Saturday, April 30, 2011

Planned Parenthood, Death and Statistics

Statistics can mislead. However, Planned Parenthood (PP) has demonstrated that it can use numbers to create an entire fantasy world, claiming that “abortion makes up only 3 percent of its total services” (World, May 7, 2011, 5).

How did PP determine the “3 percent?” According to World, Abby Johnson, a former PP clinic director, recently wrote that:

• …the claim is a gimmick. The group, she claims, skews its abortion numbers by “unbundling family planning services so that each patient shows anywhere from five to 20 visits per appointment.”

What does this mean in terms of numbers?

• Planned Parenthood provided abortions to 97.6 percent of its 340,276 pregnant clients in 2009…For every adoption referral in 2009, Planned Parenthood performed slightly more than 340 abortions.

What a discrepancy – 3% against 97.6%! Actually, it’s not a discrepancy; it’s a deception, but we shouldn’t be surprised. I worked with the New York City Department of Probation for 15 years and soon learned that just about all of our probationers were “innocent.” When people have done something wrong and fear the consequences, truth is the first thing to go. Can we expect anything better from PP?

Christian MIssions

Christian Missions aren’t disappearing; they’re just changing. Brad A. Greenburg writes:

• Scott Moreau, a missions professor at Wheaton College, estimates that two decades ago half of his graduate students believed building churches abroad was their top priority. “Today, it might be 10%... Fighting trafficking, orphanage work, HIV-AIDS, poverty – that is probably 50%.” (Wall Street Journal, 7/2/10).

Why the change? Have we just discovered poverty? Perhaps there are many reasons for the shift, but a big one has to be the change in philosophy. Many have now adopted the statement attributed to St. Francis of Assisi: “Always preach the Gospel, and use words only when necessary.”

However, with this type of preaching – deeds without words – the hearers might fail to get the message. Greenberg refers to a study conducted by Calvin College, 2006, which found that there was,

• “Little or no difference” in spiritual response between two groups of Hondurans—one which had its houses rebuilt by missionaries who did not proselytize and the other by local NGOs.

This should not be a surprise. The Bible informs us that the Gospel doesn’t come by osmosis but by preaching. In an intriguing passage, the Apostle Paul explained that we are a sweet savor of Christ to the surrounding world:

• But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the KNOWLEDGE OF HIM. For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life… we do not peddle the WORD OF GOD for profit. On the contrary, in Christ we speak before God with sincerity, like men sent from God. (2 Cor. 2:14-17).

According to Paul, this isn’t a “fragrance” that exudes naturally from deeds alone or the pores of our physical bodies. It is a supernatural fragrance that accompanies the proclamation of the Word. There are many nice people – perhaps better people than most Christians – who are doing many ostensibly good deeds. They, however, do not emit the fragrance of Christ, which is also an utter stench to those who resist the Gospel.

I’ve experienced it many times. There is something supernatural and exhilarating that takes place when we share the Good News with receptive others. May our Lord cause us to never forget this!

Friday, April 29, 2011

Ephesians and Colossians: Genuinely Pauline?

Bart Ehrman denies that either of these letters had been authored by Paul. Regarding the Book to the Ephesians, Ehrman writes:

• The writing style is not Paul’s. Paul usually writes in short, pointed sentences; sentences in Ephesians are long and complex. In Greek, the opening statement of thanksgiving (1:3-14)—all twelve verses—is one sentence. (Forged
, 110)

However, even Ehrman admits that these considerations aren’t very determinative. Our writing styles vary quite a bit according to our audience, time and situation. If I’m writing to my wife, I’ll adopt one style; to a prospective employer, another style. Ehrman therefore admits that,

…the main reason for thinking that Paul didn’t write Ephesians is that what the author says in places does not jibe with what Paul himself says in his own letters [Romans, Corinthians, Galatians…]…Here [Eph. 2:1-10], as in Paul’s authentic letters, we learn that believers were separated from God because of sin, but have been made right with God exclusively through his grace, not as the result of “works.” But here, oddly, Paul includes himself as someone who, before coming to Christ, was carried away by passions of our flesh, doing the will of the flesh and senses” [2:3]. This doesn’t sound like the Paul of the undisputed letters who says that he had been “blameless” with respect to the “righteousness of the law” (Phil. 3:4).

Ehrman claims that we encounter a different and “blameless” Paul in the genuine epistles as opposed to the rank sinner “Paul” of Ephesians. Let’s just take a look at Romans – a book Ehrman regards as genuine. Here too, we encounter the sinner Paul:

• We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. (Romans 7:14-15)

Consequently, there is no contradiction between Ephesians and Romans, and there is no reason to suspect that a forger wrote Ephesians. Ehrman continues:

• …even though he is talking about the relationship of Jew and Gentile in this [Ephesians] letter, the author does not speak about salvation apart from the “works of the law” [Rom. 3:28], as Paul does. He speaks, instead, of salvation apart from doing “good deeds.”

It seems that Ehrman has regressed to quibbling over mere distinctions in terminology. Although Ehrman fails to specify to which verse in Ephesians he refers, it seems evident that it’s this one:

• For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith--and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God-- not by WORKS [“ergon”], so that no one can boast. (Ephes. 2:8-9)

However, “ergon” is the very word that Paul uses in his “genuine” epistles. I’ll just cite several verses from Romans: 2:6-7, 15; 3:27-28; 4:2, 6; 9:11, 32; 11:6; 13:3, 12; 14:20; 15:18.

Regarding “works” (“good deeds”) as opposed to “works of the law,” Ehrman adds, “That [“works”] simply was not the issue Paul addressed.” However, “works [“ergon”] of the law” vs. “good deeds” (also “ergon”), this isn’t a meaningful distinction. Paul argues in all his letters that we’re saved by grace, without “works of the law” or “good deeds.” In the NT, both terms are used almost synonymously. And even if there is a distinction in terminology between the seven epistles Ehrman regards as genuine and the six that he doesn’t, does this mean that the six are forgeries? There are serious problems in Ehrman’s reasoning:

1. While he points out distinctions between his two groupings of Paul’s epistles, he makes little attempt to weight these against the commonalities. (Actually, he doesn’t attempt to draw out any common patterns among the six “forgeries,” since, according to him, they were composed by different forgers.)

2. He has failed to set forth any criteria to judge whether a letter has been authored by a forger. For instance, how many distinctions must he find relative to commonalities in order to deem a letter a “forgery?”

3. Even if the distinctions far outweigh the commonalities, there may be other factors to account for the findings. We need not conclude that a forger had been at work.

4. Sometimes he argues that the commonalities reflect the attempt of the forger to make a convincing forgery. Sometimes he argues the opposite – the commonalities reflect the fact that the writings in question must have the same author. Ehrman can’t have it both ways. This type of inconsistent reasoning suggests that he hasn’t thought through the implications of the criteria he is using to separate forgery from the authentic.

Ehrman continues with linguistic distinctions:

• Moreover, this author indicates that believers have already been “saved” [Eph. 2:8-9] by the grace of God. As it turns out, the very “saved’ in Paul’s authentic letters is always used to refer to the future. Salvation is not something people already have; it’s what they will have.

Although Ehrman is correct about the usage of “saved,” this certainly doesn’t represent theological contradiction but merely a different choice of words. Indeed, Ephesians uses “saved” in the past tense and Romans, for example, doesn’t. However, this distinction doesn’t demonstrate contradiction and fails to argue for two separate authors. Instead, Romans opts for the word “justified” in the past tense to convey the identical meaning – that we have already been saved:

• For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law. (Romans 3:28)

• Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. (Romans 5:1; 3:20; 4:2; 8:30)

Ehrman charge that “Salvation is not something people already have; it’s what they will have,” in regards to Paul’s “authentic” epistles, is evidentially unsupportable. Romans also describes salvation in the past tense, but with a different term – “justified.”

Besides, even though “saved” in Ephesians indicates that salvation is a done-deal, as in Romans, there are verses that also indicate that salvation is a process. While Ephesians states that already He “has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ” (1:3), it also states that the Christian must continue to “put off the old self” (4:22) and “put on the new self” (4:24), knowing that those of the “old self” have no “inheritance in the kingdom of Christ” (5:5) – the very message of Romans, indicating the salvation is both a done-deal and also a process.

Ehrman further argues that, while in Paul’s “authentic letters” – Romans, for example – the resurrection is future, in Ephesians, it has already taken place:

• Paul was extremely insistent …that the resurrection of the believers was a future event, not something that had already happened…[but] Ephesians says: “even when we were dead through our trespasses, God made us alive together with Christ…and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places” (2:5-6). Here, believers have experienced a spiritual resurrection and are enjoying a heavenly existence in the here and now. This is precisely the view that Paul argued against…

Once again, Ehrman is outrunning the evidence. Paul never once – anywhere – argued against a present-life spiritual resurrection as described in Ephesians. Instead, he argued that, even now, we partake of the glories of Christ:

• And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also GLORIFIED. (Romans 8:30).

