Thursday, September 30, 2004

Field Trip

Click here for pictures from my son Luke's recent (9/27/04) field trip. We (I chaperoned) climbed Mt. Washington in New Hampshire. At 6228 feet it is the highest peak in the northeastern U.S., and boast's of the world's worst weather. However, on this day it was gorgeous, crystal clear with a high at the summit of about 45 °F and almost no wind, virtually unprecedented for late September.

What a thorn in my side I must bear, living in New Hampshire.

The foliage is just starting to turn. In two weeks, it’ll knock your socks off.

It was great fun being out with my son in the midst of this spectacular beauty, created by random chance and also by the self-evident fact that of all the parallel universes, the vast majority of which are sterile, we live in a lucky one that has just the right laws of physics and just the right initial conditions to create stars and life sustaining rocky planets God for His glory.

Monday, September 27, 2004

Lesson 2: When the Time was Ripe (Part 4)

A Great Rabbi Arrives

Priscilla and Aquila arrived from the west. The great rabbi arrived from the east, from the province of Cilicia. He practiced the same trade as the Roman couple, and soon made their acquaintance. (Aside: their trade was more general than “tent maker”, more like a leather worker—perhaps not even making tents at all.)

This teacher was known to the Jews by the name Saul, but the Gentiles referred to him as Paul, anglicized from his Roman family name, Paullus. He was a Jew from the Tarsus, and his father was Roman citizen, so he inherited that distinction.

As a young rabbinical student, Paul trained under the most revered rabbi of the day, Gamaliel the Elder. It had only been about 15-20 years since Jesus was seen ascending into heaven, and disciples from all nations were converted at Pentecost and began spreading the news of Jesus. From the beginning Paul, as a devout Jew, began persecuting and condoning the murder of Jesus’ followers.

Then, astonishingly, Paul was himself was converted while traveling to Damascus, transformed from the greatest persecutor of Jesus to the greatest teacher and evangelist

As he enters Corinth, around A.D. 50, neither Paul nor any other leader has been to Rome, nor has Paul, as of yet, written to the faithful in Rome. So imagine his amazement when he encountered two strangers from Rome who shared not only his occupation, but also his beliefs.

A few weeks after his arrival, two friends the Rabbi had left behind in Macedonia, men named Silas and Timothy, arrived in Corinth with supplies.

Because of his reputation, it was inevitable that soon after arriving, Paul was teaching at the Corinthian synagogue. As he read the holy writings, he would add to them, explaining how the prophecies had been fulfilled by Jesus. Some thought that his teachings were blasphemy, while others, especially among the Gentile God-fearers, believed what the rabbi taught concerning Jesus.

What exactly did the rabbi teach?

He taught that the long awaited "deliverer" had come. By this time, the Jews called the deliver Messiah, which means "anointed". The Greeks used the word christos for "anointed", which is Anglicized as Christ.

The greatest scandal arose when Paul taught, not only was this Jesus the Messiah, the Christ, but that he had died the most violent and ignominious death, that of crucifixion.

To many Greeks, preaching of a Messiah who could not save himself was sheer folly, and rather amusing. But to some of the Jews, it was worse, it was blasphemy. For crucifixion, far from signifying God’s supreme favor and blessing upon His people’s deliverer, indicated that this Jesus must have been cursed by God:
22 If a man guilty of a capital offense is put to death and his body is hung on a tree, 23 you must not leave his body on the tree overnight. Be sure to bury him that same day, because anyone who is hung on a tree is under God's curse. You must not desecrate the land the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance. (Deut. 21:22-23)

But there is more.

Not only was the Christ hung from a tree, but on the third day he arose from the dead and was seen alive, after His death and burial, by His closest companions and more than 500 other disciples. And finally, the Rabbi taught, "He appeared to me as well." (1 Cor 15:1ff.)

Eventually the leader of the synagogue had enough of Paul's strange beliefs. He was told he could no longer teach to the Jewish faithful.

