Bart Ehrman's book Misquoting Jesus has stirred a lot of questions and discomfort among Christians, and probably made some non-Christians more comfortable. But as I've mentioned before, Ehrman's case that the New Testament isn't reliable is inaccurate and overstated. Robert Gundry has a very helpful review of the book in this month's Books & Culture. He explains:
(Regardless of one's opinion concerning historical value, denying canonicity doesn't equate with denying historicity.) Four of the lesser examples represent omissions rather than misquotations of Jesus' words, and ten—only ten—represent textual changes in which Jesus is misquoted. Of these ten, moreover, only one (in Luke 22:17–19) poses a serious question as to what the evangelist originally reported Jesus said....
So the misquoting of Jesus—which, I repeat, occupies only a small portion of Misquoting Jesus—has to do with textual changes by later copyists....
[I]t's simply false that "for the first time Ehrman reveals where and why these [copyists'] changes were made" and that he "reveals" the inferiority of the manuscripts underlying the King James Version. We've known about this inferiority for a long, long time. It hasn't led to revolutions in church teaching, nor has it needed to. And though their text-critical judgments don't always match Ehrman's, the contemporary translations used nowadays by lay people don't depend on the inferior manuscripts....
Not only the dust jacket, but also Ehrman himself contributes to the misimpression lay readers will probably get to the effect that the text of the New Testament is largely uncertain. He begins and ends with a personal testimony according to which he turned away from evangelicalism to agnosticism because "we have only error-ridden copies" of the New Testament. "We don't even have … copies of the copies of the copies of the originals." (Oh? How would we know that an early manuscript isn't a third- or fourth-generation copy?) And "the vast majority of these ['error-ridden copies'] are centuries removed from the originals and different from them, evidently, in thousands of ways." Indeed, "there are more differences among our manuscripts than there are words in the New Testament," perhaps upwards of 400,000 differences. To be sure, Ehrman gets around to admitting that "most of these differences are completely immaterial and insignificant," that theologically significant ones appear only "occasionally," that "it is at least possible to get back to the oldest and earliest stages of the manuscript tradition," and that "this oldest form of the text is no doubt closely (very closely) related to what the author originally wrote" (italics original). But first impressions tend to be lasting, and Ehrman emphasizes what he self-contradictorily claims to be "lots of significant changes" by which the New Testament text has been "radically … altered" and the enormous number of these alterations ("variant readings")....
To his credit, Ehrman recognizes textual corruption in other ancient texts. But he makes nothing of the contrast between the poverty of those texts as to number and chronological proximity to the originals in comparison with New Testament texts. Nor (as pointed out to me by Daniel B. Wallace) does he take account of the possibility, even probability, that multiple copies of the originals were made and that in the 2nd century the originals themselves were still available for checking (as mentioned in Christian literature of the period)....He appeals to Luke's "many" lost sources and to Paul's "many" lost letters but gives us no reason to suppose that any of them represented lost Christianities or to suppose that such Christianities were already existing and producing their own literature....
These parade examples of Ehrman's suffice to make my point: the textual corruptions he sees don't have nearly the interpretive significance he attributes to them.
Gundry concludes his review by describing how Ehrman went wrong in his analysis and the oversimplification of categories that Ehrman employs to make his false argument.
Do you think that descriptive could become as popular as the "religious right"? So far, the "religious left" doesn't exist in the American lexicon. And "religious right" is usually not complimentary.
While I was out of town last week John Kerry gave a speech about his religious life and how it motivates his politics. He's pretty explicit about how his religious values inform his politics that he then attempts to pass into policy and law. He's a member of the "religious left" mixing religion and politicsety, yet where are the usual complaints?
Liberals, Christian or not, are quick to squawk about the "religious right pushing" their values on the country, when, of course, all the "religious right" is doing is engaging the political process like everyone else. What these dissenters don't like are the values being lobbied for. However, I never heard the same complainers rant about the "religious left pushing" their values on the country or inappropriately mixing their faith and politics. Somehow what is an abhorrent violation in the first case is a harmonious fit of faith and politics in the second. And this is what I see in Kerry's speech.
He lists a number of values he says he holds as a Christian - biblical values, the teachings of Jesus - that he believes should be made into public policy. He specifically states that his Christian-motivated values should be instated in the nation's law.
Many of the political left have tried to capture some of the religious voting block by being more explicit about their faith and values. Why is this laudable in the case of Kerry's Christian values and despicable in the case of the "religious right's" values? If anything, Kerry and others who share his politics are even more blatant in drawing a straight line between their faith and politics. Most on the "religious right" many hold their values because of their faith but attempt to lobby for them in the public square with public policy arguments. Kerry here is making an explicitly religious argument for his values in law.