There does not seem to be any substantial difference between the message of Ephesians and Romans – certainly not enough to argue in favor of another author. Besides, if there had been found a greater degree of verbal agreement between these two letters, Ehrman might then have o argued, “See, the forger is so intent on passing Ephesians off as genuine, that he uses the very same language as Romans uses.” Therefore, Paul is darned if he does and darned if he doesn’t. There are no consistent controls, standards, or limits upon his gelatinous argumentation.

It’s so easy to generate “contradictions,” especially when the subject is other-worldly. For instance, the Bible claims that no one has ever seen God nor can see Him (1 Tim 6:16). Jesus was seen. Therefore Jesus can’t be God. However, this conclusion ignores the many nuances. Although Jesus is fully God (Hebrews 1:3), His glory had been shrouded (Matthew 17:2; John 17:24).

Likewise any state law is “contradicted” by others. Although murder is a crime, there are many nuances (qualifications, not contradictions) – self-defense, warfare… Ehrman, however, turns a deaf ear to the nuances. For him, they are no more than an impediment to setting forth his alleged discrepancies. Consequently, using his methodology, we can even argue in favor of multiple authors within a single epistle. Without scholarly controls, the data can be manipulated in any direction, and this is just what Ehrman does. Of course, Colossians is also a forgery. Why?

On the surface it looks like Paul’s work, but not when you dig deeply into it. Colossians has a lot of words and phrases that are found in Ephesians as well, so much so that a number of scholars think that whoever forged Ephesians used Colossians as one of his sources for how Paul wrote. (112)

If the commonalities between these two books argue in favor of a forgery, why shouldn’t the commonalities among the “genuine” Pauline also argue in favor of forgery? According to him, commonality proves authenticity, but it also proves forgery! Heads I win; tails you loose! Ridiculous perhaps, but if he’s laughing all the way to the bank, he might not be too concerned about that.

The Books of 1 & 2 Thessalonians, according to Bart Ehrman

While Ehrman acknowledges that Paul was the author of 1 Thessalonians, he claims that the second letter is a later forgery. Why?

• Paul himself thought the end was coming in his lifetime. Nowhere is this more clear than in one of the letters we are sure he wrote, 1 Thessalonians…”the dead in Christ will rise first; then WE who are alive, who remain, will be caught up together with them to meet the Lord in the air” (4:17)
. (106)

Ehrman insists that Paul claimed that he would be among “we who are alive.” He then correctly points out that the author of 2 Thessalonians “argues that the end is not, in fact, coming right away” (107). Does this reflect a contradiction in eschatology reflecting different authors?

There is no reason to believe that the “we who are alive” proves that Paul thought he’d be alive at Christ’s return. Instead, it can be interpreted as “we [Christians] who are alive,” possibly excluding himself. The following two verses would support this conclusion:

• Now, brothers, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. (1 Thes. 5:1-2)

Here, Paul confesses that he can’t provide any dates. If this is the case, then Paul wouldn’t have been able to claim that he’d be alive at Christ’s return. Therefore, the “contradiction” disappears along with Ehrman’s case that 2 Thessalonians had to have been written by another. He then offers another “argument” against a Pauline 2 Thessalonians:

• At the end of the letter, the author insists that he is Paul and gives a kind of proof: “I Paul write this greeting with my own hand. This is the mark in every letter of mine; it is the way I write” (3:17). This means that “Paul” had been dictating his letter to a scribe who had written it down, until the end, when Paul signed off with his own hand. Readers of the letter could see the change of handwriting and recognize Paul’s, authenticating this letter as really his…What is peculiar is that the author claims that this is his invariant practice. But it is not how most of the undisputed letters of Paul end.

Even if Ehrman is correct that this is not “how most of the undisputed letters of Paul end,” it’s irrelevant to the question of the authorship of 2 Thessalonians. Besides, Ehrman has no way of knowing whether the original Pauline letters didn’t contain his signature. We do not have the originals and it is almost certain that when they were copied and distributed, no one would have tried to copy/forge Paul’s signature. This would have undermined Paul’s very rationale for signing his name – to prove that these letters were genuine! If the church could have forged his signature, then the signature wouldn’t have meant much in terms of evidence. If the church could forge, why not also a forger? Therefore, if the church tried to copy Paul’s signature, it would have been counterproductive.

If anything, “Paul’s” signature would present an additional problem for a would-be forger. There might have been people still alive who could identify Paul’s signature, thereby exposing the forgery. Besides, the forger would have no way of knowing whether or not some of Paul’s originals containing his signature still remained, which could also have been used to disqualify the forgery. Nor would this much-later-on would-be forger have any idea what Paul’s signature even looked like if the elders of the church also didn’t know.

Ehrman fails to mention the fact that 2 Thessalonians received early 2nd century attestation from Ignatius (110 AD), Polycarp (110-150 AD) and Justin Martyr (150 AD). It was also named as authentic by Irenaeus, Cyril, Eusebius, Jerome, and Augustine and cited by Clement, Tertullian, and Origen. As with the other 12 Pauline letters, the early church never raised a hint of controversy regarding the Pauline authorship of 2 Thessalonians. We are left to wonder why Ehrman does.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Paul’s Pastoral Epistles: Forgeries?

Bart Ehrman insists that “Paul’s” Pastoral Epistles – 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus – are forgeries: “All three letters were written by the same person, and that person was not Paul.” (Forgery, 97).

How can Ehrman be so sure of this, especially in light of the fact that the early church had been unanimous in their ascription of these letters to Paul? Ehrman writes:

• The vocabulary and the writing style are very different from those of the other Pauline letters…there are 848 different words used in the pastoral letters. Of that number 306—over one-third of them!—do not occur in any other of the Pauline letters…

However, Ehrman then admits:

• At the same time, probably not too much stock should be placed in mere numbers. Everyone, after all, uses different words on different occasions, and most of us have a richer stock of vocabulary than shows up in any given letter or set of letters we write.

Ehrman then brings out his big guns. In the genuine Pauline Epistles,

Faith refers to the trust a person has in Christ to bring about salvation through his death. In other words, the term describes a relationship with another; faith is trust “in” Christ. The author of the Pastorals also uses the term “faith.” But here it is not about a relationship with Christ; faith now means the body of teaching that makes up the Christian religion. That is “the faith.”

He cites Titus 1:13: “Therefore, rebuke them sharply, so that they will be sound in the faith.” Although Ehrman is correct that faith here refers to a “body of teaching,” his point is simply erroneous. “Faith” refers to a “body of teaching” about Christ and trust in Him. They aren’t exclusive; it’s not an either-or! Besides, “faith” also pertains to a “body of teaching” in the other Pauline writings:

• But we ought always to thank God for you, brothers loved by the Lord, because from the beginning God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through BELIEF IN THE TRUTH. (2 Thes. 2:13)

However, I shouldn’t appeal to the above verse, since it doesn’t come from one of the seven letters that Ehrman regards as genuinely Pauline – letters that he claims preach a trust in Christ without any content about Christ. Ehrman’s position is so ludicrous that it hardly warrants a response. Paul wrote extensively about the “good news” and the “good news” implies that it contains content – teachings about Christ:

• "The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart," that is, the word of faith we are proclaiming: That if you confess with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. (Romans 10:8-9)

This represents a “body of teaching” – the very thing that Ehrman denies about Paul. Romans continues:

• How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone PREACHING [“a body of teaching”] to them?..."How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!" (Romans 10:14-15)

Without the preaching of the “good news,” there can be no trusting in Christ! By trying to separate trusting in Christ from the “good news” about Him, Ehrman is making an unbiblical distinction in whatever book he chooses as an example.

Besides, the Pastorals place the same emphasis on faith in Christ as “a body of teaching” as do the other Pauline Epistles:

• These promote controversies rather than God's work--which is by faith. 5The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. (1 Tim. 1:4-5)

• The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. (1 Tim. 1:14; also 3:13; 5:11-12)

Clearly, faith content is also important in the Pastorals. Nevertheless, Ehrman’s insists that the Pastorals embody a different theology:

• Even more significant, some ideas and concepts in the pastoral letters stand at odds with what you find in the letters that Paul certainly wrote. For example, we have seen that Paul was highly concerned with arguing that performing the “works of the law” could not contribute to one’s right standing before God. It was not the Jewish law that could bring salvation, but the death and resurrection of Jesus. When Paul talks about “works,” that is what he means: doing the things that the Jewish law requires…In the Pastorals, however, the Jewish law is no longer even as issue, and the author speaks of works as “good works,” that is , doing good deeds for other people.

Once again, this distinction is entirely erroneous. The Pastorals are clearly concerned about teaching that the law can’t save:

• …who has saved us and called us to a holy life--not because of ANYTHING we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time. (2 Tim. 1:9)

• ….he saved us, not because of RIGHTEOUS THINGS we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit. (Titus 3:5)

Furthermore, the non-Pastoral Epistles also have the same respect for “good works” or the works of the law as do the Pastorals.

• Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith? Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law. (Romans 3:31)

However, Paul acknowledges that these works can’t save us. Ehrman then makes the bizarre claim that the Pastorals teach salvation through child-bearing:

• For women, at least, we are told in 1 Timothy 2 that they will “be saved” by bearing children.

Ehrman is so desperate to make his case that he completely overlooks the fact that no one suggests that this epistle is teaching salvation-by-child-bearing. Instead, it is much more in line with the context that the mother’s life will be protected through the ordeal of birthing.

Ehrman also alleges that while the Pastorals affirm marriage, the non-Pastorals don’t. In support of his wild allegation, he cites 1 Corinthians 7 in which “Paul is insistent that people who are single should try to remain single.” To establish his alleged contradiction, he then alludes to 1 Tim. 3:2, which reads:

• Now the overseer [elder] must be above reproach, THE HUSBAND OF BUT ONE WIFE, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach…

However, Paul isn’t insisting that an elder must be married! Instead, he can’t be a womanizer (or perhaps a polygamist?)! All of moral qualifications we find in the Pastorals define what it means to be “above reproach.” Surely, singleness doesn’t violate being “above reproach.” However, Ehrman insists that singleness is a moral problem in the Pastorals. We would then have to ask, “At what age does singleness become a sin?” Of course, this is ridiculous.

Ehrman then suggests that while the genuine Pauline letters expect Jesus to return immediately, the Pastorals anticipate a much later return. “Paul thinks that he himself will be alive when Jesus returns from heaven” (100):

• We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. According to the Lord's own word, we tell you that WE WHO ARE STILL ALIVE, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, WE WHO ARE STILL ALIVE and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. (1 Thes. 4:14-17)

However, there is no reason to believe that Paul includes himself in the “WE” phrases. Instead, he is referring to “we believers,” whoever they might be. The next two verses make this clear:

• Now, brothers, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. (1 Thes. 5:1-2)

Here, Paul is clearly admitting that he doesn’t know the “times and dates.” Christ could return at any time. Therefore, there’s no assurance that Paul and his contemporaries would still be alive.

Ehrman then tries to argue that while the Pastorals envision a church hierarchy, the other Pauline letters don’t. However, this distinction is easily explainable by two factors. First of all, Paul had been writing to two pastor/elders – Timothy and Titus. Therefore, it is unsurprising that church structure and order should be themes of these letters. Secondly, these letters were written later than the others, perhaps at a time when church structure had become more of a concern.

There is no reason to believe that the Pastoral epistles are not Pauline, especially in the light of the fact that the entire early church ascribes them to Paul. Instead, there is much reason to question Ehrman’s position that differences – however questionable they might be – prove different authors.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Grace without Justice

While the multi-cultural agenda embraces one aspect of the Gospel, grace; it rejects the other, righteousness and judgment. This often takes the form of some type of universalism. Either everyone is saved—or at least everyone who wants to be saved is saved—or there are many routes to salvation. One observer – a personal associate – explained this tendency this way:

• There are a number of contemporary cultural factors that are conducive to the acceptance of universalism. Western culture has become increasingly liberal in its tolerance and desire to be non-judgmental of every idea, person, and religion...The pluralism of multi-culturalism demands that we accept every opinion as having equal truth-value. The world-view that some have called “post-modernism” encourages a subjective orientation that is inclusively accepting and unwilling to identify anything as true or false, right or wrong. Such humanistic thinking promotes an irresponsibility that refuses to believe that people should be held accountable and responsible for their choices, identifying persons as “victims” when they have to face the consequences of their choices. Add to this the unitive emphasis that advocates the globalism of a one-world government, economy, and religion, and it is not difficult to see the cultural drift toward universalistic thought.

In any event, God’s particularism, judgmentalism, and exclusivism—it’s exclusively about faith in Jesus—have become unacceptable. Although one might guess that a narrowed preoccupation with mercy alone would produce a positive and comforting faith, it doesn’t. The denominations that have embraced this imbalanced “gospel” are shrinking fast, and those of their number who remain in them seem—surprisingly—to be somewhat cold to the reality of God’s grace. In an odd sort of contrast, those who believe in a God who will indeed judge the world are the very ones who are excited by and appreciative of God’s grace, while those who embrace grace without judgment seem to be untouched by the grace they claim to have. It seems that it is those who perceive that they truly merit judgment – ex-addicts and ex-criminals for example – who seem to really embrace grace! How can this be explained?

The two Gospel polarities—grace and righteousness/justice—correspond to our inner life. We experience guilt, shame and a resulting sense of threat (and even a knowledge that we deserve punishment), and the Gospel affirms this reality. However, the Gospel doesn’t leave us there, but beckons us to a garden of comfort where all is forgiven and all is cleansed—a place where we are relieved of our burden and grateful for God’s gracious gift to us.

I think that we sacrifice something very important—something central to the Gospel itself—when we soft-pedal God’s judgment of sin. It seems to me that if we minimize this part of God’s revelation, we minimize the rest. After all, how is it possible for us to fully appreciate God’s mercy unless we fully accept and understand his justice and impending judgment? Perhaps our love and delight in the Cross depends upon our awareness that we deserve the Cross? Perhaps, deep inside, we know that we can’t take grace seriously if we refuse to take judgment seriously.

Or, to look at this another way, perhaps the Spirit is grieved when we only embrace the truths of God that suit us? Jeremiah talks about the blessedness of knowing God, not just a selected aspect of Him:

• This is what the LORD says: "Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom or the strong man boast of his strength or the rich man boast of his riches, but let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight," declares the LORD (Jeremiah 9:23-24).

If knowing God is worth boasting about beyond anything else, we lose out when we distort God’s self-disclosure by gladly accepting His kindness, while rejecting His justice and righteousness. He greatly values our knowing the truth about Himself. Jesus was emphatic that:

• …true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth" (John 4:23-24).

Worshiping and loving God in truth are not optional. What happens when we “pick and choose” from the Word, taking only those parts that we like? Are we really getting the rich, true, full picture of Him that He wants us to have? Or, to use marriage as another analogy, can we just take the parts of our mate that we like, or is she a package-deal? So how would God feel if we seemingly carve Him into pieces, rejecting the unappetizing parts? Does this represent loving God or are we creating a Frankenstein monster of our own crafting? Is God likely to bless such an arrogant endeavor?

This is what we do when we perform radical surgery on God’s gift of Himself—His self-disclosure in the Word—picking and choosing what fits our specifications rather than submitting to His entire Person, as it is revealed in Scripture. It’s an all or nothing deal. To take only part of what God reveals about Himself in Scripture is to reject Him outright.

For years, I searched for God—or at least that’s what I thought I was doing. However, I was “searching” for a God who would conform to my specifications – a God created in my own image, who would necessarily heighten my sense of self. Consequently, one of my requirements was that God had to affirm my Jewishness, and therefore I could have nothing to do with the Jewish “traitor,” Jesus Christ. My search wasn’t actually a search but a demand that God conform to my worldview. As a result, in all my “searching,” I found nothing.

In stark contrast to all the arrogant demands of my quest for God, Jesus taught that we must humble ourselves to receive Him as a little child (Matthew 18:2-4). I was blind to the fact that I was trying to approach Him as a very demanding CEO. I failed to see that, instead, He is the CEO over all creation, truth, morality and love, and that every good thing that I possessed came from Him.

I can no more take the grace of God without the rest of His teachings than I can take life without its hardships. Mercy requires punishment. If we love our children, we will punish them. Likewise, a real grace refuses to indulge the destructive desires of the other. It refuses to say, “If heroin makes you feel like a man, then go for it!” Nor will grace declare all ways equal, not if grace and truth co-exist! If I try to separate them, it would be like separating hydrogen from oxygen, expecting that I will still be drinking water.

In the long run, I tend to think that God will be more merciful than I suspect. However, in the meantime, I do not have the luxury to bypass or dismiss His sayings that many consider to be offensive and judgmental. Scripture will not allow us to put any of its teachings aside (Deut. 4:2; 12:42; Rev. 22:18-19). Jesus said that not even the smallest mark could be removed from the law (Matthew 5:17-19). Can we do otherwise? He also stated:

• "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?' Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!' (Matthew 7:21-23)

If Jesus is our Savior, we have to allow Him to have His say and authority over our lives. When we choose grace and reject His warnings about judgment, we are telling Him that we want to retain control. After a while, He might just allow us to do that.