Paul didn’t have to go far to find another place to meet. One of the God-fearers who believed Paul’s teaching was a Roman citizen named Gaius Titius Justus. Justus lived next door to the synagogue, and his house became the meeting place for the new Christian community of Corinth.

This new community made no distinction between Greeks and Jews. It required neither circumcision nor sacrifice. It had only one initiation rite: baptism by water. There was an additional, oft-repeated rite among the believers: a fellowship over a simple meal of bread and wine to which special importance was attached.

Amazingly, the leader of the synagogue that had expelled Paul, a man named Crispus, joined the Christians. Crispus would have been in charge of the physical arrangements for the synagogue and synagogue services. And now he, and his family, and many Gentile Corinthians believed and were baptized.

After Crispus had joined the Christians, the Jewish authorities had had enough.

They took their case against Paul to Gallio the Roman proconsul of Achaia. (An inscription has been uncovered that identifies Gallio as holding this position in A.D. 52, probably beginning in July A.D. 51. After a year in office he left for health reasons. A proconsul was a title for governors who ruled in provinces where no standing army was required. Proconsuls were under the nominal control of the senate, while governors whose province required an army were under the direct control of the emperor.)

The Jews accused Paul of creating a new, unlicensed (as required by Roman law) and hence illegal, religion.

In would seem, providentially, that Gallio could not be bothered. Before Paul even defended himself, Gallio dismissed the case, ruling that Paul was not teaching a new religion but a variant of Judaism, so this matter was an internal dispute and of no concern to Rome.

Apollos the Alexandrian

After about a year and a half, Paul and the Roman couple left Corinth for Ephesus. Paul continued, bound for Palestine and Jerusalem, leaving Priscilla and Aquila behind.

A few months after Paul left Ephesus, Priscilla and Aquila, who had stayed in Ephesus, met another Jew on his way to Corinth, another highly educated man like Paul. His name was Apollos; he was a native of Alexandria in Egypt. A renowned orator, he had been teaching what he knew of Jesus, but he had substantive gaps in his knowledge. For example, he was teaching not of baptism in the name of Jesus, but an older form of baptism associated with a wilderness preacher named John who came just before Jesus and whose preaching, announcing that that the time was ripe, presaged the coming of the Messiah. John’s baptism was a token of repentance rather than an initiation into the community of Christ.

In Ephesus, Priscilla and Aquila taught Apollos, filling in the gaps in his understanding of Jesus. After they finished teaching him, they provided him with a letter of introduction to the Corinthian community, an Apollos set off across the Aegean sea. There he taught the Corinthian Christians, and is evident that his academic style, being especially suitable for Greek culture, was well received.

More Visitors to Corinth

Not long after Apollos, some of the twelve Palestinians who had been closest to Jesus and who witnessed his resurrection arrived in Corinth. It is likely that Peter, the leader of the twelve, visited. We know this because Paul had occasion to write to the Corinthian church and chastise them for breaking in factions, one faction following Paul because of his heritage as a great rabbi, one following Apollos because of his skillful oratory, and one following Peter because of his first-hand association with Jesus.

Paul told the Corinthians that all three "leaders" of the rival schools were legitimate messengers, but they were messengers only. If the Corinthians wanted to call themselves followers of someone, it should be followers of He in whose name they were baptized. They should be called Christians.


So in about A.D. 50-55, travelers from four different locations, already connected by this new form of Judaism that acknowledged Jesus as the Christ, arrived in Corinth. The fact that some were from Rome and Egypt, and yet they were followers of this new sect, less that two decades after his death should not be overlooked.

We need to learn more about this new movement and how it was shaking synagogues and Jewish communities throughout the Roman empire to their core.

The time was ripe. An interesting question: Was the Roman empire a stumbling block or a necessity?

Friday, September 24, 2004

Caught in the Middle

Evolutionists on the left, young earthers on the right...

Creationist guru Ken Ham would label me a "spiritual fornicator", which I hope is at least slightly preferred to being a fornicating spiritualist.

