a few years of the actual events, and uses an even earlier oral tradition. The supernatural “God raised Jesus from the dead” hypothesis appears to be the most elegant explanation that fits with known facts.

Conclusion

Having argued that a supernatural even requires the existence of a supernatural being, and that the supernatural “God raised Jesus from the dead” hypothesis provides a more coherent, rational and elegantly simple explanation of the empty tomb, the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus, and the radical transformation of Jesus’ followers than alternative hypotheses, the conclusion must follow: God exists.

At this point, the reflection on the significance of this supernatural event becomes relevant to us personally. This is not just a single, ancient historical event, it is the first moment in God’s great act of restoring all of Creation to himself. How will we respond to, “The Kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the Good News”? (Mark 1:15)

Bibliography

Craig, William Lane, Assessing the New Testament evidence for the historicity of the Resurrection of Jesus. [1989] Edwin Mellen Press, Lewiston, NY.
Craig, William Lane, God? : a debate between a Christian and an atheist / William Lane Craig, Walter Sinnott-Armstrong. [2004] Oxford University Press, New York, NY.
Craig, William Lane, The historical argument for the Resurrection of Jesus during the Deist controversy. [1985] Edwin Mellor Press, Lewiston, NY.
Craig, William Lane, Jesus’ Resurrection: Fact or Figment?: A Debate between William Lane Craig and Gerd Ludemann. Edited by Copan, Paul H., Tacelli, Ronald K., [2000] Intervarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL.
Craig, William Lane, Knowing the Truth about the Resurrection: our response to the empty tomb. [1981] Servant Books, Ann Arbor, MI.
Crossan, John D., Stewart, Robert B., and Wright N.T. The Resurrection of Jesus: John Dominic Crossan and N.T. Wright in Dialogue [2006] Fortress Press, Minneapolis MN
Habermas, Gary R. Jesus’ Resurrection and Contemporary Criticism: An Apologetic [1989] Criswell Theological Review 4.1 pp.159-74.
Hume, David. An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding. Vol. XXXVII, Part 3. The Harvard Classics. New York: P.F. Collier & Son, 1909–14; http://www.bartleby.com/, 2001. www.bartleby.com/37/3/. [10/20/2009]. Published April 24, 2001 by Bartleby.com; © 2001 Copyright Bartleby.com, Inc
Osborne, Grant R. The Resurrection Narratives: A Redactional Study. [1984] Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, MI.
Wright, N.T. The Resurrection of the Son of God, Christian Origins and the Question of God, Vol. 3 [2003] Fortress Press, Minneapolis MN {I am most disappointed that Denver Seminary library does not contain such a crucial book!}


[1] Hume, An Enquiry concerning Human Understanding [1909-1914] X, I
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid
[4] See Craig The historical argument for the Resurrection of Jesus during the Deist controversy. [1985] p.502-517 for a detailed response to Hume’s argument, but he begins by stating that Hume’s argument “seems either question-begging or mistaken”.
[5] Wright The Resurrection of the Son of God [2003]
[6] Crossan, Stewart, and Wright The Resurrection of Jesus: John Dominic Crossan and N.T. Wright in Dialogue [2006] p.18-19.
[7] Ibid p.19-20.
[8] Ibid p.17.
[9] See Craig Assessing the New Testament evidence for the historicity of the Resurrection of Jesus. [1989] p.7-19 where, after a comprehensive review of the evidence for and against this position, Craig concludes that Jerusalem in 36AD is most likely to be Paul’s source of the tradition.
[10] For a comprehensive assessment of the textual evidence in the gospels, see Osborne The Resurrection Narratives: A Redactional Study [1984] p.43-192.
[11] Craig Knowing the Truth about the Resurrection: our response to the empty tomb. [1981] p.39-123; Craig Assessing the New Testament evidence for the historicity of the Resurrection of Jesus. [1989] p.351-418; Craig Jesus’ Resurrection: Fact or Figment?: A Debate between William Lane Craig and Gerd Ludemann [2000] p. 32-34; Craig God? : a debate between a Christian and an atheist / William Lane Craig, Walter Sinnott-Armstrong. [2004] p.22-24.
[12] Habermas Jesus’ Resurrection and Contemporary Criticism: An Apologetic [1989] p.161-162.
[13] Osborne The Resurrection Narratives: A Redactional Study [1984] p.276-279. Several authors provide different lists with different emphases. Habernas [1989] lists five approaches from contemporary scholarship but his focus is on critical scholarship, not directly addressing the existence of God. Craig [1981] p.18-38 surveys three alternatives: the “conspiracy theory” (equivalent to Osborne’s Political Theory), the “apparent death theory” (equivalent to Osborne’s Swoon Theory), and the “Wrong Tomb Theory”.

