Author: S.J. Thomason
Book: Why Christianity Matters: Historical, Sociocultural, and Moral Reasons to Follow Jesus Christ (1st edition [out of print])
Publisher: Kindle Direct Publishing
Total Page Count: 410
Price: $14.49 (print)
From the time I was a teenager to just prior to my deconversion, I was an avid reader of Christian apologetics. If you could go back in time to the year 2000, when I was seventeen, and look at the bookshelves in my upstairs bedroom, you would have found in my personal library books by apologists like Josh McDowell, Lee Strobel, and Ravi Zacharias. As I got older, I picked up volumes by Norman Geisler, Francis Schaeffer, and James White. In my mid 20s, as I became more interested in Reformed theology, I acquired books by Cornelius Van Til, John Frame, and Scott Oliphant. When I began a graduate degree in apologetics at Luther Rice University, I picked up William Lane Craig’s Reasonable Faithas well Norman Geisler’s and Peter Bocchino’s Unshakeable Foundations for an introductory course. For nearly all my time as a Christian, I was steeped in apologetics.
As most readers know, the word “apologetics” is from the Greek noun apologia, a term that suggests a defense of one’s position. The most famous usage of the term is from 1 Peter 3:15 where the author implores his fellow Christians to “[a]lways be ready to make your defense [apologian] to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you.” Given that in its context v. 15 is addressed to believers facing the prospect of suffering, the connotation of apologia here is such that it is a defense offered to those who are both skeptical of and hostile to the Christian faith. It is therefore curious that modern apologetics, for all its talk of defending the faith, does little more than tighten the holy huddle of believers. If its interest were truly apologetic, it would do all it could do to present an honest case for faith in Christ in the face of skeptical challenges. But so often this is anything but the case.
This is especially true of pop-apologists and among Twitter apologists few are as dishonest and uncouth as Stephanie J. Thomason (PhD, Florida Atlantic University), a professor of management at the University of Tampa. This year she published her first work of apologetics entitled Why Christianity Matters: Historical, Sociocultural, and Moral Reasons to Follow Jesus Christ (Kindle Direct Publishing, 2020). But in 410 pages, there is little to commend belief in Jesus Christ.
Note: I will refer to Why Christianity Matters as WCM and when referring to the first edition of the work I will refer to WCM1.
Before I offer a summary of WCM1, it should be noted the ways in which it differs from the currently available version of WCM.
- WCM1 has a total of forty-two chapters while the current edition has forty-three.
- The introduction in WCM1 (pp. 11-13) has been removed in the current edition.
- The prologue of WCM1 (pp. 4-10) has been shortened in the current edition.
- Part two (chs. 11-32) of WCM1 (“Evidence for Christianity and Questions Commonly Posed”) has been made part one (chs. 1-23) of the current edition of WCM.
- A chapter entitled “Dating the Book of Daniel” (ch. 3) has been added in the current edition.
- The chapter “What About Residual UFOs” (ch. 4 WCM1) is not present in the current edition.
- The chapter “Did Moses Exist?” (ch. 16 WCM1) has been changed to “Moses and Job” (ch. 8).
- A new chapter has been added to the end of the book entitled “My Testimony.”
Because of these changes, readers should be aware that this affects page numbers. In this summary and analysis which follows, those with current editions of WCM will see the page numbers as they appear in WCM1 and, should they desire to double check that I am presenting Thomason’s work correctly, will need to find the corresponding page in their edition.