Ham's article does contain an interesting quote from Martin Luther:
’The "Days" of Creation were ordinary days in length. We must understand that these days were actual days (veros dies), contrary to the opinion of the holy fathers. Whenever we observe that the opinions of the fathers disagree with Scripture, we reverently bear with them and acknowledge them to be our elders. Nevertheless, we do not depart from the authority of Scripture for their sake.

Watch out for those spiritual fornicators, like Augustine.

Evolution in Georgia

The evolutionist denizens of The Panda's Thumb are rallying the troops for contributions to the ACLU as part of an effort to have the following statement removed from Cobb County (GA) biology texts:
This textbook contains material on evolution. Evolution is a theory, not a fact, regarding the origin of living things. This material should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully and critically considered.
Nitpicking aside (evolution is actually not about the origin of living things, evolutionists conveniently assign that nasty little problem to another subfield) the statement is (a) of little content and (b) manifestly true. In fact, it's true, in my opinion, for any scientific field, e.g.:
This textbook contains material on quantum mechanics. Quantum mechanics is a theory, not a fact, regarding the small scale behavior of matter and energy. This material should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully and critically considered.

The Panda's Thumb crowd, understandably, objects that the disclaimer has been applied only to biology texts and therefore cannot be dismissed as "generic" truth but targeted propaganda.

The author of the Panda’s Thumb post writes:
After two years and three classes of students that have had their science education undermined [by the disclaimer]
Now as for removing the disclaimer, I am in agreement with the PT crowd. As for their claim that it has "undermined science education", I say: hogwash.

The disclaimer will sway nobody. It will have neither the benefit its supporters hope for nor the deleterious (from the PT perspective) effect its detractors fear. It will be ignored.

I support removing the disclaimer because it is ineffectual, a waste of Christian political capital that does nothing to promote the gospel, and just because the government is intruding on "my side" in this one instance doesn't mean I should be happy about it.

I really have no fear about teaching evolution in school. My public-schooled boys study it—in fact my older son is having a science exam with some coverage of evolution as I write this.

(Read this post if you are inclined to jump on me for sending my kids to public school.)

The Calvinist in me knows that the elect are secure in spite of what they are taught, not because of it. I can and do have discussions with my sons about evolution, creation, and intelligent design (although not as much as we discuss NASCAR). The bottom line, however, is the simple truth that what they regard as truth and what they regard as foolishness is not in my hands, or the school's, but where it belongs: in the hands of God.

Lesson 2: When the Time was Ripe (Part 3)

Priscilla and Aquila

The Jewish Roman couple arriving in Corinth sometime around A.D. 50 were named Prisca and Aquila. Prisca was usually referred to by the diminutive form of her name, Priscilla.

They were leather workers and tent makers, and because scripture often lists Priscilla's name first, it is believed that she enjoyed a higher social status.

Aquila was not a Roman by birth. Scripture informs us that he was born in Pontus on the Black Sea coast of modern-day northern Turkey (Acts 18:2).

A reasonable but not bullet-proof case can be made that Priscilla and Aquila were followers of the aforementioned variant of Judaism, the variant that taught that the Messiah had come in the form of a man named Jesus; a new sect whose great teacher would shortly join them.

The evidence is that, unlike other prominent proselytes to this new school of thought, scripture makes no mention of the conversion of this couple, causing many to infer that they arrived in Corinth already converted.

The Roman historian Suetonius wrote that Claudius expelled the Jews from Rome because they were rioting on account of someone named "Chrestus", suggestive that the disruptive rioting occurred between followers of this "new way", and traditional Jews.

How could Priscilla and Aquila have been converted in Rome? How were there followers of Jesus in Rome well before any visit from any of the sect's early leaders?

The answer comes from an event just after this Jesus was witnessed ascending into heaven, on the day of Pentecost, some 15-20 years earlier. A great crowd had gathered in Jerusalem, and many in the crowd were filled with the Spirit of God. Among those in attendance were visitors from Rome:
5Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. 6When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard them speaking in his own language. 7Utterly amazed, they asked: "Are not all these men who are speaking Galileans? 8Then how is it that each of us hears them in his own native language? 9Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome 11 (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs--we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!" 12Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, "What does this mean?" (Acts 2:5-12)

It was probably these visitors who, upon returning from their pilgrimage to Jerusalem with the good news of Jesus, founded a group of converts that eventually (probably) included Priscilla and Aquila.