Depression and Marriage

The prevalence of depression seems to be paralleling the growth of modernity. One review of several studies found that:

• The incidence of depression has risen every year since the early 20th century…The reported prevalence of depressive disorders varies throughout the world. The lowest rates are reported in Asian and Southeast Asian countries. Percentages represent the lifetime chance that a person will experience a depressive episode that lasts a year or more. For example, Taiwan reports less than 2%, and Korea 3%. Western countries typically report higher rates, such as Canada 7%, New Zealand 11%, and France 16%. The United States has a rate of 6%. (3/3/11)

The findings seem to be somewhat consistent:

• “Depression…for those born after 1950 is as much as twenty times higher than the incidence rate for those born before 1910.” (Buie, “Me decades Generation depression,” APA Monitor, Feb. 91)

Meredith Foster, a writer with the Columbia University student newspaper, cited another interesting study pinpointing the prevalence of depression among college students:

• According to a 2008 survey of 80,121 students by the American College Health Association, 78.7 percent of students felt very sad during the past school year, 43 percent felt so depressed they could barely function, and 9 percent seriously considered suicide.

However, there seems to be much diversity among the explanations for this serious and ballooning phenomenon. Some researchers cite stress and competition. However, these have always been part of the college experience. Others cite our growing consciousness of the problems of the world. However, this explanation seems to be quite far-removed. Besides, this too seems to have always been part of the human condition. We therefore have to seek the explanation among causal factors that have been growing alongside of the depression.

Often times, the answers are very close to home, but our philosophical lens might be preventing us from seeing them. In her review of Unprotected by a psychiatrist at the student health service at UCLA, Miriam Grossman, Mona Charen writes,

• What does Dr. Grossman believe that is so dangerous to admit? Well, start with ordinary sex. She believes that casual, promiscuous sex is tough on many women. They are hard-wired to bond with those they have sex with (the hormone oxytocin is implicated), and she sees countless female students reporting stress, eating disorders and even depression for reasons they cannot understand. After all, the world sells them on the notion that sex is pure recreation, that the "hook-up" culture is natural and even empowering to women, and that love and sex are two completely different things.

Such remarks will not pass a test of political correctness, but there is much to suggest their merit. In another study published in 2005,

• Sexual behavior patterns came before depression, not after them. Girls with multiple sex partners were about 11 times more likely than virgins to report elevated depression symptoms (World, 6/4/11, 40)

The fact that sexual behavior preceded the reported depression suggests sex as the cause and not the effect, as some have alleged

In contrast to uncommitted sex, the positive findings in favor of traditional marriage are impressive. According to, 1/31/11:

• Two medical students at Cardiff University studying existing data on the relationship of marriage to health have concluded that “stable, long term, exclusive relationships” lead to “more healthy lifestyles and better emotional and physical health,” and have a marked effect on longevity.

• Authors David Gallacher and John Gallacher cite a Cambridge study of “one billion person years across seven European countries that found that married persons had age adjusted mortality rates that were 10-15% lower than the population as a whole,” and that this statistic alone makes stable marriage “probably worth the effort.”

• The authors found that “physical and mental health benefits seem to accrue over time,” citing a 30-year longitudinal study published in the British Journal of Psychiatry which found that “the duration of a relationship was associated with better mental health scores, while the difference in mortality rates in favour of marriage, increases with age”

• “Exclusive and supportive relationships confer substantial mental and physical health benefits that grow over time.” (. The study, titled “Are relationships good for your health?” was published in the British Medical Journal on January 28, 2011.)

This conclusion is further justified when we look at the fate of children outside of the traditional marriage. In The Case for Marriage, Gallagher and Waite claim:

• “A preschooler living with one biological parent and one step-parent was forty times more likely to be sexually abused than one living with two natural parents.” (159).

Perhaps, there is more to marriage that meets the eye, and less to uncommitted sex. Perhaps, God knew what He was doing when He joined a man to a woman:

• For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh. (Genesis 2:24)

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Muslim Evangelism of Christians

Here’s my response to a Muslim evangelist who argued that Christians aren’t obedient because they don’t follow the Hebrew Scriptures or even Jesus:

Even the Old Testament prophesied of a New Covenant that would take the place of the Old:

• Jeremiah 31:31-34 "The time is coming," declares the LORD, "when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them," declares the LORD. "This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time," declares the LORD. "I will put my law in their minds…For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more."

Jesus also declared that the Old would be fulfilled (Matthew 5:17-19) and He consequently instituted the New Covenant:

• Luke 22:20 In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.

Consequently, when he sent out his disciples, He didn’t tell them to teach Moses, but rather Himself:

• Matthew 28:1-20 "Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."

1& 2 Peter: Forgeries according to B. Ehrman

Assertions often out-run the evidence. In the case of Bart Ehrman, the assertions are on an Olympic fast-track! For example, he claims that the subject matter of 1 Peter pertains to a post-70 AD – post-destruction of the Jerusalem Temple – which is after Peter’s death, precluding the possibility that Peter might have authored this letter:

* But tradition also indicates that Peter was martyred in Rome under Nero in 64 C.E. Would it make sense that he was calling Rome “Babylon” [1 Peter 5:13] before the Romans had destroyed Jerusalem in the year 70? By the time that the catastrophe hit, Peter was long dead. (Forgery, 68).

Ehrman’s case is built on three shaky assumptions:

1. “Babylon” refers to Rome, instead of Jerusalem, Babylon, or Egypt, as others have suggested.
2. Rome could only have been referred to as “Babylon” after Rome had destroyed the Temple in 70 AD.
3. The content of 1 Peter could only refer to a Rome after it had destroyed Jerusalem, long after Peter’s death. Therefore Peter couldn’t have been the author.

There is absolutely no evidence for any of these assumptions. In response to Ehrman, we find that the early church had early on received 1 Peter as Scripture without any opposition:

• 1 Clement (95 AD) seems to indicate acquaintance with 1 Peter. Polycarp, a disciple of the apostle John, makes use of 1 Peter in his letter to the Philippians. The author of the Gospel of Truth (140-150) was acquainted with 1 Peter. [Bishop] Eusebius (fourth century) indicated that it was universally received. The letter was explicitly ascribed to Peter by that group of church fathers whose testimonies appear in attestation of so many genuine NT writings, namely, Irenaeus (A.D. 140-203), Tertullian (150-222), Clement of Alexandria (155-215), and Origen (185-253). (NIV Study Bible, p.1886)

We are left to wonder why Ehrman promotes such baseless allegations of forgery! However, his case is stronger in regards to 2 Peter:

• One of the reasons virtually all scholars agree that Peter did not actually write this letter is that the situation being presupposed appears to be of much later times. When Peter himself died—say the year 64 under Nero—there was still eager expectation that Jesus would return soon; not even a full generation had passed since the crucifixion. It was only with the passing of time that the Christian claim that all would take place “within this generation” (Mark 13:30) and before the disciples had “tasted death” (9:1) started to ring hollow. (Forged, 70)

There are several problems with Ehrman's claims:

1. Ehrman claims that 2 Peter doesn’t show an “eager expectation that Jesus would return soon,” as it should had it been written in the lifetime of Peter. However, it is clear that 2 Peter does give evidence that the church was erroneously anticipating an early return:

• First of all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. They will say, "Where is this 'coming' he promised? Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation"…But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:3-9)

Evidently, the church was still anticipating an early return. Therefore, 2 Peter – 34 years after to Crucifixion – had to encourage them in their discouragement. There is nothing here inconsistent with Petrine authorship.

2. Mark 9:1, as well as the parallel passages found in Matthew 16: 28 and Luke 9:27, all refer to the Apostles’ experience on the Mount of Transfiguration and not to Jesus’ return within their lifetime. It is hardly likely that they could have so misunderstood this.

3. It is almost as unlikely that they would have misunderstood (for long) Jesus’ statement that he would return “within this generation” (Mark 13:30). Jesus had prefaced this statement by claiming that,

• Many will come in my name, claiming, 'I am he,' and will deceive many. When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places, and famines. These are the beginning of birth pains. (Mark 13:6-8)

They would also be hated by all and put to death. None of this suggests that Jesus had taught His speedy return or that the disciples would have misunderstood Him in this way! Instead, Jesus had directed them to go into all the world with His Gospel (Mat. 28:19) – hardly an afternoon’s undertaking! It’s therefore perfectly consistent with Jesus’ teachings that Christians would become impatient for His return and that Peter would try to explain why it’s requiring many years. Consequently, there is nothing that suggests a post-Peter’s-death date for 2 Peter.

