(Re)Considering Christian: A Skeptic Looks at the Christian Religion – Introduction, part 5

The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers (Ephesians 4:11)


To see more posts in this series, please go to the series’ page.

I took a variety of classes my freshman year at Pensacola Christian College covering topics like world history, the New Testament, speech, pastoral ministry, and more. World History 101 and 102 were taught by Dr. John Reese, an engaging and knowledgeable professor who served as a consultant for the classes’ textbook titled World History and Cultures: A Christian Perspective.1 The opening chapter of that textbook asserts that the creation of the universe took place in 4000 BCE, that evolution and humanism are destructive and rebellious ideas, and that human diversity stems from what happened at the Tower of Babel. It closes by saying,

History is primarily the account of God’s dealings, in blessing or judgment, with men and nations. It is a written record of what man has done with the time God has given him. The dispersion of mankind complicates history, but as we study the facts of history alongside the revealed truth in the Bible, we can see God’s providential hand guiding all events, helping us to better understand the past. By focusing on God’s plan, we will see how history leads to Jesus Christ.2 

This view of history permeated the lectures delivered by Reese who held a teleological view of human history: the goal of history is Jesus Christ.

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An article from World History and Cultures.3

New Testament

World History was a required course at PCC as was New Testament 101 and 102. Both NT101 and NT102 were taught by Dell Johnson, a diminutive man with a rather shrill voice who would pace the floor when he taught.

screen shot 2019-01-23 at 10.15.54 am
A picture of Dell Johnson from the Spring 1999 issue of PCC Update.4

Johnson was a fairly popular teacher and for good reason. He was always very animated and would help us learn information through songs. I learned the names of the twelve disciples easily thanks to a catchy tune he taught us. During one lecture Johnson dressed up as the Lukan character Zacchaeus and acted out the story of Luke 19:1-10. He told us he did it to teach us how to make the Bible come alive for children but I think he just enjoyed dressing in first-century CE garb.

Evangelism

Whereas NT101 and 102 were required classes for all students regardless of major or gender, the weekly Evangelism Seminar was required only for Evangelism majors like myself and female students were not allowed. During this class we would learn about famous evangelists of the past like George Whitefield or Charles Finney and often we would have guest speakers who would teach us evangelistic technique or the meaning of “revival.” At times one of the juniors or seniors in the class would be invited to speak during a class period to get some practice. But as I listened to my peers speak I noticed that they all sounded similar both in style and in cadence. I soon figured out why.

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Binder for PCC’s Evangelism Seminar.

One of the frequent guest speakers at PCC’s chapel services was an evangelist by the name of Dave Young. Young was an alumnus of PCC and upon graduation became an itinerant evangelist with his organization the Dave Young Evangelistic Association. Young had a very distinctive pattern of speaking5 and because he was also a frequent guest speaker in our evangelism class that pattern ended up one picked up on by students in the Evangelism program. The program was churning out clones of Dave Young.

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Notes from Chuck Cofty, a former marine turned evangelist. Note the not so subtle misogyny.

Summer 2002

As my freshman year was ending I learned that my home church back in NY had hired a youth pastor. I can remember feeling a bit hurt by that decision for a couple of reasons. First, when we started the youth group we had done so in a way that allowed the students to lead while adults acted as chaperones. Hiring a youth pastor felt like a usurption of our vision. Second, I felt like I was being replaced.

Admittedly, feeling hurt because they had hired a youth pastor was completely irrational. Not only was I not there to lead the youth group since I was away at college, I wasn’t even in the youth group anymore! Nevertheless, when I came home in May of 2002 I wanted nothing to do with the youth pastor. And when he was also given oversight of the newly formed “college and career” group I decided that I wanted nothing to do with that either. There was also some degree of jealousy. The youth pastor was an intelligent, charismatic, and very likeable guy who was also the son of a prominent KJV Only evangelist that I admired. I felt like I just couldn’t compete and that my time in the spotlight, as it were, was fading. Who needed me when they had him? My personal insecurities led me to be a real jerk and I greatly regret my response.

