Martin Luther was a Roman Catholic monk who taught in Wittenburg, Germany in the early 16th century. For years, the guilt of his sin overwhelmed him, and the means the church provided for penance didn't relieve him of his guilt. Reading the library Bible one day (Bibles weren't widely available at the time), he came across Romans 1:16-17 and he understood the Gospel as he never had before. "The just shall live by faith." Reconciliation with God was by grace alone through faith alone.
This sparked Luther to examine a number of practices of the church he thought should be discussed and reformed. He developed a list of 95 points, gave them to his bishop, and nailed them to the church door on October 31, 1517, which was the common way of calling for a community discussion. But the debate wasn't welcomed by the church and, instead, Luther and others who agreed with him ended up separating from the church.
The Reformation was significant for a number of reasons. Luther translated the Bible into German, and because the printing press was coming into use at the same time, individuals were able to have the Bible and read it themselves for the first time. This affected literacy – many communities taught their children to read so they could read the Bible.
The theology taught by the Reformers placed authority in the Bible not the church, so this elevated the individual. This, in turn, was the worldview that was fertile ground for democracy and human rights. And it eventually was the motivation for Pilgrims to look for a place to practice their religion in peace. The Reformation was signficant theologically but also socially.
earlier this week about the call in Hebrews 10:32-36 to hold fast to our
confidence in the reality of Christ and His sacrifice for the sake of
endurance. Unfortunately, the reputation of confidence has suffered in this
postmodern world, where “humility” has come to mean doubting your convictions. As
G.K. Chesterton noted:
What we suffer from today is
humility in the wrong place. Modesty has moved from the organ of ambition.
Modesty has settled upon the organ of conviction; where it was never meant to
be. A man was meant to be doubtful about himself, but undoubting about the
truth; this has been exactly reversed…. The old humility was a spur that
prevented a man from stopping; not a nail in his boot that prevented him from
going on. For the old humility made a man doubtful about his efforts, which
might make him work harder. But the new humility makes a man doubtful about his
aims, which will make him stop working altogether…. We are on the road to
producing a race of men too mentally modest to believe in the multiplication
Because a person’s confidence in the rightness of his
convictions enables him to endure in his course of action, even at great cost
to himself, there is much discussion these days about the dangers of this sort
of confidence. Those who think their beliefs are true are feared and even
hated. Evils of all sorts have been traced back to confidence, and confidence
is declared its root and source. The remedy for evil in this view, then, is for
everyone to reduce their confidence in their beliefs. It’s commonly thought
that this would make the world a better place.
Confidence Can Serve
Either Good or Evil
But confidence itself is a morally neutral trait. What
matters is what you’re putting your confidence in. If your confidence is
well placed in the true and the good, then great good will follow from the
endurance it produces. But if your confidence is wrongly placed in false and
evil ideas, then great evil will follow. The problem, therefore, is the false
beliefs, not the confidence which can serve either good or evil. The remedy for
evil in this view is for everyone to address the actual beliefs people hold, endeavoring
to reduce confidence in false beliefs and raise confidence in true ones. The
greater confidence people have in good, true beliefs, the better off this world
If this second view is correct, then seeing confidence as
the root of evil and pressuring everyone to have less confidence will have the
unfortunate effect of causing a net loss of not only bad things in this world,
but also a great deal of good. To do good is a very, very difficult enterprise—one
that is often met with ridicule and intense opposition (just look at Jesus). Confidence
is an absolute necessity for anyone who would persevere through this.
The Blessings of
Wilberforce is a perfect example of the blessings of confidence. How
was he able to fight for twenty years, enduring scorn and personal
attacks day in and day out, to put an end to the slave trade in England? Listen
The grand object of my
parliamentary existence [is the abolition of the slave trade]. . . Before this
great cause all others dwindle in my eyes, and I must say that the certainty
that I am right here, adds greatly to the complacency [i.e., the
settled, peaceful confidence] with which I exert myself in asserting it. If it
please God to honor me so far, may I be the instrument of stopping such a
course of wickedness and cruelty as never before disgraced a Christian country.
Wilberforce was certain that he was right about what
was wicked and cruel, and he was certain that the right thing for him to
do was to stop that wickedness. That is what drove him steadily on to end the
suffering of hundreds of thousands of people. Would you have chided him for his
confidence? If so, what if he had listened to you? What if all the
abolitionists had listened to you? The world would now be a much uglier place.
A few months back, one of our commenters asked for help answering this question, so I've made it this week's challenge:
If God is absolutely moral, because morality is absolute, and if the
nature of “right” and "wrong" surpasses space, time, and existence, and
if it is as much a fundamental property of reality as math, then why
were some things a sin in the Old Testament but not a sin in the New
So are right and wrong absolute, or aren't they? How do you explain the change in laws? Let's hear what you have to say in the comments below, and then Brett will post a video on Thursday with his answer.
[Update: View the video response from Brett. Explore past challenges here and here.]