Ehrman also argues that if 2 Peter had been written as early as 64 AD, the author couldn’t possibly have been familiar with Paul’s letters, as he claimed to have been (2 Peter 3:15-16):

• Moreover, the author of 2 Peter is writing at a time when there was already a collection of Paul’s letters in circulation, and these letters were being considered on a par with the Old Testament…This could not have been during Paul’s lifetime.” (70)

Why not? For one thing, there is nothing in 2 Peter that indicates that the author is referring to “a collection of Paul’s letters,” which might have required a later date. Peter might have been merely referring to individual letters. Also, the NT evidence indicates that all of Paul’s letters had been immediately received as Scripture:

• And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is at work in you who believe. (1 Thes. 2:13; also see Gal. 1:6-9; 1 Thess. 5:27; 1 Tim. 6:3-4)

To cap it off, Ehrman claims that,

• There are excellent grounds for thinking that Peter could not write (70) …The vast majority of Jews spoke Aramaic and had no facility in Greek (74) …Peter was an illiterate peasant…according to Acts 4:13, both Peter and his companion John, also a fisherman, were “agrammatoi,” a Greek word that literally means “unlettered,” that is “illiterate.” (75)

Here, Ehrman supplies us with the only direct “evidence” for Peter’s alleged illiteracy. However, he is jumping to a conclusion that is made by no other translation of Scripture, at least among which I am aware:

• When they [the Sanhedrin] saw the courage of Peter and John and REALIZED that they were UNSCHOOLED [“agrammatoi”], ORDINARY men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus. (Acts 4:13)

In order to make his point, Ehrman has to reject the context. By observation, the Sanhedrin couldn’t have “realized” that they were “illiterate,” unless of course, they administered an exam, which they didn’t. However, it was very apparent that they weren’t refined. Not only does this “evidence” fail to provide support for Ehrman’s contention, it is also contradicted by every translation.

Nevertheless, it should be noted that “No other book in the New Testament poses as many problems of authenticity as does Second Peter.” Wilkerson and Boa give some reasons for this:

• (1) Slow circulation kept it from being widely know, (2) It’s brevity and contents greatly limited the number of quotations from it in the writings of early church leaders. (3) The delay in recognition meant that Second Peter had to compete with several later works which falsely claimed to be Petrine… (4) Stylistic differences between First and Second Peter also raised doubts (Talk Through the Bible, 477)

Indeed, many have noted that the Greek of 1 Peter differs from that of 2 Peter. However, this can easily be explained by the fact that, “With the help of Silas…I have written” (1 Peter 5:12). Even if Peter had been ignorant of the Greek, he could always have found help in the writing and the translation. It could have been a collaborative effort and yet remain Peter’s. In favor of Peter’s authorship, he claims to have written it and the events to which he refers were events in his life. Besides,

• 1 Clement (95 AD) may allude to it…there are noteworthy similarities in vocabulary and other matters [between 1 & 2 Peter]. In fact, no other known writing is as much like 1 Peter as 2 Peter. (NIV Study Bible, 1897)

The first one to doubt the authenticity of 2 Peter was Origen (185-253), but that was a good 150 years after it had been written. Nevertheless, he still quoted from it. Bishop Eusebius (265-340),

• placed it among the questioned books, although he admits that most accept it as from Peter. After Eusebius’s time, it seems to have been quite generally accepted as canonical. (1897)

What new evidences has Ehrman been privy to since then? Apparently none! Is he in a better position to assess the authenticity of 2 Peter than the early church? If he is, he hasn’t shared that with his readership.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Are the Gospels Anti-Semitic as Ehrman Alleges?

Bart Ehrman is a man with a mission – to deconstruct the Bible. In his most recent book, Forged, he sets about to show that a number of NT books are forgeries, deceptively purporting to have been written by Apostles. However, en route to his “noble” goal, he can’t resist being side-tracked to a secondary target – that the Gospels reflect a growing anti-Jewish sentiment, especially manifested after the Romans destroyed Jerusalem in 70 AD:

• Our earliest Gospel, Mark, seems to suggest that the decision to have Jesus killed is shared is shared by the Jewish leaders and the Roman governor Pilate (although even here Pilate’s hand seems to be forced). When we come to the Gospel of Luke written later, Pilate actually declares Jesus innocent three times—so that the fault for his death falls on the Jewish leaders who demand it. The Gospel of Matthew, written about the same time as Luke, has Pilate wash his hands to declare that he is innocent in the shedding of Jesus’ blood. Somewhat notoriously the Jewish people (this is only in Matthew) cry out, “His blood be upon us and our children” (27:25)…The Gospel of John, the last of our canonical Gospels, goes a step farther. Here we are told that the Jewish people rejected Jesus as their king and declared that “we have no king but Caesar”…And then John says that Pilate “handed Jesus over to them to be crucified” (19:16). In this distortion of historical reality, it is the Jews themselves who actually kill Jesus (55-56).

However, Ehrman carefully omits mention of the rest of the verse – “Finally Pilate handed him over to them to be crucified. So THE SOLDIERS took charge of Jesus” (John 19:16) – hardly an exclusively Jewish indictment!

It is easy to cherry pick the evidence in order to line it up to say what Ehrman wants it to say. Is the Gospel of John really anti-Jewish, at least more than the other Gospels? John is the only Gospel that gratuitously mentions the Jewish Nicodemus’ helping Joseph in the burial of Jesus. He had been part of the Jewish establishment – nothing you’d want to mention if you are trying to build an anti-Jewish case.

Furthermore, John doesn’t include other teachings that could be construed as anti-Jewish. He doesn’t commend Gentiles for their faith as do the two earliest Gospels (Mark 7:29; Mat. 8:10; 15:28). John doesn’t talk about the inclusion of the Gentiles as do both Matthew (12:18, 21) and Luke (2:32). Nor does John mention Jesus’ words that “the subjects of the kingdom [the Jews] will be thrown outside, into the darkness...” (Matthew 8:12). Ehrman argues that John should be the most anti-Jewish gospel. However, it doesn’t include the most “anti-Jewish” sayings.

Similarly, the very evidence Ehrman adduces can be interpreted differently. The most damning statement comes from Matthew (27:25) and not from the last Gospel. Also, we encounter essentially the same Pilate in each of the four Gospels, with only minor variations. Besides, Ehrman’s case is predicated on the disputed assumption of a certain chronological ordering of the Gospels along with their post-70 AD dating.

Perhaps most problematic is his assumption that negative messages about the unbelieving Jews represents some form of anti-Semitism. When we examine the Hebrew Scriptures, especially the Hebrew prophets, it becomes very evident that the negative prophetic messages regarding Israel have nothing to do with anti-Semitism. If anything, these harsh prophetic warnings represent God’s love for His Jewish people, not anti-Semitism. Why then should we believe that the NT negative messages – far less extreme than what we find in the prophets – represent anti-Jewishness?

One last consideration: The Book of Revelation is thought by many to be the final book of the Bible, written around 95 AD. If this is so, according to Ehrman’s thinking it should contain the most evidences of anti-Jewish sentiment. However, instead we find many gratuitously positive references to Israel:

1. Jesus is referred to as “the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David” (Rev. 5:5). If John was trying to communicate anti-Jewish sentiment, he could easily have referred to Jesus without the positive Jewish associations.

2. Instead of the disenfranchisement of Israel, we find the inclusion: “Then I heard the number of those who were sealed: 144,000 from all the tribes of Israel” (Rev. 7:4). Likewise, the two references to “Israel” are both positive (Rev. 7:4; 21:12).

3. The only references to “Jerusalem” are positive ones (Rev. 3:12; 21:2, 10). Although Revelation makes much mention of plagues, none are directed against Jews or Jerusalem.

4. Although there are two negative references to “Jews” (Rev. 2:9; 3:9), these are no more outstanding than those found in the rest of the Bible.

5. Israel is strongly associated with the Church. The “woman” [Israel] is the one who gives birth to the Christ-child, and they both are equally persecuted by Satanic forces (Rev. 12).

Consequently, we find no meaningful evidence of insipient anti-Semitism within the NT writings, as Ehrman alleges. Often, problems exist only in the eye of the beholder, and Ehrman beholds many. “Forged” might not be a pleasant read – I can think of many things I’d rather read – but perhaps a necessary one.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Is Universalism Really So Appealing?

Universalism is a popular idea, much more popular than the idea of eternal consequences for rejecting God. One man put it like this:

• “I can’t see how a loving and all-powerful God would send any of his creation to hell! The Christian God is just too punitive and exclusive for me and for anyone else who has a mind and a heart!”

According to a recent survey, the attractiveness of universalism is even growing among “born-agains”:

• One-quarter of born again Christians said that all people are eventually saved or accepted by God (25%) and that it doesn’t matter what religious faith you follow because they all teach the same lessons (26%).

It’s therefore important that we take a close look at universalism and its implications:

1. Universalism makes salvation into an “entitlement” program with all of the negative psychological baggage that goes along with it.

2. Universalism makes life pointless. If everyone is saved at the end, there is nothing important to learn here – no reason to go to church or study the Bible.

3. If our lives entail no eternal consequences, then life seems pointless, apart from having a good time. It’s like a teacher giving all her students an “A+” regardless of their performance and even whether or not they came to class. It also deprives us of any motivation to do right, especially when we see evil prospering.

4. All the major religions recognize that there will be eternal consequences for our inhumanity, suggesting that God has written this truth into all our hearts (Romans 1:32).

5. There is no adequate rationale for moral living or for seeking God without eternal consequences. It makes more sense to get whatever we can out of life if we’re all going to the same eternal home (1 Cor. 15:19).