Thursday, September 23, 2004

Lesson 2: When the Time was Ripe (Part 2)

Corinth, circa A.D. 50

During this period of interest, Corinth was in many ways a model of personal religious freedom and tolerance.

The capital of the Roman province of Archia, Corinth, 50 miles southwest of Athens, had a population of over 200,000 that included Greeks, freedmen from Italy, Roman army veterans, slaves, Jews, and others.

Corinthians could boast of an acropolis with a temple to Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love. Worship at her temple included ritualistic prostitution.

Where did worship of this Greek goddess come from? It was the Hellenized form of the Syrian worship of Astarte, who is the Ashtoreth of the Old Testament.

In Corinth, one could also worship Melicertes, the god of navigation. Melicertes is derived from Melkart, the Baal of Tyre, whose worship corrupted the Jews, most notably when King Ahab married Jezebel.

Ashtoreth and Baal, worshipped in Corinth, in A.D. 50, about 900 years after the time of Ahab.
Again the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the LORD . They served the Baals and the Ashtoreths, and the gods of Aram, the gods of Sidon, the gods of Moab, the gods of the Ammonites and the gods of the Philistines. And because the Israelites forsook the LORD and no longer served him, (Judges 10:6)

What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun. (Ecc. 1:9)

Many other gods and goddesses had their acolytes in Corinth. It was a cornucopia of deities.

One place of worship stood apart in Corinth. Archeological digs have uncovered part of a door with an inscription that, completed, read: Synagogue of the Hebrews. Here it was taught that there was but one true God, and that He imposed moral requirements on all mankind. He had a special people, the Jews, but that did not mean that others were excluded.

Non-Jews (Gentiles) could join this community of worshippers and enjoy full privileges. All proselytes had to undergo a type of baptism, offer a sacrifice and agree to strive to obey the cermonial and moral law that God had revealed to the Jews. Men, however, were enjoined with an additional requirement: they had to be circumcised. It is perhaps not surprising that there were more women converts than men.

However, there was an intermediate status that one could choose that did not require circumcision. Those who chose this option were called God-fearers. These men were loosely attached to the synagogue and enjoyed a subset of the privileges of full membership. In return, they agreed to obey some of the law (for example, to keep the Sabbath) and to live in a morally acceptable way. We will meet one of these God-fearers shortly.

It is this community that was the destination of our first set of travelers, the Jewish couple from Rome and, shortly thereafter, the learned Rabbi from Tarsus.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Lesson 2: When the Time was Ripe (Part 1)

(Note: much of this material is from The Spreading Flame by F. F. Bruce, The Paternoster Press, 1958.)

A case study: The Church at Corinth
4But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, 5so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. (Gal. 4:4-5)

If you'd come today
You could have reached the whole nation,
Israel in 4 BC had no mass communication.

(Jesus Christ Superstar, Andre Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice)

In 146 B.C, the seaport city of Corinth took an ill advised leading role in a failed rebellion against Roman rule. As punishment, the Roman general Mummius razed the city. It lay in ruins for 100 years until 46 B.C., when Julius Caesar established a Roman colony at the site, and named it Laus Iulia Corinthus, or "Corinth, the praise of Julius". The designation of a "Roman colony" was used for those cities earmarked for cultural importance: they were to be mini Romes—oases in barbarian wastelands--for the enjoyment of Roman citizens living in occupied territories and for the safety and protection of the empire.

Some nineteen years later Corinth had grown to the extent that it was designated the capital city of the province of Achaia.

Once a seaport, always a seaport. The new Corinth, like the old, was a city so identified with debauchery that the Greeks had made a verb out of its name. From the fifth century B.C., to "corinthianize" meant to be sexually immoral.

Between the years A.D. 50 and A.D. 54, an eclectic group of travelers made their way, independently, to Corinth.