Yet this experience taught me something invaluable: I am replaceable. To learn that the world could go on without my presence was at once humbling and infuriating. What I failed to appreciate is that I helped lay the foundation of something greater than myself but as a nineteen year old know-it-all with a theological chip on his shoulder I just couldn’t fathom it.

Next Time

In the next post we will go over the next two years of my college career and look at some of the classes I took. And soon we will do an overview of my time as a youth pastor and my move from evangelical Christianity to atheism.

NOTES

George Thompson and Jerry Combee, World History and Cultures: A Christian Perspective, second edition (A Beka Book, 1997).

Ibid., 8.

Ibid., 4.

4 “An Idea That Came from God: PCC History from 1989-1998,” PCC Update (Spring 1999), 4.

Here is a short video of Dave Young speaking. Watch it and then imagine nearly every single person in your class speaking in the same exact manner.

The Weekly Roundup – 1.25.19

  • Over on his blog Charles Payet has a post entitled It’s the End of the World as We Knew It. Overall, it is a rather pessimistic piece and one with which I cannot help but sympathize. The very real threat of climate change, for example, almost guarantees that the world my children will inherit will be far more difficult than the one I have. Payet notes this and writes, “Now, I have no desire to ever have grandchildren, because humanity is destroying the planet, and Christians and Muslims are leading the way with their denial of science and reality.” He is right because while there are many Christians and Muslims who aren’t science deniers, the overwhelming majority of deniers come from the religious Right. Their views on science are colored by their theological assumptions. This will invariably result in a world that is far more dangerous than the one we see today. (On a side note, if you don’t follow Payet on Twitter you should. He is an accomplished dentist and from what I’ve seen appears to be something of a polymath despite having ADD. Plus, he’s just a really nice guy. There aren’t enough of those around anymore.)
  • Chris Hansen continues his series examining pop-apologist J Warner Wallace’s book Cold-Case Christianity. Wallace claims that the Gospel “accounts puzzled together just the way one would expect from independent eyewitnesses” when he first read them “forensically” (343, 344, electronic edition). But as Hansen points out, the Synoptics all show literary dependence and so they cannot be independent eyewitnesses: “So, apparently there was a level of harmonization going on, just what Wallace doesn’t want.” In other words, Wallace’s argument breaks down based upon Wallace’s own criteria. And this guy was a homicide detective?!?!
  • Last August astrophysicist Hugh Ross and retired chemist Peter Atkins engaged in a dialogue on the Unbelievable podcast with host Justin Brierly. The topic for discussion was the origin of the laws of nature which Ross attributes to a divine mind. Atkins, an atheist, does not see that as an adequate explanation and considers it to be “intellectual laziness.” Ross tries to make the Bible a prognosticator of future scientific discoveries and Atkins rightly calls him out on it. Atkins makes some appeal to a multiverse and Ross rightly calls him out on that. As a debate it was a wash but I did find some of what was discussed fascinating.
  • @ElishaBenAbuya has a new blog where he is moving over posts from his old one. He recently published a post on Zechariah 12:10, a text that apologists think is a prediction of the crucifixion of Jesus. That view is not without precedent as the Johannine author quotes it in John 19:37. A lot could be said about that reference as well as how the translator of Zechariah 12:10 in the Septuagint interpreted the passage. I may write a blog post on it in the future.
  • Phil Long, who blogs over at Reading Acts, wrote a series of posts last week on the book of Acts as history, story, and theology. Though Long’s conclusions about Luke’s historical writing are a bit too conservative for my taste, he raises some interesting questions and makes some helpful analogies.

Featured image: Wikimedia Commons.

Invasion of the Bible Snatchers: Ray Comfort’s ‘Scientific Facts in the Bible’ – Invisible Material

To see other posts in this series, please go to the series’ page.

In the last installment of “Invasion of the Bible Snatchers” we investigated Ray Comfort’s claim that the text of Job 26:7 affirmed that our planet was “freely floating” in space. As I pointed out in that post, Comfort’s bad science led to bad exegesis. Today we continue looking at Comfort’s claims that come from his book Scientific Facts in the Bible.