6. If God is so benign and doesn’t want to see any suffer eternally, why doesn’t He model life on earth in accordance with His final heavenly plan? Why the discontinuity? If pain is so disagreeable to Him there, why not also here? If God has rejected the idea of eternal judgment, why has He not also ruled against the occurrence of disease, warfare, and tsunamis? Instead, continuity would suggest that we will also have to endure consequences in the next life.

7. A universalistic God has little interest in justice and victimization if He refuses to do anything about them. Such a God would be an offense to our own sense of justice. This would undermine all of our concerns about justice and order. However, with the provision of justice comes peace and reconciliation.

8. Universalism communicates the wrong message—our behavior doesn’t matter and God doesn’t care. Why then should we? Life would become brutal and unlivable if we tried to model ourselves after such a God.

9. If we are created in the image of God and therefore have a powerful sense of justice and retribution, shouldn’t we also expect that God would have the same mind-set? If God lacked such punitive concerns, then our preoccupation with law and punitive sanctions would be something displeasing to God. Therefore, if we truly believe in a universalistic God, we should try to model our society after Him and rid ourselves of courts, prisons, fines, and even failing grades.

10. We need suffering and consequences to become the compassionate, humble, and understanding people God wants us to be. Evidently, consequences for sin are not alien to God’s plan.

11. Knowing that there are eternal consequences serves as a deterrent against crime and also a motivation to seek God (Acts 17:27).

12. Knowing that God will eventually right the wrongs that are done gives us the emotional freedom to love others by committing our concerns and longings for ultimate justice to God. We therefore can devote ourselves to love, knowing that God will justly punish. Without experiencing radical victimization, we Westerners have become quite comfortable and fail to appreciate the fact that the imposition of justice brings psychological closure, which enables us to move on.

13. A God concerned about eternal consequences proclaims that somehow, justice and mercy must coexist. Take a good look at universalism. It provides the affluent, self-indulgent, myopic West with the ultimate in designer gods, one who would tell us, “Live as you like. Far be it from me to interfere with your fulfillments and pleasures. It’ll all be wonderful in the end, however you live.” This fabrication dumps justice in favor of our immediate comforts. How convenient!

Of course, people will object, “Well, no one deserves eternal hell. That can’t be just!” To this, I simply answer,

“The Almighty is beyond our reach and exalted in power; in his justice and great righteousness, he does not oppress” (Job 37:23).

I haven’t figured it all out, but I am confident that our Lord will prove Himself to be perfectly just and merciful, so much so that every knee will bow and every tongue confess (Phil. 2:10-11) to the glory of God!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Mercy Triumphs over Judgment, but Judgment Comes First

We are embarrassed by God’s promises of judgment, especially in the face of liberal criticism of the “genocidal” Old Testament accounts. We tend to feel that He is a bit extreme at times. Some self-designated Christians have even abandoned this biblical conception of God. Karl Giberson, in Saving Darwin, tried to argue in favor of how we can readily be an evolutionist and a Christian. However, at his Biologos blog, he later revealed:

• “In The God Delusion [evolutionist and New Atheist Richard] Dawkins eloquently skewers the tyrannical anthropomorphic deity of the Old Testament—the God that supposedly commanded the Jews to go on genocidal rampages and who occasionally went on his own rampages, flooding the planet or raining fire and brimstone on wicked cities. But who believes in this deity any more, besides those same fundamentalists who think the earth is 10,000 years old? Modern theology has moved past this view of God.”

However, this discomfort with the righteous God of the Bible is not new, nor is it merely found among the unfaithful. Even though God had given Israel everything (Jeremiah 2:21), Israel rejected her God so thoroughly that he challenged Jeremiah to find just one truth-seeker:

• "Go up and down the streets of Jerusalem, look around and consider, search through her squares. If you can find but one person who deals honestly and seeks the truth, I will forgive this city” (Jeremiah 5:1-2).

Jeremiah was convinced that God’s assessment of Israel was way off, and that he’d have little difficulty finding one such individual, especially among the educated:

• I thought, "These are only the poor; they are foolish, for they do not know the way of the LORD, the requirements of their God. So I will go to the leaders and speak to them; surely they know the way of the LORD, the requirements of their God" (Jeremiah 5:4-5).

Jeremiah was like the rest of us. He thought that God’s assessment was overly harsh, and therefore, His threats of judgment were inappropriate. He was convinced that the educated elite were of a wholly superior caliber and merited forgiveness instead of judgment. We too see as Jeremiah. We find little in our peers, colleagues, or family that merits divine judgment. Our peers kiss their wives goodbye in the morning and tell stories to their children at night. They are respected, get promotions and are honored by the community. They might not be perfect, but who is? They’re not like the drunkards and wife-beaters, who clearly deserve judgment. However, according to Scripture, appearances can spread a deceptive veneer over reality. Paul quoted and affirmed the Old Testament’s assessment of human degradation:

• "There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one." (Romans 3:10-12)

Failing to understand this, we remain convinced that humanity only requires a face-lift and not a complete overhaul. We also fail to fathom the necessity of God’s judgments. Failing to understand the necessity of judgment, we also fail to grasp the radically underserved grace of God.

However, if we are going to represent and serve God faithfully, these truths must become our bedrock. If we fail to realize that everything we receive from God is because of His mercy and not because of our merit, we will become intolerably arrogant. It is for this very reason that our Savior chose the lowliest, those who realized that they deserved the least (1 Cor. 1:26-29) and made salvation entirely a matter of a free gift to prevent any boasting (Eph. 2:8-9; Rom. 3:24-28; Luke 14:11). In contrast to God, we tend to regard some as worthy candidates for salvation, honoring some, dishonoring others. However, Jesus adamantly denied that any were worthy of salvation (Mat. 19:25-26; Luke 18:14).

It’s all about God’s merit and has nothing to do with our own (Titus 3:3-5). If we fail to understand this, we cannot give God the worship He requires. Jesus taught that we are to worship God in spirit – in the depths of our being – and in truth (John 4:22-24). This means that He gets all the praise and glory.

This may seem egotistical, but it’s this very understanding that we need for our relationships to flourish. Once the Corinthian church strayed from an awareness of their humble estate, love was soon replaced by conflict and unity by factionalism. They began boasting about themselves and their meritorious associations. Paul warned that this was highly destructive of Christian fellowship:

• Dear brothers and sisters... If you pay attention to the Scriptures, you won't brag about one of your leaders at the expense of another. What makes you better than anyone else? What do you have that God hasn't given you? And if all you have is from God, why boast as though you have accomplished something on your own? (1 Cor. 4:6-7; NLT)

Boasting will not only undermine human relationships, it will also jeopardize our divine relationship. If Jeremiah was going to serve faithfully, he would have to see as God sees, and there would be no better place to learn this skill than in his home town of Anathoth, where he had come from a respectable family, a family of priests. However, he soon learned that the Anathothians also wanted to kill him:

• Then the LORD told me about the plots my enemies were making against me. I had been as unaware as a lamb on the way to its slaughter. I had no idea that they were planning to kill me! (Jeremiah 11:18-19)

And this was only the beginning! The Lord then warned Jeremiah:

• Even your own brothers, members of your own family, have turned on you. They have plotted, raising a cry against you. Do not trust them, no matter how pleasantly they speak (Jeremiah 12:6).

Jeremiah was beginning to see what it meant to truly follow and identify with the Lord. As the entire nation had turned against their God, they had also turned against Jeremiah:

• Then I said, "What sadness is mine, my mother. Oh, that I had died at birth! I am hated everywhere I go. I am neither a lender who has threatened to foreclose nor a borrower who refuses to pay—yet they all curse me." (Jeremiah 15:10)

After we’ve walked in God’s despised shoes, the idea of judgment becomes far more acceptable. It’s inevitable that rejection will impact the way we regard humanity, and it did for Jeremiah. Before, he struggled with what had seemed to him as God’s lack of compassion for Israel:

• ”Why are you like a stranger to us? Why are you like someone passing through the land, stopping only for the night? … Are you helpless to save us? You are right here among us, LORD. We are known as your people. Please don't abandon us now!" (Jeremiah 14:8-9)

However, after he experienced God’s rejection, his calls for compassion fell silent. Now he wanted the very thing that he had been against – judgment!

• Then I said, "LORD, you know I am suffering for your sake. Punish my persecutors! Don't let them kill me! Be merciful to me and give them what they deserve! (Jeremiah 15:15)

• LORD, you know all about their murderous plots against me. Don't forgive their crimes and blot out their sins. Let them die before you. Deal with them in your anger (Jeremiah 18:23).

• LORD Almighty! You know those who are righteous, and you examine the deepest thoughts of hearts and minds. Let me see your vengeance against them, for I have committed my cause to you (Jeremiah 20:12).