The first to arrive was a Jewish couple from Rome. They were tent makers. The wife seems to have enjoyed higher social status than her husband. The couple came to Corinth after the Roman emperor Claudius effectively expelled the Jews from Rome.

Shortly thereafter came a learned Rabbi and, oddly enough, a Roman citizen. He was from Tarsus, a city in present-day Turkey. Coincidentally, he was also a tent maker. This Rabbi is often envisioned as old and wizened, but at this time he was probably only in his early forties. (In fact, he never really made it to "old age").

Less than two years later, the Jewish couple and the learned Rabbi left the city. The couple crossed paths in Ephesus with an Alexandrian Jew who was an orator and a scholar. He was on his way to Corinth, and had missed meeting the Rabbi by just a short time.

Not long after the Alexandrian made his way to Corinth, a Palestinian arrived, a fisherman who had witnessed unimaginable miracles firsthand.

While an amazingly diverse group, viz., a Jewish couple from Rome, a Rabbi, a scholar, and a fisherman, the travelers had much in common. They all were followers of a variant form of Judaism, one which taught that many of the ancients' prophesies had recently been fulfilled; that a man named Jesus was the long awaited Messiah.

This group of what we today would call "church planters" organized and instructed a local community of believers in this man Jesus. From letters written to this community by the Rabbi, within just a few years after his departure, we know that this early church struggled mightily.

In human terms, the founding of the church at Corinth is the story of these five travelers. We will now look at it a bit more closely.

Saturday, September 18, 2004

Church History Lesson 1: Introduction

Why Study Church History?

Before we launch into a semester long study, it is reasonable to ask the question: why? Why study church history.

There are several answers that come to mind, including the fact that it is simply interesting.

However, not everyone finds history fascinating. So we look for a more important reason, a reason that is hard to put into a slogan.

Surely it’s related to the well known aphorism of George Santayana: Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. However, there is more to it than that. There is also the aspect that when we go beyond the facts (i.e., that the early church declared some sacred truth, such as the trinity) and ask why it did so, we will have to dig deep into scripture and theology (and sometimes politics) to understand the reasons.

So, I would say we study church history:

  1. To avoid the heresies of the past

  2. To understand the theology behind actions taken by the church

  3. Because it is interesting

In this first class, before getting into the nitty-gritty, let's look at some anecdotal and circumstantial evidence.

The Nicene Creed

In AD 325, a council of more than 300 bishops met in Nicaea, a small town about forty-five miles from Constantinople (Istanbul).

Presently we will have much to say about this council, but for now let's look at the council's product, the Nicene Creed:
We believe in one God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible. And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, Very God of Very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father by whom all things were made; who for us men, and for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary, and was made man, and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate. He suffered and was buried, and the third day he rose again according to the Scriptures, and ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of the Father. And he shall come again with glory to judge both the quick and the dead, whose kingdom shall have no end.

And we believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of Life, who proceedeth from the Father and the Son, who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified, who spoke by the prophets. And we believe one holy catholic and apostolic Church. We acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins. And we look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen. (Emphasis added.)

Before looking more closely at the creed, we should agree on a definition. The Catholic Encyclopedia reads:

[A] creed is a summary of the principal articles of faith professed by a church or community of believers.

So by creed, we mean a sort of minimal doctrine of our faith. If you don't affirm a creed, then you are outside the pale of orthodoxy; you are an apostate church.

Now suppose we had no knowledge of the Nicene Creed, and were charged to develop a creed that summarizes our core beliefs. What might we include? Would we emphasize, as the council of Nicaea did:

begotten of the Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, Very God of Very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father

Careful: I am not asking whether we agree with this statement, obviously we do. I am asking if we would consider making such a big wordy deal about it?

It is plausible that we would not. We would probably say that Jesus is/was fully God and fully man and leave it at that.

Why did the council of Nicaea make such a big deal of this? Because they were convened to address this precise question, to face the challenge of a widespread heresy (Arianism, of which we will have much more to say) that denied the divinity of Christ.