Invisible Material

Comfort quotes Hebrews 11:3 from the NKJV: “By faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that the things which are seen were not made of things which are visible.” He then writes,

The Bible claims that all creation is made of invisible material. Science then was ignorant of the subject. We now know that the entire creation is made of invisible elements called “atoms.”1 

Let’s begin with the scientific problems before we move on to the exegetical ones. The epistle to the Hebrews is anonymous and while some have attributed the letter to the apostle Paul, that connection remains dubious.2 It was likely written around 90 CE. But for the sake of argument, let us suppose that the epistle was written by Paul before his death in the 60s. Did Paul have advanced knowledge of the atomic world that he wrote down in the epistle to the Hebrews? Is Comfort right that “[s]cience then was ignorant of the subject”? The answer is “no” to both questions.

The Pre-Socratics and the Atom

The word “atom” is derived from the Greek word atomos, from the negative particle a,  and the word tomos, “cutting.” It appears one time in the New Testament where Paul writes that the resurrection will take place “in a moment [atomō], in the twinkling of an eye” (1 Corinthians 15:52). The idea conveyed by atomos is of something indivisible, so fundamental that one cannot go beyond it. Paul compares atomos to “the twinkling of an eye,” the idea being that the process of resurrection will be instantaneous.

Centuries before Paul was a twinkle in his father’s eye, the idea of an atom was being toyed around with by pre-Socratic philosophers. In the fifth century BCE, the Athenian philosopher Anaxagoras posited a world in which the material cosmos consisted of tiny bits of matter that could not be seen with the naked eye. Similarly, Democritus (460-370 BCE) reasoned that if you take a material object and began dividing it into smaller and smaller pieces you would at some point reach a piece that was atomos – “uncuttable.” Democritus believed that the material world was made of these “atoms” that were uniform, homogenous, and invisible.3 This was the birth of what has become known as “atomism.” And while atomism did not win the day in Greek philosophical circles, it was a step in the right direction toward discerning the nature of the material universe.

What this shows us is that if we suppose that Paul was writing of the atomic world in Hebrews 11:3, he was doing so centuries after Greek philosophers had already done so. And since the tag line to Comfort’s book is “Amazing truths written thousands of years before man discovered them,” we can soundly reject that this particular biblical text contains advanced scientific knowledge. It is in fact a few centuries too late.

An Exegesis of Hebrews 11:3

That leaves us to examine the meaning of Hebrews 11:3 in its proper context. The eleventh chapter of the epistle to the Hebrews is perhaps its most famous. It begins with a rudimentary definition of faith (11:1) and includes what some refer to as the “Hall of Fame of Faith” (11:4-11:40). These heroes of ancient Israel are meant to stir up the recipients of the epistle to greater faith in the face of growing opposition and persecution (12:1-3). This is the immediate context in which we find the words in question.

The sequence of chapter eleven follows the general order of events in the Hebrew scriptures. For example, from 11:4 to 11:22 the focus is on the characters in the book of Genesis; from 11:23-29 the focus is on stories contained in the book of Exodus; and from 11:30 to the end there are characters from the books of Joshua, Judges, 1-2 Samuel and more. This suggests strongly that what is described in 11:3 is part of this sequence of events: it is a summary of the creation story we find in Genesis chapter one.

One of the key elements of the first chapter of Genesis is that God speaks words and those words accomplish his purposes. “‘Let there be light,'” God says, “and there was light” (Genesis 1:3). “Let there be a dome in the midst of the waters,” he declares, and it comes to be (Genesis 1:6-7). The emphasis is on God speaking things into being. In Greek, when referring to someone’s speech, there is a particular Greek word that can be employed: rhēma. This is the word the author of Hebrews uses when summarizing Genesis chapter one: “By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word [rhēmati] of God.” That is, the world was prepared through what God had spoken.