We understand God through the lens of our experiences. When we find acceptance among men, we ask for divine compassion and fail to appreciate God’s reticence. When we don’t experience acceptance, we don’t want our detractors to find acceptance. Instead, we ask God for judgment, and are disturbed when the judgment is slow in coming. Israel had more thoroughly rejected their God than had any of the other nations rejected their own worthless gods:

• "Go west to the land of Cyprus; go east to the land of Kedar. Think about what you see there. See if anyone has ever heard of anything as strange as this. Has any nation ever exchanged its gods for another god, even though its gods are nothing? Yet my people have exchanged their glorious God for worthless idols! (Jeremiah 2:10-11)

It is only after we understand the weightiness of the judgment that we deserve, that we can have any appreciation for grace we don’t deserve. Likewise, it is only after we become aware of the extent of our treachery – something that can only come from God – that we can value forgiveness as we ought.

Jeremiah was beginning to appreciate the extent of his betrayal – even his own family had betrayed him – and the necessity for judgment. He was now ready for a lesson in God’s glorious mercy:

• "I will send disaster upon the leaders of my people—the shepherds of my sheep—for they have destroyed and scattered the very ones they were expected to care for," says the LORD. This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says to these shepherds: "Instead of leading my flock to safety, you have deserted them and driven them to destruction. Now I will pour out judgment on you for the evil you have done to them. But I will gather together the remnant of my flock from wherever I have driven them. I will bring them back into their own fold, and they will be fruitful and increase in number. Then I will appoint responsible shepherds to care for them, and they will never be afraid again. Not a single one of them will be lost or missing," says the LORD. "For the time is coming," says the LORD, "when I will place a righteous Branch on King David's throne. He will be a King who rules with wisdom. He will do what is just and right throughout the land. And this is his name: 'The LORD Is Our Righteousness'” (Jeremiah 23:1-6).

From the darkness of judgment, Messiah is best seen for who He is and most fully embraced through a veil of tears and desperation. As the hurricane precedes the rainbow, the bad news must precede the good. The reality of our deserved judgment must serve as the herald for grace. We must suffer with Christ so that we can reign with Him. Judgment (1 Peter 4:17) must precede comfort. There are certain truths we must first learn – the hard way – even as Jeremiah had to learn them.

Monday, April 18, 2011

The Malignant Manipulations of the Mainstream Media

The mainstream media helps to supply the necessary checks and balances on which democratic society has come to depend. But can we really depend upon this media?

[Peter] Sissons [“One of Britain’s most senior news broadcasters”] made headlines in January when he attacked the BBC for its “institutional” leftwing bias that he said was “written into its DNA.” Sissons, whose memoirs are being published in a series by the right-of-centre Daily Mail newspaper, said that at the BBC, “Islam must not be offended at any price, although Christians are fair game because they do nothing about it if they are offended.”

Clearly, those who show outrage and offense will be favored, while those who don’t are “fair game.” With such rules of engagement, can the BBC and other mainstream media sources be trusted?

…the BBC itself has admitted its anti-Christian bias. In a leaked internal memo in 2006, the BBC admitted to a marked bias against Christianity and a strong inclination to pro-Muslim reporting. The Daily Mail reported on a secret meeting of BBC executives who were said to be frustrated by the corporation’s commitment to “political correctness” at the expense of journalistic integrity and objectivity. At that time, Andrew Marr, the BBC’s former chief political correspondent, said, “The BBC is not impartial or neutral … It has a liberal bias not so much a party-political bias. It is better expressed as a cultural liberal bias.”

I wonder how endemic this problem is within mainstream media? From where I sit, the media seems to be soaked in anti-Christian bias. And what might be the effect of this bias on society, besides breeding cynicism? Judging from the major tectonic worldview shifts of the last few decades, the impact seems to be profound. How will this shift affect the church and Christianity? It doesn’t seem that it could possibly have a benign impact. In fact, from what I’ve observed these days, most Christians feel marginalized, even ashamed to make any kind of public gesture that might be connected with their Christian faith.

Lastly, we are left with the question, “What should we do when our faith is consistently maligned by the media?” Sisson’s perception that “Christians are fair game because they do nothing about it if they are offended” seems to be on-the-money. Moreover, the implications of this systematic attack on the Christian faith seem to be escalating. With the proliferation of unbalanced—and unanswered—charges that we Christians are now “hate-mongers” and “homophobes,” there has arisen a whole chorus of outcries meant to silence even the few of us who remain vocal in the public arena.

Let us take a look at what the Apostle Peter has written about our first line of defense:

For it is God's will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men. (1 Peter 2:15)

However, this strategy doesn’t preclude the use of a verbal defense. Knowing that Haman was putting the finishing touches on his plan for the destruction of the Jews, the Jewish Queen Esther risked her life to come before her husband and king:

"If I have found favor with you, O king, and if it pleases your majesty, grant me my life--this is my petition. And spare my people--this is my request. For I and my people have been sold for destruction and slaughter and annihilation. If we had merely been sold as male and female slaves, I would have kept quiet, because no such distress would justify disturbing the king." (Esther 7:3-4)

It was this petition, by the grace of God, which saved the Jewish people. Perhaps it is time for us to speak up as well!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

How Good must We be to be Good Enough?

In the reception following a heady symposium on ethics, I met a playwright. She surprised me, saying, “The motivation behind liberal ethics is our misguided quest to quiet the conscience.”

“How do you mean that?”
I asked. She seemed to be a liberal herself, so I was taken back by her transparency.

“We have to do good to quiet our guilty consciences. This is made even worse by the privileges that we enjoy as educated Westerners.” I was impressed by her bleak, yet penetrating analysis.

“How many good deeds would you need to quiet your conscience?
” I asked. Again, I was surprised by her response: “Always a little bit more!” She clearly realized that the conscience is insatiable. There is no amount of good deeds that will quiet it. Shame and guilt seem almost impervious to the most profound self-sacrifices. These emotions are never satisfied. They serve as unrelenting taskmasters compelling us to always do more. No sacrifice will suffice, at least not for long.

We try to convince ourselves that God will grade on a curve. We might figure that if the top 70% will get a passing grade, we can self-righteously assure ourselves that we have made the cut. Ironically, while we justify ourselves in this manner, we are in effect compelled to de-justify what we find in others! It’s not good enough to score “90%,” if half of the class scored higher.

Another version of this rationalization is the one adopted by Islam. If our good deeds outweigh the bad, we’ll make it in. However, we still find that our conscience remains adamant that there’s a serious problem even when the good seems to predominate. Consequently, it is impossible to experience any authentically joyful confidence. We are still endlessly trying to prove ourselves, often at the expense of others.

Scripture helps us understand why our conscience remains so implacable. It might be a surprise for us to learn that the Apostle Paul affirmed that, in agreement with our conscience, we can never be good enough:

• [The] purpose [of the law] is to keep people from having excuses and to bring the entire world into judgment before God. For no one can ever be made right in God's sight by doing what his law commands. For the more we know God's law, the clearer it becomes that we aren't obeying it
(Romans 3:19-20; NLT).

In many ways, we all fall far short of God’s standards (James 3:2; Romans 3:23; Psalm 143:2). Although it is truly depressing to learn that we can never be good enough for God, this revelation seems to accord with our ceaseless self-indictment of guilt and shame, or the more prevailing sense that we’re simply not good enough.

Once again, let’s look to Paul to see what light he can shed on our pride:

• If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing
(1 Cor. 13:2-3, NIV).

However exalted our ethical standards, we’re no better than others. We’re all sinners in need of a Savior, and no sacrificial act we could possibly dream up can change this, even if we pay the ultimate price with our own life.

This is terribly offensive to most of us. We have convinced ourselves that we are more deserving than others, and this teaching is just too humbling and depressing to bear. However, this seems to be the uniform indictment of Scripture! The only way we can receive salvation is as a free gift (Ephesians 2:8-9). It just cannot be earned or achieved. Interestingly, our conscience agrees. Even Israel’s greatest king came to realize that His blessedness was a matter of the mercy of God. David wrote autobiographically:

• Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the LORD does not count against him and in whose spirit is no deceit
(Psalm 32:1-2).

However, this message is not only offensive, but it seems to us to be unbelievable, as well. From our own myopic perspectives, humanity just doesn’t seem to be so bad, at least among our colleagues, family and friends. Certainly not bad enough to deserve eternal separation from God! We erroneously come to this conclusion because, on the one hand, we fail to apprehend the extent of our own sinfulness. On the other hand, we have no true conception or appreciation for the awesomeness of a God who created and sustains everything. We characteristically want to domesticate Him and remake Him in our own image. We want to diminish God’s holiness and His holy requirements to assure ourselves of our own worthiness.

Ah, but there most certainly is another way to live our lives. I freely and joyfully confess that I now embrace the “unbelievable!” Let me share with you what I mean.

Five highly recommended psychologists and psychiatrists each tried their best to free me from my accusing conscience. They tried building my self-esteem; they tried psychoanalysis; they tried unblocking my emotional channels. They even tried prescribing the latest neurological “wonder” drugs. However, each of their therapies left me worse off than I was before.