In short, we have this dynamic:
  • The early church faced a heresy wherein the divinity of Christ was denied

  • A council was convened to address this heresy

  • A creed was developed to teach the proper view on the divinity of Christ

Christians now view this doctrine as obvious, so much so that the emphasis placed upon it by the Nicene Creed seems a little overboard.

However, any puzzlement on the emphasis of the Nicene Creed vanishes if we understand the historic context. That is one reason why we study church history.

By the way, is there anything missing from the Nicene Creed that we would add? Yes, one obvious omission: an explicit statement of the doctrine of the trinity. We will find out as we study why an explicit reference to the trinity is not in this creed.

Is there anything we would remove? Well, one denomination would generally (but not universally) say yes. And they would be mistaken.

Baptists and the Nicene Creed

We don’t say the Nicene Creed in our (Baptist) church. Why? I’m not really sure, but there are several possible reasons.
  • It can lead to meaningless, rote recital. This is certainly true. Saying it every week would no doubt lead to many saying without even thinking about the words. However, this argument cannot be used as a reason for never reading it as a body.

  • It smacks of "high church" ritualism. Again, it can be used ritualistically. But the fact that it is used by the Roman Catholics, Presbyterians, Lutherans, etc. does not detract from the truth that it was written at a time when there really was one catholic church.

  • It contains doctrinal error. Specifically it states:

We acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins.

To many this sounds of a baptism that is far more than a commemoration of Christ's work and a public testament of a believer's faith. (Late in the course we will study how different views on baptism emerged.) However, even for Baptists, this is no reason to discard the creed—for the creed is so general in what is states regarding baptism that all major denomination—even Baptists—can conform their doctrine to it. After all, in scripture we have:
38Peter replied, "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off--for all whom the Lord our God will call." (Acts 2:38-39)

And now what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on his name.' (Acts 22:16)

So however any denomination reconciles these and other passages with their view of baptism, they can apply the same reasoning (regardless of its validity) to the Nicene Creed.

In short, there is no reason for Baptists to reject, or even maintain reluctance towards, the Nicene Creed.

History Repeats

We stated that a reason for studying church history is to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past. The Nicene Creed addressed the denial of Christ’s divinity and His eternality. Are such heresies a thing of the distant past?

The doctrines of the Jehovah’s Witnesses include:

  • God is a solitary being who alone has existed from all eternity.

  • There is no trinity.

  • Jesus is a creature, the beginning of God's creation, and the agent in the creation of all other things.

  • The Holy Spirit is not a person but God's active force in the world.

The doctrines of the Mormon church include:

  • "God himself was once as we now are, and is an exalted man" Brigham Young, The Journal of Discourses, Volume VI, p. 3.

  • "In the beginning the head of the Gods called a council of the Gods and they came together and concocted a plan to create the world and people it." The Journal of Discourses, Vol. VI, p. 3.

  • “You have got to learn to be gods yourselves and to be kings and priests to God, the same as all Gods have done before you”, The Journal of Discourses, Vol. VI, p. 4.

  • "Many men say there is one God; the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost are only one God! I say this is a very strange God anyhow...all are to be crammed into one God." E.F. Parry, Joseph Smith's Teaching, p. 55.

  • In the Mormon Catechism for Children, you find this question (13) and answer:

    Q: Are there more Gods than one?
    A: Yes, many.

  • “The Father has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man’s”, Joseph Smith, Doctrine and Covenants, CXXX, 22; CXXXI, 7)

In both Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormonism we find doctrines that are completely at odds with the Nicene Creed. The heresies of the past are dealt with and then forgotten, only to be reborn. There are many examples of this; we will also see how New Age mysticism is a rehash of another heresy (Gnosticism) present in the early church.

The Canon of Scripture

Just the other day I received an email:

I read your blog occasionally, and it struck me that you might be someone who could at least point me in the right direction. The basic question I have is why aren't writings from Martin Luther added as part of the biblical canon?

This is a wonderful and striking question. For no matter how devoted we might be to the teachings of Luther, we do not advocate elevating his writings to the level of inspired and inerrant scripture.