This helps us understand the second half of Hebrews 11:3 when it says “that what is seen was made from things that are not visible.” What is seen is the world that God created. What is not seen are the words God used to accomplish it. By this exegesis, it is not atoms to which the author is referring – as Comfort would have us think – but rather to God’s speech in Genesis chapter one. For the author of the epistle to the Hebrews, while we cannot see the words which God spoke, we can see their effect and it is by faith we understand that the world around us came from God’s words.

No Atoms Here

Comfort again reveals his sorely wanting exegetical skills. By reading the Bible through twenty-first century eyes and not in its own context he has forced upon it a reading that is not viable. Such eisegesis shows a lack of respect for both the text and its author. Comfort would do well to leave the task of biblical exegesis to those of us who know the Bible and handle it with respect.

No, Ray. There are no atoms in Hebrews 11:3.

NOTES

1 Ray Comfort, Scientific Facts in the Bible (Living Waters Publications, 2016), 5.

2 There are a total of thirteen letters that are directly attributed to the apostle Paul in the New Testament. Only seven of them (1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Romans, Philippians, Philemon, and 1 Thessalonians) do scholars have a consensus that Paul was the actual author. The Pastoral Epistles (1 and 2 Timothy and Titus) are likely forgeries and the authorship of the remaining epistles (Ephesians, Colossians, and 2 Thessalonians) are debated. The epistle to the Hebrews lacks the tell-tale signs of Pauline authorship.

3 Anne Rooney, The Story of Physics (Arcturus, 2011), 18-19.

Featured image: Wikimedia Commons.

(Re)Considering Christianity: A Skeptic Looks at the Christian Religion – Introduction, part 3

“God wants us to stop obsessing about the future and trust that He holds the future. We should put aside the passivity and the perfectionism and the question for perfect fulfillment and get on with our lives. God does not have a specific plan for our lives that He means for us to decipher ahead of time.”

– Kevin DeYoung1


To see more posts in this series, please go to the series’ page.

In part two of the introduction to the series “(Re)Considering Christianity” I discussed my adolescence and my budding interest in topics related to Christian apologetics. I also mentioned that after reading various apologetic literature I had reached a point where I needed to decide what I was to make of Jesus. Was he a mere man or was there something more to him?

Under Attack

The nail in the coffin was the resurrection of Jesus. I could not shake the feeling that the tomb in which Jesus had been buried was empty. And I did not think it was empty because the disciples stole the body or because Jesus had not really died or that the women and the disciples went to the wrong tomb. The only other option was that God had raised Jesus from the grave, vindicating Jesus’ ministry and his redeeming death. And if Jesus was alive then all that was said about him in the Bible must be true. I had no other choice than to rededicate my life to Jesus and spend more time in my King James Bible.

But something happened not long after I made this decision that confirmed to me that I made the right choice. Though the details are fuzzy and my memory of this event has been colored by the intervening years, during the late spring or early summer of my seventeenth year something very weird happened. It was early in the morning, before sunrise, when I started to awake from a dream. I opened my eyes but immediately perceived that I could not move. I could use my peripheral vision to see my desk to the right of me but beyond that I was entirely paralyzed. And then I heard screaming from what sounded like a woman. But it wasn’t far off, perhaps down the street or even in another room of the house. Rather, it seemed like it was right in my ear.

I could feel my heart racing, terrified because I wasn’t sure exactly what was happening. As the screaming continued and I struggled to move, I began to pray and recite the many Bible verses I had memorized since I was a young child. Then the screaming faded away and I was able to move. As I reflected on the experience I came to the conclusion that this must have been a demonic attack, no doubt the consequence of my newfound committment to Jesus. This was confirmation that I was on the right track and that the forces of evil were trying to dissuade me.

A Call to Ministry

I began to spend more and more time with the teenagers of my church and gradually emerged as their leader. Though many of us continued to play basketball together regularly, our focus began to shift to more spiritual things. We began talking about forming a youth group that could meet weekly for fun and fellowship. Since I had become the de facto leader of our group, it was my burden to present the idea to our church’s pastor. But I was reluctant to do so for reasons that still are not entirely clear to me. So I spoke with my dad about the issue and the reason that I and my friends believed our church needed to form a youth group. He urged me to speak to our pastor and told me something that has stuck with me for the past two decades: “If you see a problem that needs to be fixed then you are the one that has been called to fix it.” With that a couple of my friends, my dad, and I met with the pastor and we discussed the formation of a youth group for our church. Within a month, we had our first meeting.