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

The 30-Day Leviticus Challenge

August 2008, Christianity Today published an article entitled “The 30 Day Leviticus Challenge”
http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2008/august/13.30.html

I was asked to write a one-page review of it for O.T. Hebrew class.

The 30 Day Leviticus Challenge Reflection

Studying the book of Leviticus concentrates attention on two major confusions among Christians. Firstly, what do we do with all the stuff that came before Jesus? Secondly, how do we follow Jesus without falling into licentiousness or legalism?

Daniel Harrell’s article argues that these issues cannot be ignored because they affect our thinking about and practice of our faith today:


“As a Christian, you can’t fully comprehend the New Testament and its vocabulary… without first understanding Leviticus. The second greatest commandment, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself,’ comes from Leviticus.”
Interestingly, his approach was not to provide a hermeneutical approach. In fact, he admits that his “Levites for a month” adopted different hermeneutical approaches. One must assume he modeled one approach in his sermon series. The focus of the article was on the challenges presented and lessons learned by experientially engaging with the text.

A key pre-understanding that was brought to the exercise was that Leviticus was intended to be lived communally. Those who personally participated, as well as those who observed through social media, were pushed to engage more thoughtfully than usual with the Biblical text and to practice it more faithfully. Then came Harrell’s statement,

“For the participants in the Levitical experiment, its power for personal transformation was unexpected and perhaps the most rewarding aspect.”

Surprised? Thinking hard about what the text means and practicing it faithfully is transformational! Does this inform us more about the book of Leviticus, or about our own usual approach to and response to the teaching of the Bible more generally? The relative obscurity of Leviticus may have forced Harrell to bring his best to the task. Hopefully his example will inspire us with all of Scripture.

Monday, 24 August 2009

The Image among Images

The "Jesus - All About Life" media campaign is about to launch in Sydney, and other regions in NSW. Adapted from Campus Crusade's "Power to Change" campaign (which ran in Canada, Ireland, etc.) the purpose of the campaign is to present a positive image of Jesus to the community and, hopefully, to enable the average, quiet Christian to be able to share their faith.

A couple of comments I have are:
1) I have been fully supportive of the campaign in principle since I first encountered the idea. I am convinced that the average Australia has no regular contact with the gospel or with genuine Christians, and that most of their impressions of the gospel, and Jesus, are derived from the secular media. A campaign like this will help raise the issue of who Jesus is and what he taught for everyday Aussies in a culturally relevant way. It's measure of success is not conversions or church attendance, but how it changes the environment in which Christians and local churches do ministry. Conversions and church attendance will be determined by the effectiveness of the efforts of individual believers and local churches. The context in which we are labouring in Sydney is one where there is little importance attached to spiritual beliefs, and this campaign is an effort to influence that.

2) Some Christians will object to this campaign on the grounds of its cost. Their argument will be that the millions of dollars that will be spent over the course of a few weeks could have been spent helping the disadvantaged or on some other worthwhile ministry. And that is true. But the church is responsible for both the Great Commandment and the Great Commission. We are responsible for demonstrating God's love with our actions and proclaiming it. And this campaign is a communication campaign.

The church already spends millions of dollars each year on communication - especially the training of preachers, evangelists and, occassionally, lay people. Yet, for all that expenditure, the church does a remarkably poor job of communicating its main message with those outside of the church. The vast majority of the population of Sydney do not encounter the gospel on a weekly, monthly or, even, annual basis. A study showed that 60% of university students dont have a friend who goes to church. With church attendance (of any kind) running at about 8%, relationship evangelism is not going to connect with the majority of people in our city. A mass media campaign, such as Jesus - All About Life, will be one approach to communicate the message we have been entrusted with to significant numbers of people we would not otherwise touch.

Some Christians will object that this campaign fails to communicate the gospel clearly. I would also concede that. A 30 second TV ad is never going to encapsulate the gospel. In fact, to try to do so would be counter-productive. The purpose of a campaign like this is to communicate an element of the gospel message that strikes a chord with the population of Sydney. By striking a chord I mean it must challenge the preconception that Jesus is irrelevant to their life. It should create an openness to hearing more. It may even stimulate sufficient interest to cause them to go looking for an answer.