Most (if not all) of the chapters in WCM1 previously appeared on Thomason’s website christian-apologist.com. This includes her chapter on “residual UFOs” that no longer appears in the most recent edition. Following a story (pp. 1-2), a prologue (pp. 4-10), and an introduction (pp. 11-13), there are forty-two chapters divided into four sections. In part one (chs. 1-10), Thomason discusses a variety of subjects related to theism including whether we are “hard-wired” for theism (ch. 1), moral values and theory (ch. 5), and the problem of evil (ch. 9). Part two (chs. 11-32) is far-and-away the largest section of WCM1. In it, she makes her case that the book of Daniel portends the death of Jesus (ch. 12), that the criterion of embarrassment helps to establish the existence of Moses (ch. 17), that the “angel of the LORD” in the Hebrew Bible was actually the pre-incarnate Jesus (ch. 18), and more. In part three (chs. 33-37), the author takes on famous unbelievers like Bertrand Russell (ch. 35) and Bart Ehrman (ch. 37). Finally, in part four (chs. 38-42) Thomason laments the “sociopolitical war” on Christianity coming from enemies like socialism (ch. 38) and Islam (ch. 41). The title of WCM1’s final chapter asks the question, “What’s holding you back?” and urges believers to “[m]ake every effort to enter the narrow door by following the calling of God and persevering in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (p. 391).
Thomason’s work is problematic throughout. These issues are invariably due to her lack of training in biblical languages, ignorance of biblical scholarship, and unfamiliarity with historical research and methodology.
- She claims that the verb that describes the “stretching” of the heavens in texts like Job 9:8, Psalm 104:2, Isaiah 42:5, and Zechariah 12:1 is rāqa when in reality it is nāṭâ (p. 23).
- She attributes a quotation to Plato that is likely not one from the ancient Greek philosopher (p. 81).
- She quotes from textually dubious passages to make particular points, e.g. Mark 16:15 (p. 149) and Luke 22:44 (p. 272).
- She employs the criterion of embarrassment in a bid to establish the existence of a historical Moses (p. 182).
- She asserts without scholarly support of any kind that the title “Son of Man” used by Jesus was “even more significant to Jews than ‘Son of God’ would have been, since the former [i.e. “Son of Man”] had divine implications in the Book of Daniel” (p. 191; cf. p. 336).
Additionally, there are numerous other errors, largely due to a lack of editing.
- On p. 121, in discussing her reasons for believing the Isaian Suffering Servant cannot in context be the nation of Israel, she repeats nearly verbatim what she had previously said on p. 120.
- On pp. 157 and 158, she lists in parenthetical citation works that do not appear in her references at the end of the chapter.
- On p. 251 she writes, “To be all of my neighbors take precautions…”, a line that I cannot decipher.
- On pp. 279 and 280 she invites readers to “click” on links, something out of place for a printed volume.
Finally, there are places where Thomason has committed plagiarism.
- On p. 22, a subheading reads “A continuous, universal cosmic expansion.” Under this heading she lists four texts: Job 9:8, Psalm 104:2, Isaiah 42:5, and Zechariah 12:1. Both this subheading and exact list of verses can be found in a post written by Otangelo Grasso from 2009.
- On p. 23, she summarizes her claims that the Bible supports Big Bang cosmology by writing that “the Bible offers solid support for the creation of the universe, distinguishing it from other religious texts.” Similarly, Otangelo Grasso wrote in 2009, “The Bible offers solid support for the creation of the universe, distinguishing it from other religious texts.” Both Thomason and Grasso also use Psalm 19 as the capstone for their contentions.
- On pp. 138-143, Thomason quotes a number of Jewish and Roman authors from the first and second centuries (e.g. Josephus, Tacitus, etc.). However, she offers no citation to indicate whose translation she is using.
- On pp. 337-338, she reproduces a question posed to New Testament scholar Bart Ehrman and his response that appeared in a special edition of Misquoting Jesus. In her quoting of Ehrman, Thomason places in bold a large swath of his response for emphasis. Similarly, in 2018 an unknown author posted a piece entitled “TheElusive Bart Ehrman quote…” which was published with the exact same question and answer from Ehrman as well as nearly the exact same words of Ehrman placed in bold.
This combination of problems is symptomatic of the larger issue of Thomason’s less than scrupulous research as well as a habit of lifting others work in service of her own.
The Bible and the Big Bang
While Thomason’s book covers areas like economics, sociology, and moral theory, I am certainly in no position to make any meaningful comments about those sections. Instead, to close out my analysis I wish to briefly cover the problems with the chapter entitled “How Did the Universe Begin” (pp. 20-24) This chapter covers two areas: Big Bang cosmology and the Bible. I know precious little about the former but a bit more about the latter.