But there was a problem: we had no youth pastor to lead us. While our pastor volunteered his time to help us, we knew that he had too many obligations to commit to us like we needed. A couple of adults, including my dad, volunteered to help oversee the group but few of them were teachers that could devote time and energy to minister to us. We needed structure and clear leadership. So the teenagers decided that we would choose our own leaders. There would be a president, vice president, treasurer, and secretary for the group. These leaders would be elected by the teenagers every year.

Our first election was held and I was elected president. I began to teach regularly in our meetings and still have some of the manuscripts of my talks/sermons which included titles like “What Ever Happened to Hell?” “The Greatest Story Ever Told,” “What Manner of Man is This?” and more. I soon came to realize that preaching was my passion and that I loved talking about and explaining the Bible to my friends. And after hearing from evangelists who had come through our church for their annual week-long meetings, I felt the call to become an itinerant preacher.

Street Preaching 

One of the ways in which I tested that calling was participating in street preaching that our church conducted in the nearby town of Oswego on Saturday mornings. Just down the street from local Roman Catholic Church, I and some of the men in our church would go and preach from the Bible to the cars and people passing by. We handed out Gospel tracts, including the comic book style Chick tracts. And periodically we would “lead someone to the Lord,” to use the vernacular.

Street preaching was not without its difficulties. We were cursed at frequently and on at least one occasion one of the men in our group was arrested. But nevertheless, we continued to appear at the corner every Saturday that we could to do what we thought was the right thing to do: warn people of the danger of not believing in Jesus.

Visiting Pensacola

At this time I was in my senior year of high school and I was starting to think about what I would do with my life following graduation. I had a deep interest in United States history and had considered becoming a history major at a local SUNY school. But I also felt a calling to become an evangelist and preach the gospel around the country. I had thought about attending school at Peter Ruckman’s Pensacola Bible Institute but needed to visit. Some of my friends were also considering PBI for ministry training. So in January of 2001, my pastor and his wife volunteered to take a few of us to Pensacola, FL to participate in Ruckman’s “Bad Attitude Baptist Blowout” and to visit the night classes he and his staff conducted at PBI.

Scan

Me taking a picture of a friend while hanging outside a motel in Pensacola (Jan 2001).

The trip down to Pensacola took a few days since we drove in the pastor’s van.  When we got there we saw some of the sites like the aviation museum and spent some time near the beach. Before the Blowout began we sat in on some of Ruckman’s classes at PBI and visited with our own church members who had begun attending PBI recently to see how they liked it. We also visited Ruckman’s bookstore which housed a variety of resources in defense of KJV-Onlyism. My parents had also purchased for me a wide-margin, leatherbound edition of the Scofield Reference Bible which was then signed by Ruckman himself. I picked it up to take it back home while I was there.

Since the Blowout meetings took place during the evening, we had our days free to do whatever we wanted. On one day the pastor’s wife had arranged for us to tour the campus of Pensacola Christian College, a conservative, dispensational TR/KJV-Only school that was not affiliated with Ruckman or PBI. I can remember thinking just how impressive the campus was. They had large cafeterias, a bowling alley, huge dorms, and more. I also found out that one of the majors available was Evangelism. While I didn’t prefer their brand of TR/KJV-Onlyism (who needs the Greek when you have the English?), I decided that PCC was where God wanted me to attend school after graduation. When I returned home I told my parents I wanted to apply to get into PCC. So I did, was accepted, and began planning to make my way back to Pensacola for the 2001 Fall semester.

Next Time

In the next post I’ll get into my experiences at Pensacola Christian College as well as my own growing understanding of God and of the Bible.

