FROM GUTENBERG TO YOU

The Blog

A Few Things Learned from the Bible

I recently received the following reflections by my friend Tony Arlyn. They constitute a good and accurate summary of the Bible’s worldview, message, and doctrines. Because it is such a succinct and insightful summation of the Bible’s message, I pass it on to you.

—————

A few things I learned from the Bible:

  • Every human being is created into a world that is evil, temporary, filled with rebellion, and doomed for destruction.
  • Every human being is also evil, temporary, filled with rebellion, and rightly doomed for destruction.
  • Every human being manifests this evil with an exceedingly wicked rebellion against his very own Creator by not acknowledging Him, honoring Him, or thanking Him for his very existence.
  • Every human being also demonstrates this deceitful rebellion by replacing his Creator with a “lesser version,” someone of his own creation; and in doing so, every human being denies the truth about his Creator’s transcendence, His absolute power over His creation, His authority, and His genuine goodness.
  • Every human being hates real truth and genuine goodness, and he defines truth and goodness for himself.
  • Every human being tries to create his own self-significance apart from his Creator in order to justify his own existence.
  • Every human being will never find his real significance in this present created world.
  • Every human being is destined to die in this state of rebellion, rightfully doomed to destruction, unless the Creator decides to be merciful towards him and chooses to act on his behalf by using His absolute power to begin to change him from being evil to being good.
  • Every human being who has been chosen by the Creator will love mercy, struggle for the rest of his life with his own evil and rebellion, and begin to try to see, understand, and pursue genuine goodness.
  • Every human being who has been chosen by the Creator will repeatedly face the truth about himself, begin to know the truth about his Creator, and begin to learn what is genuinely good, true, and valuable.
  • Every human being chosen by the Creator will try to overcome his evil desire for self-significance and find his ultimate significance in what the Creator is doing on his behalf.
  • The Creator of all reality promises that, after physical death, those who believe Him, trust Him, follow Him, and agree with His purposes will have a life in a good and glorious time and place in the future.
  • The Creator of all reality promises to finish the work He has started in the human beings he has chosen so that they will no longer be evil, temporary, and filled with rebellion, but they will be good and glorious; so that they will fit in and belong in the good and glorious time and place in the future.
  • The Creator of all reality places a mark on the lives of the human beings He has chosen and is changing, and He calls the mark faith and promises to deliver the marked ones from the coming final destruction.
  • The Creator of all reality chose to make known all this through the tiny nation of Israel, to whom He revealed Himself as the one true Creator and proclaimed: “Hear O Israel: the LORD is your God; the LORD is one, and there is no other one like Him.”
  • The Creator of all reality also chose to reveal Himself and proclaim His purposes in time and space through the Jewish man Jesus, whom He called His ‘son’, and He made Jesus both Lord and the promised Messiah of Israel, the one who will one day rule over the good and glorious time and place in the future as its King, representing the Creator Himself.
  • The Creator of all reality was pleased with the life of His son Jesus, and He revealed to the human beings He has chosen that they should follow Jesus in the same way they would follow Him so that they might live in the good and glorious time and place in the future.
  • The Creator of all reality was so pleased with the life of His son Jesus that, after Jesus was crucified and died, the Creator brought him back to life in a new and glorious way so that human beings could see for themselves what the Creator has planned for those whom He has chosen for Himself and given to His son Jesus.
  • Every human being chosen by the Creator will, after he dies, be brought back to life in a new and glorious way when the man Jesus returns to rule over the good and glorious time and place in the future.
  • The good and glorious time and place in the future will be the time and place when the genuine goodness and glory of the Creator is evident for all to see, and, because of the Creator’s mercy towards the human beings He has chosen, genuine goodness and glory will become a living reality in the lives of those who belong to Him and to His son Jesus.