Instead, I’ve come to find that my Savior has the perfect answer. He has silenced my conscience with His blood. He has taken upon Himself the just penalty that I rightly deserved. I can never be good enough for Him. I can never deserve the slightest smile or “thank you” from Him. However, by admitting my hopeless predicament, He joyfully gives me all things! Encouraged in this manner, I want to engage His world in a way that pleases Him!

When my conscience starts to make its tired old accusations, I laugh through my tears of joy. He has convinced me that I no longer bear my sins, although it took a while for this truth to permeate my being:

• To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, "If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free"
(John 8:31-32).

Freedom comes at a price, but He paid the price in full. I now have every confidence that He will continue to protect His investment – me!

I didn’t have an opportunity to share any of this with the playwright. She was gone before I could piece my answer together. I wanted to tell her, “You are so right. Morality will never satisfy guilt and shame. They are realities that laugh at all of our attempts to placate them. They remain indictments against all of our self-righteous attempts to eliminate them. They taunt every act of self-sacrifice and all the monuments of self-importance that we attempt to erect as tributes to ourselves. But, if we listen carefully to their denunciations, they will point us to His freedom.”

Planned Parenthood and Patterns of Dis-Information

Sadly, it’s too late to do anything about defunding Planned Parenthood (PP) – the death machine. They receive $350 million in federal monies, but spend $140 million on public relations.

Meanwhile they claim to provide important services like mammograms, but this claim has been contradicted:

If we can't trust PP about things that can be so easy verified, how can we even begin to trust PP about other claims?

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Cooperation and Peace might Require Confrontation

Miroslav Volf, professor of theology at the Yale Divinity School, is a prophet of peace, forgiveness and love. He sees this as the Christian message, and I certainly agree with him there. However, he has some troubling recommendations in regards to our response to Islam. For one thing, he believes that it is very important to recognize our commonalities with Islam:

• If our understandings of God clash, it will be hard for us to live in peace…So exploring to what extent Christians and Muslims have similar conceptions of God is foundational to exploring whether we inhabit a common moral universe, within which there are some profound differences that can be negotiated, discussed, and adjudicated.

• We need to build on what is similar rather than simply bemoan what’s different. (Christianity Today, April 2011)

Of course, finding similarities tends to facilitate relationship. However, Christian love and forgiveness should never be predicated upon distorting reality. Jesus taught that God wants those who will worship Him in spirit and in truth (John 4:24). There is never a Biblical hint that we should conceive of God or humankind in a more benign way than reality permits, even if it makes us feel better about the other. Instead, the Bible is ruthless about truth, and demands that we walk and talk the light. Rather than truth undermining relationship, it is the very basis for true and enduring connections. And this is the challenge of love – to love even when we don’t like what we see. This is what it means to love our enemies.

Last week, I admitted to a Muslim-background friend that for me, loving Muslims is difficult. On the subway, I had an altercation with a Muslim man from Iran who claimed that Israel intended to nuke Iran! I felt that, in love, I couldn’t allow that demonizing remark to pass. Consequently, the discussion became more animated. Most of the subway riders turned off their walkmen and were now ingesting what seemed to be superior entertainment. Afterwards, I thought that I should have offered my hand to my Islamic opponent and declared, “I love you anyway, my brother, even if our beliefs are miles apart.” Indeed, love is possible, but it’s difficult. Yet true friendship requires truth spoken in love. If others lack a stomach for this, we cannot control that.

Yes, we have a responsibility to love all, but I think that love shouldn’t require us to overlook significant differences with Islam – something about which Muslims are aware, even if they are unwilling to vocalize them.

The differences can be radical and threatening. Taqiyya authorizes Muslims to lie to promote Islam. The Koran forbids a Muslim to befriend the infidel other than for evangelization. Then there’s the violent side: violent jihad against the unbelievers, and death edicts against all those critical of Islam and even converts from Islam. Muslims are also required to institute Shariah law, which places all others into a subservient and often fearful status. And then there’s the Islamic unwillingness to endure scrutiny, as we all must.

Indulgence and silence aren’t the answers. God warned Ezekiel against the silent treatment:

"Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel; so hear the word I speak and give them warning from me. When I say to the wicked, 'O wicked man, you will surely die,' and you do not speak out to dissuade him from his ways, that wicked man will die for his sin, and I will hold you accountable for his blood.” (Ezekiel 33:7-8)

Silence speaks loudly. It tells the other person, “You’re OK! If you weren’t, I’d tell you so!” It communicates peace, when there isn’t peace. Meanwhile, indulgence has become enshrined in US policy towards Islam, even to the point of discrimination. Andrew C. McCarthy wrote:

Down at Gitmo, the Defense Department gives the Koran to each of the terrorists even though DoD knows they interpret it (not without reason) to command them to kill the people who gave it to them. To underscore our precious sensitivity to Muslims, standard procedure calls for the book to be handled only by Muslim military personnel. Sometimes, though, that is not possible for various reasons. If, as a last resort, one of our non-Muslim troops must handle or transport the book, he must wear white gloves, and he is further instructed primarily to use the right hand (indulging Muslim culture’s taboo about the sinister left hand). The book is to be conveyed to the prisoners in a “reverent manner” inside a “clean dry towel” … there is hypocrisy to consider: the Defense Department now piously condemning Koran burning is the same Defense Department that itself did not give a second thought to confiscating and burning bibles in Afghanistan. Quite consciously, U.S. commanders ordered this purge in deference to sharia proscriptions against the proselytism of faiths other than Islam. And … bibles, are torched or otherwise destroyed in Islamic countries every single day as a matter of standard operating procedure.

The differences raise concerns about Islam and its possible participation in egalitarian society. These can’t be addressed with indulgence, but rather with honesty. Problems can only be addressed if the problem can first be articulated, something that the West is reluctant to do. Perhaps reality might once again become the recognized place of meeting. Recently Angela Merkel of Germany, David Cameron of the UK, and Nicolas Sarkozy of France have all spoken despairingly of their venture into the world of religious pluralism. The benefits of Western culture have failed to bring about anything positive, let alone assimilation. Nor is there any indication that delivering the Koran to Muslim inmates in a “clean dry towel” with “white gloves” wins gratefulness rather than contempt.

Cooperation is predicated on facing our troubling differences, not denying their existence. Honesty shows respect. Besides, we may have many differences with Jews and Hindus, but their religious agendas do not require the subjugation of all others. We cannot ignore this reality.

More on Luke-Acts

Is there any way to prove whether or not the writer of Luke-Acts was historically accurate? According the archeologist John McRay,

• “One prominent archeologist carefully examined Luke’s references to 32 countries, 54 cities, and 9 Islands [contained within the Book of Acts] without finding a single mistake.”
( Case For Christ)

Charges that have been brought against the historical accuracy of the Luke-Acts have largely disappeared as new findings have accumulated. Here’s a sampling from Lee Strobel:

• “For along time people thought Luke was mistaken because no evidence of the term politarchs had been found in any ancient document…However, and inscription on a first-century arch was later found that begins, ‘In the time of the politarchs.’”
(Case for Christ)

• For a long time, skeptics had doubted that Lysanias had been tetrarch of Abilene during the reign of Tiberias accoding to Luke 3:1: “In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar…when …Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene.” Scholars claimed that Lysanias ruled at a different period. However, “It turned out that there had been two government officials named Lysanias! Once more, Luke was shown to be right!” (Strobel)

• Once again, critics claimed, “Quirinius was not reigning at the time of the census,” according to Luke 2:1-3: “In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria. And everyone went to his own town to register.” However, a coin with his name was found that “places him as a proconsul of Syria and Cilicia from 11 BC until after the death of Herod.” (Strobel)

As a result of many such findings, the late New Testament scholar F.F.Bruce concluded: “A man whose accuracy can be demonstrated in matters where we are able to test it is likely to be accurate even where means of testing aren’t available. Accuracy is a habit of mind…Luke’s record entitles him to be regarded as a writer of habitual accuracy.”

This should say a lot about the date assigned for the writing of Luke-Acts. The general rule of thumb is this – the further away from the events that a writer records, the greater tendency for inaccuracy. According to this criterion, Luke-Acts must have been written closer to the events. One further consideration – one who perpetrates a forgery does not prove himself to be a reliable witness. His purpose isn’t history and accuracy but deception. He will be less inclined to research the facts as the writer of Luke-Acts clearly has.

Besides, if he is writing more than 50 years after the facts, he will not be very concerned about the possibility of someone arising to dispute minor facts.

Furthermore, we possess no record of any early writers disputing Lukan authorship and alleging that his works were forgeries. In fact, an early critic of the Christian faith, Celsus (150 AD), charged that the Apostles deceived, without contesting the ascription of the four canonical to their traditionally ascribed authors (Philip Schaff, The History of the Christian Church)