I don't object to Kerry's desire to engage his faith with his politics. I do object to a double-standard for the "religious left" and the "religious right." We are doing the same thing and it's our right as citizens to introduce our values for public debate and democratic consideration. Neither is "pushing" their values. Both are doing exactly what our Constitution empowers us to do.
D.A. Carson exegetes Acts 17 to provide us a model for establishing common ground on which to express the Gospel in a meaningful way. He concludes:
Paul at the Areopagus in Athens has established an entire frame of reference before he gets to Jesus. He has challenged the Greek worldview with his JudeoChristian worldview. If he had presented clichés like 'Jesus died for your sins' before he had established the appropriate frame of reference, people would necessarily have misunderstood what he was saying.
We too, today, in our biblically illiterate society need to establish this biblical framework. This might take five minutes, five hours or five years, but at some stage we have to do it.
That's a slogan from the United Universalist Church on a mailing one of our staff members received. It's obviously meant to address the failings of Christians to live out what they believe. That's a legitimate point that James chided us about 2000 years ago. The slogan is a sentiment I've heard from many Christians and Christian groups disillusioned by failure to live up to Biblical standards.
The slogan, though, is misleading. We don't have to choose between deeds and creeds. We should profess the creed of Christianity and live out the deeds consistent with that creed. "Creeds and deeds" would be a better slogan.
But I think that some people think that deeds and creeds are inconsistent, even that creeds somehow douse the motivation for deeds. Creeds often seem to be associate with mainline "dead" denominations an deeds with non-denominational congregations. Many churches no longer use the ecumenical creeds in worship services, and I wonder if some see that as progress to living out Christianity. The sense seems to be that creeds are cold, dead words.
It's worth pointing out that faith without works is dead, but works without faith are mere temporal actions. And creeds are merely a way of expressing our common Christian faith in a way that is meant to unify Christians. Creeds are simply the content of faith. Faith without specific content is mere sentiment. Faith as expressed in the creeds is what should motivate and enliven our deeds for eternal purposes and God's Kingdom.
My 11 year old daughter attends a public school. Of course, much of her education attempts to ground itself in a supposedly neutral secular worldview (all the while borrowing concepts from a Christian worldview). My wife and I take the responsibility of being her primary educators so we're always looking for ways to challenge, supplement, and enhance the education she is receiving in public school.
One way we do this is by having her read. My daughter reads daily and we make sure she reads good books. That's why I appreciated this reading list from John Mark Reynolds. Reynolds breaks the list into age groups, starting with preschool/kindergarten and going through 12th grade. The list is so good I think I'm going to join my daughter in reading those books which I haven't yet.
Parental consent laws for minors seeking abortion are supported by the majority of Americans, yet pro-abortion advocates have vigorously opposed passage of these laws.
The latest opposition comes from Ellen Goodman writing for St. Louis Today whose argument proves too much. Goodman’s argument seems to be that the logic of parental consent laws legitimizes abduction and forced abortion.
First, Kaitlyn Kampf, the 19 year old who was kidnapped by her parents because they wanted to compel her to have an abortion, was not a minor. So this is not an example of a parental consent law gone bad.
Second, the concept of parental consent in medical matters is firmly established and largely uncontroversial. Yet on Goodman’s reasoning even these would be suspect. If parental consent is needed for a minor to receive surgery, then parents would have the power to force their child to have her arms amputated against her will. This is silly, of course, which shows that her argument proves too much.
Which brings us to the heart of Goodman’s misunderstanding. She takes the requirement for consent in a limited way to be the liberty of coercion in an unlimited way. The reason these are called parental consent laws is because they require parental consent on some matters; they do not legitimize parental coercion on any matter.
There are some choices a minor shouldn’t be allowed to make without her parents’ approval. That doesn’t mean parents can coerce their child to do anything they want.
Goodman is mistaken. The moral logic of parental consent laws does not lead to abductions and forced abortions. Her argument isn’t an accurate case of parental consent cases, and her objection to parental oversight of medical decisions would also apply to all medical decisions for minors.
I've been thinking a bit more about Fred Sanders' post on emphatic evangelicalism in light of the Emerging Church (EC). I think his assessment that reductionist evangelicalism has replaced emphatic evanglicalism captures much of the frustration expressed by those in the EC. In some segments of evangelicalism, salvation has been reduced to fire insurance in the hereafter. The gospel is reduced to four simple laws. The Bible has been reduced to a book of practical steps to a better life. And so on. The EC is right to point these things out and I agree with much of their critique.
At the same time, I tire of the continual straw men. There are some segments of evangelicalism that reduce the gospel, the Bible, or some important doctrine. But not all evangelicals are reductionist. Unfortunately, some in the EC will point to some ridiculous example from an obscure corner of the evangelical world and extrapolate it to the entire evangelical movement. Or they'll take a personal experience with a reductionist evangelical and extrapolate.
