Tuesday, August 20, 2013

All Around the Web - August 20, 2013

Justin Taylor - Reviewing Aslan’s “Zealot” |

The Good Book Company Blog also has a review by Gary Manning Jr., associate professor of New Testament at Biola University’s Talbot School of Theology.

Here’s the conclusion:

Finally, despite his generally good understanding of the field, Aslan makes a number of significant errors. I took pages of notes just on historical and linguistic errors in Zealot. Here are only a few examples of significant scholarly errors:
  • use of Greek definitions not found in any standard Greek lexicon;
  • using the wrong Greek lexicon for the New Testament;
  • incorrect definition of the targumim;
  • unawareness of the evidence for high literacy in ancient Israel;
  • unawareness of literary approaches to the gospels;
  • claims that violence against foreigners was the only faithful Jewish response;
  • claims that Pilate crucified “thousands upon thousands” without trial;
  • very late, unlikely dates for the writing of the four gospels;
  • claims that ancient people did not understand the concept of history;
  • claims that Luke was knowingly writing fiction, not history;
  • claims that Mark does not describe Jesus’ resurrection;
  • and on and on.
In many cases, I had to come to the conclusion that Aslan was just not familiar enough with modern scholarship related to the New Testament.
There are numerous other problems with Zealot, too numerous to address in an already-too-long blog post. Aslan repeatedly presents highly unlikely interpretations of passages in the New Testament, makes little effort to defend those interpretations, then moves on as if he has made his case. Suffice to say this, as others have said before: there is something a little bizarre about using our only historical documents about Jesus (the New Testament) to come to conclusions quite in opposition to those documents. There is a good reason to believe that Jesus claimed to be a divine king and savior who would die and rise again, and would one day return to judge the world: All four gospels, and indeed the entire New Testament, make this claim. You can deny that this claim is true, but it is scholarly folly to deny that Jesus and the early Christians believed it.

Thom Rainer - Ten Things Pastors Like Least about Their Jobs
  1. Conflict and complaining church members. No surprise on this one. These issues are a way of life for most pastors.
  2. Family challenges. Most of these responses were related to a desire to cut back on some church responsibilities to spend more time with family. Some pastors expressed concern about protecting family members from the issues of number one above.
  3. Busy work. None of the pastors thought this work was beneath them. They simply did not enjoy paperwork, janitorial work, and maintenance work that took away from their primary ministries. This issue was more common with pastors of smaller churches.
  4. Members whose priorities are their own comfort and preferences. “They like their comfort, but not their commitment,” one pastor wrote.
  5. Expectations to be present at all church functions and many social functions. One pastor indicated he could be cloned two times and still would not have enough capacity to meet all of the members’ expectations.
  6. Non-productive meetings. I feel their pain. 
  7. Expectation to be on call 24/7. Many pastors indicated that they don’t feel the benefit of a day off or a vacation because they have to respond to any interruption requested by a church member.
  8. Confronting people who are sinning. “It’s biblical,” one pastor said, “but it sure doesn’t end well.”
  9. Problems with staff members. As you would expect, this issue was more common for pastors of larger churches that actually have multiple full-time staff members.
  10. Members who aren’t passionate about evangelism/reaching the community. There is obvious overlap between this response and the response noted in number four.


Biblemesh - Are There Secret, Missing Gospels? |

First, there were not as many “missing gospels” as some suggest. For example, the popular novel The Da Vinci Code claims there were “more than eighty” gospels considered for the New Testament. In reality, we know of about 15-20 that didn’t make it into the New Testament, though manuscripts survived for only some 13. When it comes to Gnostic gospels in particular, the number becomes even smaller. The most famous discovery of Gnostic writings occurred in 1945 at Nag Hammadi in the desert of Egypt. Of the 45 writings unearthed only five were gospels.

Second, the alternative writings do not present plausible accounts of Jesus’ life. By the end of the second century, very few Christians would allow any gospels to be read in their churches other than Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. That’s because the competitors to the biblical accounts were considered unreliable. Their content ranged from legendary stories of Jesus’ youth to supplementary historical material to some material that was simply wacky. The Gospel of Philip, for example, says, “Those who receive the name of the Father, the Son, and Holy Spirit . . . [are] no longer a Christian, but [are] Christ.” The Gospel of Mary contains a supposedly secret conversation between Jesus and Mary Magdalene in which Jesus revealed secret truths to which His 12 disciples were not privy. . . . 

Finally, most non-canonical gospels were not eyewitness accounts and were written later than Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. The canonical Gospels are filled with names of specific people and places from the first century that only a first-century eyewitness could have known. Such details are largely absent from the alternative accounts, most of which date to at least the second or third centuries, generations after the founding of the Christian faith. The Gospels of Judas and Mary, for example, are second-century works. When early Christians argued against the alternative gospels, they pressed this point.

So don’t be intimidated by claims of secret, missing gospels. They’re really not secret or missing. They’ve been around for a long time and have been found wanting for good reason.


Joe Carter - Have Archaeologists Found a Piece of Jesus' Cross? |  The short answer is no, but Carter explains why this story matters.

Imagine I offered you $20 to try on a freshly laundered sweater. As you're putting the sweater on, though, I inform you that the clothing was once owned and worn by Adolph Hitler. How would you react?

Although the sweater has nothing to do with Hitler anymore, most people, as psychologist Paul Rozin found when he performed this experiment, would be disgusted by coming into contact with an object once worn by the mass murderer. Rozin noticed there was a link between disgust, essentialism (the idea that we attribute a soul-like 'essence' to certain objects), and sympathetic magic (the idea that this essence is transferable from person to object and vice versa). 

Psychologists label this the contagion heuristic, a general rule in which people avoid contact with people or objects viewed as "contaminated" by previous contact with someone or something viewed as bad—or, less often, to seek contact with objects that have been in contact with people or things considered good. 

Christians may think we are above such "magical thinking" but the issue of holy relics tends to betray our true feelings. Most people, of course, would be skeptical that the piece of cross recently found in Turkey is the cross. But what if it were? Would we feel that touching the object would bring us closer to Jesus?

Aside from the natural curiosity we would have about such an object, would we be warranted into treating it with veneration? 

Why would we feel there is more "essence" of Christ left behind on a piece of his cross? Why would we be more awed by a single piece of wood that God has touched than we are by the millions of trees he created? 

Christians don't need dead relics, because we have a living Savior. We don't need to touch holy relics, because we have the indwelling of his Holy Spirit. We don't need mementos to bring us in contact with God, because he has never left us.


Eric Metaxas - Mum's the Word on Divorce |

As divorce has been privatized—fenced off from Scripture, Christian teaching, and from the community—so has marriage. If marriage is merely a means to happiness or sexual fulfillment (instead of a sacrament, a life-long commitment of sacrificial love open to the creation of life), no wonder same-sex couples argue that they deserve the same happiness and fulfillment available to heterosexuals.

In addition, what Mohler calls the “real scandal”—the fact that “evangelical Protestants divorce at rates at least as high as the rest of the public”—creates a “significant credibility crisis when evangelicals then rise to speak in defense of marriage.”

No, divorce is not an unpardonable sin but, as Mohler insists, it is a sin, and our acceptance of this particular sin while inveighing against other violations of God’s plan for marriage is hypocritical.

My point here is not to pour salt on the wounds of divorced Christians—they deserve and need our compassion; but it’s to get the Church to acknowledge the beam in its own eye and, thus, end a silence that is not only conspicuous but scandalous.


Maybe this is why they're down by six runs.

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