This campaign is not about "Bible-bashing" people. It is about trying to surface latent interest in a real issue.

3) Some non-Christians will object to this campaign because they see it as an intrusion. But many issues could be labelled as intrusions that challenge contemporary societies' values. Other issues that could have been included in this category are: famine in Africa, global warming, the effects of drink driving. As Christians, we have a message which we believe has universal relevance and which everybody needs to be aware of. We refuse to sit in a corner and be quiet. The issue, as we perceive it, is too important and it is worth using the best resources we can muster to make it an issue that everyone has thought about.

4) Finally, this media campaign will be vastly different from the majority of media campaigns launched in Australia. We are not trying to sell anything. We are presenting a person. We are not trying to create an image for a celebrity, but highlight the truth about Jesus' image. I was shown a poem today written by Brian J. Walsh and Slyvia Keesmaat, from their controversial commentry on Colossians, that helps explain this:

In an image-saturated world,
a world of ubiquitous corporate logos
permeating your consciousness
a world of dehydrated and captive imaginations
in which we are too numbed, satiated and co-opted
to be able to dream of life otherwise
a world in which the empire of global economic affluence
has achieved the monopoly of our imaginations

in this world
Christ is the image of the invisible God
in this world
driven by images with a vengeance
Christ is the image par excellence
the image above all other images
the image that is not a facade
the image that is not trying to sell you anything
the image that refuses to coopt you
Christ is the image of the invisible God
the image of God
a flesh and blood
here-and-now
in time and history
with joys and sorrows
image of who God is
the image of God
a flesh and blood
here-and-now
in time and history
with joys and sorrows
image of who we are called to be
image bearers of this God
He is the source of the liberated imagination
a subversion of the empire
because it all starts with him
and it all ends with him
everything
all things
whatever you can imagine
visible and invisible
mountains and atoms
outer space, urban space and cyberspace
whether it be the Pentagon, Disneyland, Microsoft or AT&T
whether it be institutionalised power structures
of the state, the academy or the market
all things have been created in him and through him
he is their source, their purpose, their goal
even in their rebellion
even in their idolatry
he is the soveriegn one
their power and authority is derived at best
parasitic at worst

In the face of the empire
in the face of presumptuous claims to soveriegnty
in the face of the imperial and idolatrous forces in our lives
Christ is before all things
he is soveriegn in life
not the pimped dreams of the global market
not the idolatrous forces of nationalism
not the insatiable desires of a consumerist culture

In the face of a disconnected world
where home is a domain in cyberspace
where neighborhood is a chat room
where public space is a shopping mall
where information technology promises
a tuned-in, reconnected world
all things hold together in Christ
the creation is a deeply personal cosmos
all cohering and interconnected in Jesus


And this soveriegnty takes on cultural flesh
And this coherence of all things is socially embodied
in the church
against all odds
against most of the evidence
In a "show me" culture where words alone don't cut it
the church is
the flesh and blood
here-and-now
in time and history
with joys and sorrows
embodiement of this Christ
as a body politic
around a common meal
in alternative economic practices
in radical service to the most vulnerable
in refusal of the empire
in love of this creation
the church reimagines the world
in the image of the invisible God

In the face of a disappointed world of betrayal
a world in which all fixed points have proven illusory
a world in which we are anchorless and adrift
Christ is the foundation
the origin
the way
the truth
the life

In the face of a culture of death
a world of killing fields
a world of the walking dead
Christ is at the head of the resurrection parade
transforming our tears of betrayal into tears of joy
giving us dancing shoes for the resurrection party
And this glittering joker
who has danced in the dragon's jaws of death
now dances with a dance that is full
of nothing less than the fullness of God
this is the dance of the new creation
this is the dance of life out of death
and in this dance all that was broken
all that was estranged
all that was alienated
all that was dislocated and disconnected
what once was hurt
what once was friction
is reconciled
comes home
is healed
and is made whole
because Grace makes beauty out of ugly things
everything
all things
whatever you can imagine
visible and invisible
moutains and atoms
outer space, urban space and cyberspace
every inch of creation
every dimension of our lives
all things are reconciled to him

And it all happened on a cross
it all happens at a state execution
where the governor did not commute the sentence

it all happens at the hands of the empire
that has captured our imagination
it all happens through blood
not through a power grab by the soveriegn one
it all happens in embraced pain
for the sake of others
it all happens on a cross
arms stretched out in embrace
and this is the image of the invisible God
this is the body of Christ