When I see this I think, "That's not me...or my family...or my church...or the community of believers I associate with...or any evangelical I know for that matter." So while I agree with EC critiques that all reductionist evangelicalism is bad, I do not agree that all evangelicalism is reductionist.
Now, the really important question that Sanders' post raises is this: what is our response to reductionist evangelicalism? There have been a number of responses from the Emerging Church and Ed Stetzer's taxonomy of the Emerging Church does a good job of outlining the differences. STR's concern has always been with the third group, the "Revisionists." And which leaders in the EC fall into this third category? That's a good question, one that I will explore in a paper at ETS this November.
The Unitarian Universalist Church has launched a PR campaign to advertise their "virtues."
Here's one of their slogans: A different Trinity - Respect. Freedom. Tolerance.
Here's another: Imagine a religion where people with different beliefs worship as one faith.
Now, what exactly are people of different faiths worshiping? Who are they worshiping? The object of worship is identified by the content of what people believe about that object. That's why we generally gather with like-minded people to worship and have interesting discussions in other settings with people with whom we have differences of belief. Worship is supposed to be directed at a common object of belief, so how do people with different beliefs worship together?
The only way you can do that is if you don't take seriously the objective truth of what people believe, and instead revere the subjective sense of belief people hold.
This is a church that has installed relativism as its doctrine. As long as someone has a sense of faith it doesn't matter what the content of belief is. Do they not think it's real anyway?
This goes beyond pluralism to relativism. Faith is a placebo, a sentiment. It seems to me what they celebrate when people of different beliefs gather to "worship as one faith" is the own faith, not God. They worship a sentiment, not a divine Person.
"Protestant evangelicals stand in a great tradition of Christian faith and doctrine: we are surrounded by a cloud of witnesses to the one Lord, one faith, and one baptism –the things that make Christianity Christian. No matter how defective your contemporary evangelical church experience may be, you can start there and pick up a trail to the great, confident evangelicalism of the nineteenth century, follow it back through the Wesleyan revivals and the Puritans, to the Reformation and its grounding in medieval Christendom, and behind that to the earliest church fathers. All this is ours. Evangelicalism, in all its denominational manifestations, is an expression of that great tradition. But it is an expression that has a distinguishing feature: it is emphatic. It has made strategic choices about what should be emphasized when presenting the fullness of the faith."
And what have Evangelicals seen as that which should be emphasized?
"We have a lot to say about God’s revelation, but we emphasize the business end of it, where God’s voice is heard normatively: the Bible. We know that everything Jesus did had power for salvation in it, but we emphasize the one event that is literally crucial: the cross. We know that God is at work on his people through the full journey of their lives, from the earliest glimmers of awareness to the ups and downs of the spiritual life, but we emphasize the hinge of all spiritual experience: conversion. We know there are countless benefits that flow from being joined to Christ, but we emphasize the big one: heaven. The Bible, the cross, conversion, heaven. These are the right things to emphasize..."
But Sanders rightly points out that emphases are not the whole story:
"But in order to emphasize anything, you’ve got to have a larger body of truth to select from. For example, the cross of Christ occupies its central role in salvation history precisely because it has Christ’s incarnation and ministry on one side, and his resurrection and ascension on the other. Without these, Christ’s work on the cross wouldn’t accomplish our salvation. But flanked by them, it is the cross that needs to be the focus of attention to get the gospel. The same could be said for the Bible when it comes to revelation, conversion when it comes to religious experience, and heaven when it comes to the benefits of knowing God. Each of them is the right strategic emphasis, but only stands out properly when it has something to stand out of."
When the proper Evangelical emphases are isolated from the whole story, we are left with a reductionist version of Evangelicalism:
"Emphatic evangelicalism (yay!) can transform into reductionist evangelicalism (boo!) in less than a generation. People who grow up under the influence of reductionist evangelicalism suffer, understandably, from some pretty perplexing disorientation. They are raised on 'the Bible, the cross, conversion and heaven' as the whole Christian message, and they sense that there must be more than that. They catch a glimpse of this 'more' in Scripture, but aren’t sure where it belongs; they hear it in the hymns but it is drowned out by the familiar; they find extended discussions of it in older authors, but those very authors also reinforce what they’ve been surrounded by all along: that the most important things in the Christian message are the Bible, the cross, conversion, and heaven. Inside of reductionist evangelicalism, everything’s right but somehow it’s all wrong."
"The comprehensive truth of the Christian message needs these points of emphasis to be drawn out, but these points of emphasis need the comprehensive truth of the Christian message...Isolated from the great storehouse of all Christian truth, reductionist evangelicalism is a vanishingly small thing. It came from emphatic evangelicalism, and it must return to being emphatic evangelicalism or vanish to nothing."