Archive for the ‘Cultural Conspiracies’ Category

As American Christians we frequently see debates about whether Christianity is being persecuted in the United States. Strictly speaking, we aren’t being arrested for being Christians, churches are not being seized by the government, and so on. To compare what we in the United States face with what a Christian in some other country, say Saudi Arabia, faces is a stretch.

But the real issue is not whether we as Christians are being persecuted. The issue is we are definitely being marginalized, and that marginalization is what happens before explicit forms of persecution. So I don’t think we are being badly persecuted now, but given how we are being marginalized I think persecution is going to happen at some point down the road.

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One of the nice things about social media is everyone is able to communicate with everyone else. One of the bad things about social media is it gives people the impression that they have something valuable to say on every issue. It helps us forget our limits.

I feel fairly competent to address issues of theology and apologetics. But if its physics or chemistry you want, you’re going to have to look elsewhere. But Facebook often removes this natural inhibition to speaking about issues we don’t understand. Why? Because I read an article on it so I’ve become a 5-minute expert. I watched a 2 minute Youtube, so I obviously know what’s up.

This is a real tragedy in discussions via social media about matters of theology. People frequently misunderstand the point being made because, like it or not, you can’t master theology by reading blogs and watching short Youtube videos. But this is social media, so everyone is supposed to speak. What do you do when you don’t know what’s going on, but you feel the impulse to say something? You default to a cliche, and normally one that doesn’t directly speak to the issue at hand, but it’s so general as to seem applicable to everything. Like the great tonics of old, something that applies to everything normally doesn’t actually treat anything.

Permit me to use some examples. These are things that we should not say when discussing theology, because they are cliche and now meaningless. Also, they are conversation stoppers. They aren’t meant to address arguments, but to end discussions before things get “out of hand.”

In my heart I know…

No, you don’t. The heart pumps blood, it doesn’t know anything. Your mind knows things, and if you spent more time developing it you wouldn’t say things like this. This cliche is often used as a red herring, to distract attention away from serious arguments and turn the discussion into a subjective pomo experience fest.

It’s God’s job to judge.

The problem with this cliche is it has an element of truth to it. On the cosmic level, God is the judge. But when we’re talking about specific sins, this cosmic reality shouldn’t be used as a bludgeon to beat people into never saying anything whatsoever is a sin. As a matter of fact, it is because God is the judge, and He has already judged certain things to be sin, that we are free to apply His judgment without making ourselves out as the judge.

You’re just too religious. OR We’re under grace, not law.

This is the cry of the antinomian. They want everything to be permissible, or they at least want the issue under discussion to be permissible. So what do they do? Make your position out as impermissible. Oddly, this actually ends up turning the “grace” being discussed into a “law” not to be violated. The anti-religious antinomian religiously follows the pious ideals of rejecting the law or any type  external standard for behavior.

We need to walk in unity.

Exactly so! And to make sure this unity is not superficial, we need to have it out among ourselves and figure out the true position. Conflict over ideas is not a sign of weakness, but of strength. If we have enough trust to be vulnerable with our fellow Christians about topics we disagree on, we’re closer to true unity then if we’re so sensitive we can never bring up any disagreements.

God is love.

This is, once again, difficult because it is true. God is love. The person making this point typically is advocating accepting some sin or falsity. They want love to be a blanket protecting them from any criticism or evaluation. But God’s love is the type of love that doesn’t want you driving over a cliff. It’s because of love that the guardrails are there. Only an idiot would want to tear them down.

Our job is not to criticize. OR We’re not supposed to be theological police.

Actually, it is our job to criticize just in case the position under attack deserves criticism. No one gets mad if you criticize Nazis or tyrants. They get mad if you criticize a position that is not so obviously wrong. But it’s precisely because not all positions are obviously wrong that criticism is necessary. Criticism seeks to make obvious what might otherwise be hidden. And regarding being theological police, I’m sure Jesus and the apostles never corrected any errant theologies or false doctrines. Also, they never commanded us to do that, or to, for instance, earnestly contend for the faith. [Not sure how to make sense of that sentence in light of the examples and commands of Scripture, consider editing before publication.]

I just wish…

That’s nice, I’m not a genie. Moving on.

That statement is really offensive.

I don’t care if it’s offensive, as long as it’s true. If you don’t care about truth, don’t discuss theology. If you care more about personal feelings then about truth, you are free to discuss theology, but only among fellow theological liberals and compromisers. As Doug Wilson says, “sometimes people ought to take offense, and sometimes we ought to endeavor to give it.” (I think that’s a direct quote, but I don’t have the relevant book with me to check).

Jesus just loved people, He didn’t waste time with debates.

I would argue that it is because Jesus loved people that He debated them. Because Jesus loved people He corrected Pharisees and Sadducees. Because Paul (a follower of Jesus) loved people he debated at the Areopagus.

You should spend time doing real ministry, not arguing with people.

Sometimes arguing with people is the best way to minister to them. If someone believes a falsehood, you minister to them by arguing. Of course, you need to earn a right to a hearing with them, but arguing and ministry are not mutually exclusive. Why do I get the feeling that by “real ministry” you actually mean “things that make others feel warm and toasty inside?” Hmm…

That’s all for now, I’m sure I could think of other examples if I spent more time on it, but you get the idea. These are cliches, and they are meant to silence discussion, not discover truth. They are cop-outs for people who want to avoid thinking about anything challenging. They are great threats to truth and rationality, and we need to recognize them as such.