A Summary of “How Did the Universe Begin?”
Thomason opens by claiming that for most of human history, people typically thought the universe was eternal and that “life was an infinite regress” (p. 20). This changed in the 1920s when scientists like Edwin Hubble discovered that distant galaxies were moving away from us. Later, a Belgian physicist studied Hubble’s evidence and concluded that the universe was expanding: the “Big Bang” theory was born. For Thomason, this theory suggests that time, space, and matter have a start date of around fourteen billion years ago and that whatever caused this start must have been timeless, spaceless, and immaterial. In other words, God did it. Despite the initial reservations of Albert Einstein, he was convinced of the theory’s validity and it has become the consensus view among scientists ever since.
Following the work of Hugh Ross, Thomason contends that the Bible supports Big Bang cosmology through various passages that describe 1) a cosmic beginning in the finite past, 2) cosmic expansion, and 3) cosmic cooling from hot initial conditions: “[C]enturies before 1925 when the Big Bang was promoted by Abbe George Lemaitre, Job, Moses, David, Isaiah, John, Zechariah, Paul and other biblical authors noted the creation and expansion of the universe” (p. 21). She then organizes biblical passages into categories that describe Big Bang cosmology:
- “A transcendent cosmic beginning that began a finite time ago” – Genesis 1:1, Isaiah 45:18, Proverbs 8:22, Titus 1:2, John 1:1, John 17:24, Colossians 1:15-16, 1 Peter 1:20, 2 Timothy 1:9 (pp. 21-22).
- “A continuous, universal cosmic expansion” – Job 9:8, Psalm 104:2, Isaiah 42:5, Zechariah 12:1 (pp. 22-23).
- “A cosmic cooling (and progressive decay) from an extremely hot initial state” – Romans 8:20, Revelation 21:1 (p. 23).
“In summary,” she writes, “the Bible offers solid support for the creation of the universe, distinguishing it from other religious texts. Thank God” (p. 23).
Analysis of “How Did the Universe Begin?”
Setting aside her historical reconstruction of how the Big Bang theory came to be, I wish to focus on her apparent belief that the Bible supports the various elements of Big Bang cosmology she listed.
First is her contention that Genesis 1:1, Isaiah 45:18, etc. speak of a “transcendent cosmic beginning” in the finite past. It is tempting to get into the details of individual texts but space does not permit such an undertaking. Instead, it should be noted that there is nothing about any of the texts Thomason mentions that suggests either 1) the Big Bang or 2) that the creation they purportedly describe happened fourteen billion years ago. Indeed, these verses may function as prooftexts for Young Earth Creationism as well as they do for Old Earth Creationism. In other words, these texts merely affirm that the Israelite god is creator and not the how or when of creation.
Second is her contention that texts like Job 9:8, Psalm 104:2, etc. refer to cosmic expansion. The difficulty here is that in order for one’s hermeneutic to maintain any semblance of viability it must be employed consistently. However, Thomason’s selective quoting of these biblical texts is telling. For example, Job 9:8 is a couplet composed of two lines, the first line describing God as the one “who alone stretched out the heavens,” and the second line describing him as the one who “trampled the waves of the Sea.” Thomason fails to include the second line of the couplet, opting instead to use the first line as a prooftext, divorced from its Joban context. A consistent hermeneutic would not do this and would be able to provide as equally prescient slant on the second couplet as on the first. In other words, if the first line is speaking of some aspect of Big Bang cosmology, then surely the second must be doing something equally incredible. Since she does not offer an interpretation of the second line, it is impossible to know what she thinks.