NOTES

1 Kevin DeYoung, Just Do Something: A Liberating Approach to Finding God’s Will (Moody Publishers, 2009), 63.

The Weekly Roundup – 12.14.18

“I think we have to allow that John’s Gospel differs from the Synoptic Gospels in this fundamental respect: it is not an attempt to remember the historical Jesus; it is an attempt to restate the significance of the historical Jesus from a later theological vantage point, shaped in particular by a bitter controversy with the Jews.”
– Andrew Perriman.


  • While cooking dinner the other night I was able to get caught up on @StudyofChrist’s series on the Lukan genealogy. In three videos he covered the issue of Arni and Admin (Luke 3:33), the problem of patriarchal names (i.e. Simeon, Judah, Joseph; 3:29-30), and the identification of Neri and Rhesa (3:27). I love the fact that @StudyofChrist is more than willing to buck the scholarly trend if he finds their arguments lacking. This tells me he is thinking through what he’s talking about rather than just parroting what he’s read. Follow him on Twitter and subscribe to his channel!
  • Over at The Daily Beast, biblical scholar Candida Moss has written a short piece asking the question, “Did Christian Historians Exaggerate Persecution by the Romans?” In it she examines the claim by Eusebius that Christians were sent to mine in Phaeno, a city in the southern Levant, and that while there many were killed for their faith. Recent archaeological evidence done by anthropologist Megan Perry suggests that this probably wasn’t the case. In all likelihood, this is yet another example of Christians exaggerating the ways in which Rome persecuted the faithful.
  • I don’t post to it at all and I really should because the Biblical Studies Carnival is a fantastic monthly resource that offers links to a variety of material from many different biblical scholars covering topics related to the Hebrew Bible, the New Testament, and more. The November 2018 Carnival was put together by Bob MacDonald, a software engineer with a passion for biblical studies, particularly the Hebrew scriptures. There are some really great links in MacDonald’s Carnival but two stood out to me: Andrew Perriman’s “Why did the Jews accuse Jesus of making himself equal to God?” and a new translation of the books of 1-2 Samuel by William Whitt (which you can download as a PDF).
  • In searching for free resources related to biblical studies for my iPad I came across some that are pretty darn useful. One of them is an app called “Greek Kit” that can create a list of all the Greek words – nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, etc. – that appear in a section of the Greek New Testament and give you a complete run down of each with their meaning. And if you’d rather not have all the words, you can select by type (i.e. 1st declension nouns or contract verbs or particles) and by frequency (ranging from all words to those that appear only two times). Some features of the app are locked and are only available by purchase but this basic feature is helpful because you can take the list of words and then select “Review” and it will go through each word in a slideshow. Beginning students of New Testament Greek can benefit from this tool as would seasoned veterans.
  • (Print-Only): The December 2018 issue of American History featured a fantastic article on George Washington entitled “Don’t Print the Legend” by Peter Henriques of George Mason University. We are all familiar with the myths that have developed around Washington: the chopping down of the cherry tree, the prayer at Valley Forge, and so on. But these are myths about Washington that have no basis in solid evidence.For example, the story of a young Washington chopping down the cherry tree and fessing up to his inquiring father was first told by Parson Mason Locke Weems in his sixth edition of The Life of Washington. Evangelical historian Peter Lillback, in a bid to rescue the story from the claims of skeptical historians, wrote in his biography of Washington entitled Sacred Fire that a German-made vase which appeared at some point during the American Revolution showed Washington as a young boy holding a hatchet next to a tree with the initials “GW” nearby. However, Henriques followed up and found the vase and it doesn’t say “GW” but “CW.” And the individual painted on the vase is a man, not a boy, and the tree isn’t even a cherry tree! Henriques writes, “In short, this container has absolutely nothing to do with George Washington.”As a side note, I met Lillback in 2010 or 2011 when he was at a Presbytery meeting in Mississippi for the Presbyterian domination wherein I served as a youth pastor. His book on Washington was on sale at the meeting but I never had any desire to pick it up. By that time I had long been disabused of my David Barton informed beliefs about the Founding Fathers. If memory serves, he gave a brief talk at the meeting but I wasn’t all that impressed.

Featured image: Wikimedia Commons.