 

Peter Kreeft: God as Author

I seem to be getting a lot of good stuff sent to me recently. Another friend sent me an interview (excerpt below) with Catholic philosopher Peter Kreeft. When I began my book on divine determinism nearly thirty years ago, no one seemed to be thinking of God as the author of reality and of created reality as a narrative that God is creating. It seems that a growing number of people are recognizing that this is the best way to understand the biblical perspective. And, indeed, as I argued in my recent seminar on the problem of evil at Gutenberg’s 2012 Summer Institute and in a series of talks at Reformation Fellowship, it provides the only really compelling answer to the problem of evil. Interestingly, Kreeft answers the relevant questions in the interview below exactly as I would.

I have not included the full interview even though Kreeft has some very interesting things to say. Here’s the interview’s teaser: “Our culture, says surfer/philosopher Peter Kreeft, has created women with terribly low expectations and new Victorians who will make moral judgments about everything except sex.” The interview by Marvin Olasky (July 17, 2010), can be found on the World Magazine website.

———————————————

Peter Kreeft still has more years (73) than published books (59), but the prolific Catholic professor is closing the gap. He teaches philosophy at both Boston College and The King’s College, New York City, and when he has spare time plays chess and goes surfing. The next book out of the chute is his first novel, An Ocean Full of Angels.

How is writing a novel different from writing nonfiction? Do you feel a little bit like God? It’s a great analogy: the novel that God writes and the novel that we write. It shows how there can be predestination and free will at the same time. And it also shows how the Incarnation is not illogical, because it shows how a novelist can put himself in his own novel as one of his own characters—and then he has two natures.

So in our hobbies of novel writing, we are studying theology. Well, the Bible is more like a novel than like theology, actually. This is the one thing that postmodernism has shown us, that Enlightenment rationalism doesn’t fit the fundamentally religious foundation of narrative.

Do you think you were predestined to become a philosopher? Yes, of course. Predestination is in the Bible. A good author gives his characters freedom, so we’re free precisely because we were predestined to be free. There’s no contradiction between predestination and free will.

Jesus Wasn’t Crucified on Friday

Off and on since last fall, I have taught a series at Reformation Fellowship (a church in Eugene) titled “Is the Bible Trustworthy? Responding to Bart Ehrman.” Ehrman is a professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Much of his work has been on textual criticism and the New Testament, and he has published several popular books in which he points out “inconsistencies” in the New Testament texts.  The intent of my talks has been to look at Ehrman’s arguments for some of those inconsistencies and to show how, properly understood, the New Testament is not at all inconsistent.

My latest talk (June 17) dealt with Ehrman’s allegation that the accounts in the Gospels of Mark and John concerning the timing of Jesus’ death contradict each other.  Ehrman bases his arguments on what I believe are false assumptions, one of which is that Jesus was crucified on Friday, the day before the weekly Sabbath, as the Church has assumed for hundreds of years.

In looking at the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ death, it is important to keep in mind the following:

  • For Jews, like Mark and John, the new day begins at sundown and lasts until the following sundown. Hence, the weekly Sabbath does not simply correspond to our Saturday. Rather, it begins at sundown on what is our Friday and ends at sundown on what is our Saturday. (I’ll refer to the “day” the weekly Sabbath occurs as “Friday–Saturday.”)
  • “Passover” is an annual religious celebration prescribed by the Mosaic Covenant (Leviticus 23:5) that always occurs on the same day—the fourteenth day of the Jewish month of Nisan. Hence, Passover will not always fall on the same day of the week every year.
  • The “Feast of Unleavened Bread” is always celebrated for seven days after  Passover, and the first and last days of the observance are both holy Sabbaths  (Leviticus 23:5–8).
  • Because Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread always occur together, sometimes the whole period of the two religious observances is simply called “Feast of Unleavened Bread” (or just “Unleavened Bread” or the “Feast”), and sometimes it is simply called “Passover.”
  • Passover is not a Sabbath day; work can be done on the Passover. In fact, the Passover is a “day of preparation” for the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, which is always a Sabbath day on which no work may be done.
  • Depending on the year, neither the day of Passover nor either of the two Sabbaths commanded to be kept as part of the Feast of Unleavened Bread need to coincide with the weekly Sabbath. In that event, then, during the eight days of  “the Feast” (or “Passover” or  “Unleavened Bread”), the Jews would be required to observe three different Sabbaths in an eight-day span of time. Here, for example, is how the Sabbaths would fall if Passover day were to fall on a Sunday–Monday:
    1. The next day, Monday–Tuesday, the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, would be a Sabbath;
    2. The next Friday–Saturday, the weekly Sabbath, would be a Sabbath;
    3. The very next day, Saturday–Sunday, the last day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, would be a Sabbath.