The writer’s question is: but why not?

How would you answer that question, fellow Protestant?

I submit that the proper answer requires an understanding of church history. Without some knowledge of the church arrived at the canon of scripture, I would not know how to respond beyond a simple minded "because obviously we shouldn’t."

To flesh this out just a little, it is very valuable to ask questions about the canon. The bible contains sixty-six books. Some fair questions are:

  • Is scripture inerrant?

  • Are our translations of scripture inerrant?

  • How did we come up with the sixty-six books? What was the process?

  • Is it possible that we omitted some books that should have been included, or included some books that don’t belong?

  • How is all of this connected with and consistent with the cherished Protestant doctrine of sola scriptura (scripture alone?)

Studying church history will lead us to answers of these questions.

The Reformation

A final brief example of the need to study church history is the Reformation. Ask a modern Protestant why there was a Reformation, and you are likely to get an answer centered upon the sale of indulgences.

This is not true. Luther’s 95 theses were primarily related to corruption in the church, corruption that the Roman Catholic Church acknowledges.

The Reformation was not about corruption, for corruption can be addressed without schism. The Reformation was about irreconcilable doctrinal differences, primarily on the doctrine of justification, or how a sinful man is made acceptable before a Holy God.

Today many Protestants do not understand the doctrine of justification as taught by the reformers, and consequently entire denominations have drifted back to the point where their position on man's role in his own salvation is closer to the Roman Catholic view than it is to the views of Luther, Calvin, and other reformers. At the same time, and ironically, many have actually become more "anti-Catholic", emphasizing not the disputes which resulted in the schism (such as sola fide) but secondary issues like Marian doctrine.

As Protestants, we need to understand the real reasons for the Reformation or else erroneously concede that it was much ado about nothing.

Friday, September 10, 2004

An Old Publication

I accidentally came across this old program I published for the Atari ST computer magazine STart in 1988. It's the only paper I ever published that was sold in Seven-Eleven. Wrapped in cellophane on the magazine rack, no less! If you look at the screen shots you note the monospaced fonts, sixteen years after the Texas Air National Guard memos!

I can't believe someone went through the trouble of scanning/posting this.

Oh, there was a tiny easter egg I implanted that is in evidence. Tip O' the hat to anyone that finds it, although I hope you have better things to do.

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

This Post has No Title

Soon you will get blasted with a sea of posts on church history, the topic of this year’s Sunday School class. I will do as I did last year when I taught on eschatology, that is, as I write the material I will post unscrubbed parts of the lessons here. However, I will also post complete lessons over here, so that anyone who is interested won’t have to scour my archives.

Now for something completely different.

Dear Miss Blogger,

Is there a protocol for linking to other posts? In particular, given the canonical form of a sentence containing a link is:

[name of author] is posting on [this topic] over at [this blog].

Which part gets the link? Or should the [this blog] part get a link to the blog’s home page while the link to the specific post goes elsewhere?

And what if you break canonical form, as in omitting a reference to the blog:

[name of author] is posting on [this topic] .


There is a post on [this topic] over at [this blog].

then what? I just don't know.


Confused in New England.

And now yet another completely different thing:

Do you ever play the Spider solitaire provided by Microsoft? I have been, because of one curiosity. It won't let you deal a new set of ten cards if you have any empty slots. But what happens if you don't have enough cards to fill the slots? I had to find out. So after --I don't know how many games --I found myself in that situation. Would it forgive me since I had fewer than 10 cards? I could hardly wait to hit the stack to generate a deal. The result: you get stuck. It keeps telling you that you can't deal until you fill all the empty slots. Clearly a Presbyterian game. Here is a screenshot.

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

Friday, September 03, 2004

Intelligent Design Quotes

Over at The Panda's Thumb, they like to argue that no real scientist would ever succumb to the absurd notion that there is evidence for design. Be careful here: they go well beyond arguing that no real scientists believe in ID and make much stronger statements that evidence for design or fine tuning is non-existent. To hold such a view, they are satisfied to claim, in effect, the universe is here, and galaxies and stars and planets obviously formed, so why worry about it?