However, Job 9:8 is entirely understandable once it is appreciated as ancient Near Eastern literature. In its immediate context, Job is extolling the greatness of his god: he is wise, strong, and irresistible (v. 4); he is able to move mountains (v. 5) and shake the earth and its pillars (v. 6); he commands the sun and seals the stars (v. 7); he stretches out the heavens and tramples the waves of the Sea (v. 8); he is maker of constellations (v. 9); and so on. On Thomason’s hermeneutic, one would be required to find something scientifically salient in each couplet. Perhaps vv. 5-6 are describing plate tectonics and v. 7 the nature of stellar evolution! Or, perhaps the author of Job was someone who lived in the ancient Near East with a worldview very different from our own. Perhaps he believed that the land he was living upon rested on pillars (1 Samuel 2:8; Psalm 75:3) supporting it from the waters of chaos subdued beneath (Genesis 7:11). Perhaps he believed that the sun, moon, and stars circled him and not the other way around (Psalm 19:4-6). Perhaps he believed that the sky above had been stretched out like a tent (Isaiah 40:22), covering the land and holding back chaos waters that God had brought under his control (Genesis 1:6-7). Perhaps he believed that in the distant past, God had conquered an enemy, yām (“Sea”), just as the Canaanite deity Baal had in Ugaritic myths (cf. Job 26:12). Perhaps Job 9:8 is fully explicable within its own literary and historical context and there is no need to resort to the sort of cheap eisegetical parlor tricks that are common among those who do not read the biblical texts well.
Third is her contention that Romans 8:20 and Revelation 21:1 support the idea that the universe, which had begun in initially hot conditions, has gradually begun cooling. It is entirely unclear how the text of Revelation could possibly support such a view. For one, it is borrowing imagery from Trito-Isaiah (e.g. Isaiah 65:17, 66:22). For another, the book of Revelation is apocalyptic literature and must be interpreted on its own terms within that genre. The idea that the phrase “the first heaven and the first earth had passed away” is an allusion to cosmic cooling is a bastardizing of the text.
Her apparent take on Romans 8:20 fares no better. Scholars generally agree that in the background of Paul’s argument in Romans 8:19-23 is the story of Adam from Genesis 3. Previously in his epistle, Paul had argued that it was Adam’s sin that brought death into the world (Romans 5:12-14). In Romans 8, he revisits this theme and asserts that creation itself has suffered the consequences of humanity’s wickedness and awaits the eschatological revelation of God’s children. This doesn’t describe cosmic cooling; it describes the cosmic consequences of failing to obey God and the confidence those who follow God’s son have in their ultimate eschatological salvation.
It is clear that Thomason’s work is not intended for any other audience than the already convinced. It is certainly not for anyone well-read, appreciative of nuance, or interested in a meticulous, well-sourced case for Christianity. Those readers who pick up WCM expecting to find a strong case for faith in Christ will finish it wondering what in the world they’ve just read. Many chapters are little more than “evangelical book reports,” pages and pages where she had done little more than parrot the arguments of whatever apologist is her flavor-of-the-month. Consequently, her arguments are not only unoriginal, they are wholly inadequate. For, as we saw in her views on the Bible and the Big Bang, by appealing so often to non-specialists, she ends up making the same mistakes that they do.
Thomason would do well to spend more time reading scholarship and less time reading apologetic drivel.
 William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics, third edition (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2008).
 Norman Geisler and Peter Bocchino, Unshakable Foundations: Contemporary Answers to Crucial Questions about the Christian Faith (Bloomington, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 2001).
 Unless otherwise noted, all translations of the Bible are from the New Revised Standard Version.
 S.J. Thomason, “Are UFOs Space Aliens or Demons?” (6.3.19), christian-apologist.com. The title of this post is bewildering. Aren’t UFOs by definition unidentified?
 Had she consulted her source (i.e. Hugh Ross, The Creator and the Cosmos: How the Latest Scientific Discoveries Reveal God, fourth edition [Corvina, CA: RTB Press, 2018]) she would have avoided this mistake. Ross, in his discussion of these texts, makes it clear that the verb employed is nāṭâ, not rāqa (Ross, The Creator and the Cosmos, 26-27).
 See Ian Chadwick, “Plato, Music and Misquotes” (4.20.13), ianchadwick.com.