The fact that there are other Sabbaths besides the weekly Sabbath during Passover “week” is an absolutely critical fact that one must take into account when one is seeking to understand the events surrounding Jesus’ death. But Ehrman, I would contend, does not take this fact into account. And neither has the Church.

Given the understanding of Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread that I have just described, I argued in my talk at Reformation Fellowship that Mark’s and John’s accounts are consistent with one another. Furthermore, Jesus was not crucified during the day on “Good Friday” (Jewish Thursday–Friday) as we have always assumed, but rather  he was crucified during the day on Wednesday (Jewish Tuesday–Wednesday).

All my talks responding to Bart Ehrman are online in the audio section of Gutenberg’s website and on Gutenberg’s site at iTunes U. PDF notes accompany the recordings.

 

Humans and Truth

All humans are able to know what is essentially true, even in what the Bible explains is our “fallen” condition. Theologian Walter Brueggemann put it like this: “[There are] orders, limits, and boundaries within which humanness is possible and beyond these there can only be trouble.” And further, “Life has a certain evocative quality, a certain connectedness about it, a dynamic, an intention, a direction, a presence, a meaning. And we are creatures who are an integral part of that life and we respond instinctively to it even if we rebel at its qualities” (quoted in Truth Is Stranger Than it Used to Be by Richard Middleton and Brian Walsh, p.162). In other words, humans experience the world as having a certain “givenness” or truth about it.

All humans—regardless of their individual and subjective worldview—experience this truth, or “fixity,” though it often lies at a very taken-for-granted level of life. Gravity is fixed. Our biology is given. The way humans need to relate to one another with mutual respect, justice, and kindness is observably universal. Sometimes nature and human nature are cruel, tragic, and overwhelming. All human beings are confronted with these facts about the world, which are all elements of truth built into creation, and we all must learn to respond to them by seeking explanations, meaning, and ways to survive their reality. We were created to know the truth and have it fill our lives with the satisfaction of its solidness. Learning to seek it and love it is inherent to our salvation.

Here, then, is a critically important question: If I understand that I am a creature who in my most fundamental nature has a love/hate relationship with truth (in Romans 7 Paul confesses that the truth he knows he cannot obey and fulfill), what can I do about it? If I now understand that my God and Savior is the author of truth and that being saved from sin is directly related to coming into harmony with truth, if I see my need to be a person who desires the truth of God and His creation, what will get me to be one who does, in fact, desire it?

That is the core of the bad news. We now come to the good news. Our salvation to becoming truthful creatures is grounded in God’s loving and merciful commitment to us. Only the Spirit of Truth is able to overcome the deeply embedded resistance to truth in us all. This gift of being recreated to love truth and not fear it, even while I remain someone with severe tendencies to run from it, is both the evidence of God’s work in my life and a proof of my maturing inner self. Put differently, God is actively committed to transforming, over time, what the Apostle Paul refers to as my “inner man,” my deepest self, into one that increasingly desires to know, understand, and personally embrace the truth.