Let’s see what some scientists (all well-known, most non-believers) have to say about the appearance of design in cosmology:

Arno Penzias, who shared the Nobel Prize for the “discovery of the century”, the 2.7K cosmic background radiation:
Astronomy leads us to a unique event, a universe which was created out of nothing, one with the very delicate balance needed to provide exactly the conditions required to permit life, and one which has an underlying (one might say “supernatural”) plan.

Chinese astrophysicist Fang Li Zhi, and coauthor Li Shu Xian:
A question that has always been considered a topic of metaphysics or theology has now become an area of active research in physics.

George Ellis, colleague of Stephen Hawking and mathematician Roger Penrose:
Amazing fine-tuning occurs in the laws that make this [complexity] possible. Realization of the complexity of what is accomplished makes it very difficult not to use the word “miraculous” without taking a stand as to the ontological status of that word.

Stephen Hawking:
It would be very difficult to explain why the universe should have begun in just this way, except as an act of a God who intended to create beings like us.

Cosmologist Bernard Carr:
One would have to conclude that either the features of the universe invoked in support of the Anthropic Principle are only coincidence or that the universe was indeed tailor made for life. I will leave it to the theologians to ascertain the identity of the tailor.

Astronomer George Greenstein:
As we survey all the evidence, the thought instantly arises that some supernatural agency—or rather Agency—must be involved. Is it possible that suddenly, without intending to, we have stumbled upon scientific proof of the existence of a Supreme Being? Was it God who stepped in and so providentially crafted the cosmos for our benefit?

Astronomer Fred Hoyle, staunch anti-theist:
A superintellect has monkeyed with the physics, as well as the chemistry and biology.

Tony Rothman, theoretical physicist:
The medieval theologian who gazed at the night sky through the eyes of Aristotle and saw angels moving the spheres in harmony has become the modern cosmologist who gazes at the same sky through the eyes of Einstein and sees the hand of God not in angels but in the constants of nature… When confronted with the order and beauty of the universe and the strange coincidences of nature, it’s very tempting to take the leap of faith from science into religion. I am sure many physicists want to. I only wish they would admit it.

Cosmologist Edward Harrison:
Here is the cosmological proof of the existence of God. The fine tuning of the universe provides prima facie evidence of deistic design. Take your choice: blind chance that requires multitudes of universes or design that requires only one. Many scientists, when they admit their views, incline to the theological or design argument.

My personal favorite:

Heinemann prize winner Robert Griffiths:
If we need an atheist for a debate, I go to the philosophy department. The physics department isn’t much use.

Robert Jastrow:
For the scientist who has lived by his faith in the power of reason, the story ends like a bad dream. He has scaled the mountains of ignorance; he is about to conquer the highest peak; as he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been waiting there for centuries.

Paul Davies:
[There] is for me powerful evidence that there is something going on behind it all…It seems as though somebody has fine-tuned nature’s numbers to make the Universe…The impression of design is overwhelming.

Lawrence Krauss (on the dark energy problem):
This is the worst fine tuning problem in physics.

Wednesday, September 01, 2004


Last Sunday, my pastor mentioned one of my favorite passages:
31"Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat. 32But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers." (Luke 22:31-32)

For theology density it’s hard to beat this.

I have written about this (at greater length) before, but since I am sort of biding my time until I have to start preparing my Sunday School, I thought I’d discuss it briefly.

First, it points out how weak Satan is. He is not engaged in a struggle with God. If he were, we’d been in trouble, for a struggle implies that either side can win. Satan is powerful enough to do battle with us, but first he must get God’s permission. Satan acts only within the confines of God’s sovereignty. Don’t ignore Satan, but don’t credit him with more power than he has.

Secondly, Christ prays that Simon’s faith may not fail. Guess what. Simon’s faith fails. He denies Christ three times. Does this mean that God did not answer Christ’s prayer? I think it does, in the sense of what we usually mean when it comes to discussing answered prayer.

What do you think?