God bless,
Josiah

As I got online tonight, an article on my MSN homepage caught my attention:  It was a picture of an ancient papyrus with a caption below it reading “Did Jesus Have a Wife?”  I mentally sighed as I thought about having to deal with a new round of Dan Brown style conspiracy theories.  I read the article, knowing I would soon be asked about this find.

This issue is important for several reasons.  If Jesus had a wife, serious questions are raised about the reliability of the Canonical Gospels, why wouldn’t they mention such a fact?  Why has the dominant tradition throughout chuch history not recognized this marriage?  Would there be something that the church was trying to hide?  If Jesus was married, does this compromise the Christian Gospel?

These are the sorts of questions Jesus being married would raise.  But was Jesus actually married?  It is my position, and I believe this is the historically accurate view, that Jesus was not married.  We need to take these sorts of positions based on evidence, not on wild conspiracy or sensationist reporting.  We will now briefly turn to this evidence.

First, notice that the papyrus itself is from the 4th Century.  This is very important.  As we all know, various false teachings and myths about Christ had begun to arise by the 4th Century.  There was no lack of heretics at this time.  In fact, there was no lack of heretics in the 1st and 2nd Centuries.  So supposing this papyrus is authentic (and based on the information I now have, it does not seem to be a forgery), it is not very early historically speaking.  The Canonical Gospels have manuscript fragments that have been dated to the 1st Century for Mark, and to the early 2nd Century for John.  Now if John was the last Gospel written, and most scholars believe it was, that means it was likely written 95 AD at latest.  The other Gospels date even earlier than this, likely to the 60s AD.  Thus all four of the Canonical Gospels are 1st Century documents, some of which have manuscript fragments from that same century!

In contrast, this new papyrus is from the 4th Century, and Karen King believes it is a copy of a 2nd Century text.  Thus, in terms of when the original works were written and the span of time to the first surviving manuscripts, the Canonical Gospels compare incredibly favorably in historical terms.  We are looking at 1st Century documents with at least one manuscript fragment from that same century and comparing them to (at best) a 2nd Century text with only one small manuscript fragment some 200 years later.  There should be no question on these grounds about which texts offer better historical information about Jesus Christ:  The Canonical Gospels win the historical battle, far and away.

Second, notice that the new papyrus is very small and the information on it incomplete.  That the manuscript reads “‘Jesus said to them, ‘My wife …'” really proves nothing historically.  It MAY indicate that some sect beginning in the late 2nd Century proposed Jesus was married, but this is not even much of a new claim (remember what I said about Dan Brown?).  But there’s not very compelling reasons to suppose the text has to be read this way.  Perhaps the full manuscript has Jesus referring to the Church as His wife.  This is not an implausible idea, given that in the New Testament one of the most common terms for the Church is the “Bride” of Christ.  The simple fact is we don’t know what this manuscript actually says when completed.  But even if it postulates that Jesus had a literal wife, why should we believe this one sole, late manuscript over the earlier and better authenticated witness of the Canonical Gospels, of the Pauline Epistles, of Peter, of John, of Jude, of James?  Are we to believe that NONE of these people who were closest to Jesus thought it relevant to mention the fact that Jesus had a wife?  This is especially the case in light of 1 Corinthians 9:5; if Paul knew Jesus had a wife, surely he would add this in the question, since he does add Jesus’ brothers in this question.

Third, the papyrus raises a question about whether Jesus had a woman disciple.  This is quite easy to answer:  Jesus had many women disciples, and the New Testament records as much (such as in Luke 8:1-3).  In the letter of Pliny the Younger to the Emperor Trajan, Pliny writes about interrogating certain female deacons to discover more about Christian beliefs and practices.  The earliest discoveries of the empty tomb following Christ’s crucifixion are, in each Gospel, made by women!  Certainly there is no question about whether Jesus had women disciples.  I think what people really want to know is if Jesus had women apostles (among, or in equal standing with, the 12 Apostles).  We can state, quite quickly, that there were no women among the 12 Apostles.  But women did play a prominent role in the early church.  Whether there were actually women apostles in the New Testament really depends on Romans 16:7, and this current papyrus doesn’t shed any light on that.

In the end, I felt compelled to write this not because of the papyrus itself, but because I’m anticipating what our society will do with this discovery.  Sensationalist reporters, ill-informed skeptics, and questioning seekers will begin wondering of the Church’s view of the historical Jesus remains a legitimate option.  People will make speculations about Jesus being married to Mary Magdalene.  People will say the early Gospel writers attempted a cover up, and that the Church has carried on the cover up.  In light of the wild claims that will be forthcoming (despite Karen King’s best efforts to urge caution to the media), we as Christians have to be ready to give an answer for the hope that is within us.  The interest that this papyrus will spark stands as a great opportunity to share the true faith and to show the rich historical resources that Christianity possesses.  I hope this note equips you all to be more faithful witnesses in a culture of doubt.

God bless!

Josiah

PS:  The Article I reference is here:  http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/49075679/ns/technology_and_science-the_new_york_times/