Even as God performs this miracle deep within me, my new, growing desire for what is true will often be in profound conflict with other sin-based desires within me—for safety, for security, for acceptance by those I admire or who hold power over me. At times, my desire for and recognition of the truth will directly contradict old, evil habits of mind and heart—especially those that show me my own flaws and moral brokenness. This realization is disturbing and unsettling until I remember that the Gospel never promised an “instant fix” of my character. I am “in process.” I am working out my salvation with fear and trembling. The event of the cross should encourage us all, for in it God has promised His mercy and has proved His intention to complete His job of transforming me—even if I have only begun to understand and to learn to love truth’s work in my life.

 

Putting Faithfulness Over Brilliance

To maintain that Paul invented Christianity is not uncommon in academic circles. Frankly, nothing could be further from the truth. Culturally speaking, Paul’s influence failed miserably. All over the empire, communities that began as gospel-believing communities departed from the gospel of Jesus that Paul and the other apostles had delivered to them and gravitated toward the new religion of Christianity that was beginning to take shape from various elements of the gospel. Certainly Paul was brilliant enough to be the inventor of a new religion, but he was too honest and too humble to do so. Paul always viewed his role as that of a servant of Jesus Christ. He did not see himself as an original thinker, an innovator, a philosopher, a guru, a wise man. He thought of himself as doing nothing more than transmitting to the Gentile world the truth that had been revealed to him by Jesus and the Scriptures. The measure of his “success” was his faithfulness, not his brilliant insights. Any insights he had came from Jesus. What was required of him was only to faithfully pass those insights on to others. It was not his place to add to them. He had not been called to be insightful. He had been called to be trustworthy.

The irony is this: Paul was a creative genius. While he viewed himself as nothing more than a mouthpiece, in fact he is one of the most profound and insightful thinkers that I have ever read. (In the interests of full disclosure, I am an active member of the Paul of Tarsus fan club. And I am more familiar with Paul’s writings than any other writings in the history of ideas.) It never ceases to amaze me how profound, insightful, accurate, and thorough are his interpretation and application of the Scriptures upon which he bases his understanding of the gospel. It is not uncommon for me, when I have finally gotten to the bottom of an argument that Paul has made, to find myself exclaim, “Paul, you’re a genius!”

But as intelligent and capable as Paul was, he did not use what had been given him to impress. When one rightly understands Paul, one never gets the sense that Paul was trying to dazzle. He was never out to display his intellectual prowess and have people notice how brilliant he was. He was a humble man with one, simple goal: to explain as clearly as he could the gospel of Jesus to others. It was not his place, nor his ambition, to come up with something of his own. He only wanted to pass on to others what had been given to him. One never sees him taking any pride in what he knew and understood. His understanding was not his creation. He did not invent it. He did not discover it. It was a gift that had been given to him. His sole responsibility was to share what had been given to him with others.

I cannot help but think that the history of Christianity would have gone very differently had others coming after him been as humble and faithful as Paul was. Christianity was invented precisely because they were not. Too many, in the generations that followed Paul, were intent on being clever rather than faithful. Too many were tempted to interject into their teaching and theology insights of their own instead of passing on faithfully that which had been given to them by the apostles and the Scriptures. It was the ongoing series of “additions” and “creative insights” that gradually transformed the revelation of Jesus, the Messiah, into the Christian religion.

I admire Paul all the more when I understand what he did not do. He did not succumb to the evil desire to take pride in what he had. Paul, more than any other man except Jesus, possessed a deep and accurate grasp of the ultimate truth from God. I see no evidence that Paul ever tried to turn that fact into a basis of self-glorification. He cared deeply that people be persuaded of what he knew and understood—not out of some misplaced need to have people acknowledge him but rather out of a desire that others, too, might come to believe the truth. Paul was as confident as any man ever could be that he knew the truth; and if his truth was rejected, he grieved—not because he felt personally rejected or slighted but because of the folly of the one who rejected it

God, help me be as humble and faithful as Paul, who emulated your Son, Jesus!

 

You can get these blog posts sent to your email.

Subscribe

 

Please consider supporting the college as you are able. Even small donations help. Thank you.

Donate Online