 On the problems with the so-called Long Ending of Mark and Luke 22:44, see the discussion in Bruce M. Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, second edition (Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 1994), 102-106, 151.
 John P. Meier (A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus, vol 1: The Roots of the Problem and the Person, The Anchor Bible Reference Library [New York: Doubleday, 1991], 172) notes that the criterion of embarrassment not only has its limits but “must always be used in concert with the other criteria.” Thomason’s assertion that the biblical authors would not have allowed such flawed characters into their narratives represents a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of biblical literature as well as the appropriate uses of the criterion of embarrassment.
 See Otangelo Grasso, “The universe most probably had a beginning” (8.9.2009), reasonandscience.catsboard.com; cf. Ross, The Creator and the Cosmos, 26, 28.
 Grasso, “The universe most probably had a beginning.” For a more in depth analysis of Thomason’s apparent plagiarism of Grasso, see my post “Caught in the Act: SJ Thomason Is At It Again” (2.11.20), amateurexegete.com.
 Bart D. Ehrman, Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2005). Though originally published in 2005, HarperCollins issued a special edition of Misquoting Jesus in 2007 that included a Q&A with Ehrman (pp. 246-255), his reflections on how readers have responded to his book (pp. 256-261), a list of famous New Testament manuscripts (pp. 262-264), and a list of the “top ten verses” that Ehrman believes were not originally part of the New Testament (pp. 265-266). In the 2007 edition, this material appears after the index.
 “The Elusive Bart Ehrman quote…” (2.12.18), christianapologetics.org.
 As an example of her unwillingness to dig into sources or represent scholarship faithfully, see my post “Ludicrous, Liar, or Lazy? SJ Thomason, Child Sacrifice, and Why You Should Actually Read Your Sources” (4.3.20), amateurexegete.com.
 Ross, The Creator and the Cosmos, 25-28.
 For example, Thomason uses the NIV which renders Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” This translation has been common among English translations for half a millennium! However, scholars have noted that such a rendering is but one way to translate the opening words of Genesis, and it may not be the best available option. For a discussion on this, see Mark S. Smith, The Priestly Vision of Genesis 1 (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2010), 43-48.
 For example, Young Earth Creationist Jason Lisle (“Does the Big Bang Fit with the Bible?” [4.15.10], answersingenesis.org), after doing his best to undermine the Big Bang theory, closes his argument by writing that “ultimately, the best reason to reject the big bang is that it goes against what the Creator of the universe himself has taught: ‘In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth’ (Genesis 1:1).”
 For a Christian defense of this method of interpretation, see the discussion in William W. Klein, Craig L. Blomberg, and Robert L. Hubbard, Jr., Introduction to Biblical Interpretation, revised and updated (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2004), 214-218. They write, “A basic principle of biblical hermeneutics is that the intended meaning of any passage is the meaning that is consistent with the sense of the literary context in which it occurs” (p. 214; emphasis authors’). As they note, no one likes to be taken out of context and their words used in some way other than what was originally intended. The biblical texts are no different and if we are to try and understand their message then we must respect them by interpreting them on their terms, in their historical context, and not our own.
 See Michael D. Coogan and Mark S. Smith, Stories from Ancient Canaan, second edition (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2012), 98-100; David J.A. Clines, Job 1-20, Word Biblical Commentary (Nashville, TN: Word, Inc., 1989), 230-231; Samuel E. Ballentine, Job, Smyth and Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon, GA: Smyth and Helwys Publishing, Inc., 2006), 167.
 See the discussion in Craig R. Koester, Revelation: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary, The Anchor Yale Bible (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2014), 793-795.
 See the discussions in James D.G. Dunn, Romans 1-8, Word Biblical Commentary (Nashville, TN: Word, Inc., 1988), 470-471; Robert Jewett, Romans: A Commentary, Hermeneia Commentary Series (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2006), 513-514; Frank J. Matera, Romans, Paideia Commentaries on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2010), 200-201.
 The phrase “evangelical book report” was coined by Twitter user @Floridaline whose uncanny ability to pull up old tweets from pop-apologists is legendary.