Hebrews 10:32-36 has a very relevant exhortation for our
But remember the former days, when,
after being enlightened ["after receiving the knowledge of the truth"
(v. 26)], you endured a great conflict of sufferings, partly by being made a
public spectacle through reproaches and tribulations, and partly by becoming
sharers with those who were so treated. For you showed sympathy to the
prisoners and accepted joyfully the seizure of your property, knowing that you
have for yourselves a better possession and a lasting one. Therefore, do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward.
For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you
may receive what was promised.
This confidence in the supremacy of the person of Christ and His reconciling sacrifice for our sins in objective history (the focus of
the beginning of Chapter
10)—the kind of confidence and “knowing” that brings the reward of
endurance through reproaches and tribulations…can this thrive in a
person who thinks religious beliefs are merely subjective preferences?
As an early investigator of Christianity, I was interested in everything ever written in antiquity about Jesus. One day, while searching the religion section of a local bookstore, I discovered a book titled The Lost Books of the Bible. I purchased it immediately, expecting to find evidence our current understanding of Christianity was somehow incomplete or inaccurate due to the loss of original data about Jesus. After all, this book claimed to include the ancient record of eyewitnesses who had been lost from the original canon of Scripture. I spent several weeks investigating these “non-canonical” legends and stories, and I was eventually disappointed to find the book had been mistitled. It should have been called The Late, Obviously False, Discarded Legends of Christianity. These weren’t early eyewitness accounts lost in antiquity; they were the late fictional efforts of religious believers trying to rewrite the nature and history of Jesus to accommodate their own religious desires. The early Christian believers and leaders knew these legends were false and protected the church by excluding them from the New Testament.
It shouldn’t surprise us a character as historically important as Jesus would inspire such late fiction. Like George Washington and the story of the cherry tree, later generations of admirers (and people with their own agenda related to Jesus) began to craft their own version of the Jesus story. If Jesus is who He claimed to be, we should expect His life would evoke a number of legendary responses and attempts to co-opt His name. Thousands of years later, it's sometimes hard to sort the truth from the legend and distortion. We need to take the time to carefully examine the non-canonical tales of Jesus to see if they contain any truth at all, and this begins by understanding what motivated these late authors. The writers of the non-canonical gospels were driven by a number of desires causing them to gently (or dramatically) twist the story of Jesus:
Filling in the Gaps Sometimes the writers were simply trying to fill in parts of the Jesus story missing from the Gospel accounts. What was Jesus like as a child? What did Jesus do from the age of 12 to the age of 30? These periods of time were not described in the canonical Gospels, and there was great interest in the ancient world related to these areas of Jesus' life. Some non-canonical writers invented narratives satisfying this desire to "fill in the gaps."
Supporting a Heresy Many early religious groups re-wrote, edited or created their own narrative of Jesus in order to affirm a theological belief held by the group. If, for example, a sect of believers held to the idea matter is inherently corrupt or evil, they wrote gospels describing Jesus as an immaterial spiritual being; denying the physicality of Jesus described in the canonical Gospels.
Acquiring Power from an Esoteric Secret Some groups within the Gnostic movement sought to describe Jesus as the source of esoteric, spiritual mysteries. These groups wrote narrative accounts focused on the statements of Jesus. They concentrated on efforts to learn hidden, esoteric truths, and their gospels typically reflect their theological agendas rather than the theology of Jesus as represented in the canonical Gospels.
As investigators of Christianity, it’s important to keep these motives in mind as we begin to examine the claims of the non-canonical authors related to Jesus. Although their late legends contain many exaggerations and lies, they built their myths and fabrications on the foundation of a true account. As we sift through the legendary claims, we can expose the true foundations upon which they crafted their stories. Once exposed, these foundations can give us even greater confidence the original story of Jesus is early and accurate, even though these late legends are not to be trusted.
The Washington Post reports
something I’ve noticed in my dialogues with pro-choice people: “Forcing eye
contact when trying to change someone’s mind may actually cause listeners to
become more stubborn, a new study shows.”
In a persuasive context, people
tend to be on the defensive, like when a speaker is addressing an audience or
when two people are debating a political issue. According to the
study, being forced to stare into the eyes of another person, as opposed to
looking elsewhere, can make that person less open-minded.
You’re less persuasive when you make eye contact while
you’re speaking, but I wonder if the rule
against eye contact also applies to when you’re listening. I tend to look away from a person when I talk, but at him when I’m listening, because I
instinctively assume I will be more persuasive when my listener is certain I’m
hearing his side of things. But perhaps eye contact with him while I’m listening
will also make him more defensive. I’ll have to consider this.
You've probably heard of Thomas Aquinas because he was so influential, but you may not know why. He's known as the "Doctor of the Church" because he's one of the most influential theologians and philosophers, and he had considerable influence on western thought.
Thomas Aquinas was a profoundly influential thinker from the thirteenth century. As a scholastic, Aquinas sought to understand Christian theology in light of the rediscovery of Aristotle’s works, and he redefined the relationship between revelation and reason, science and theology, and faith and philosophy for the next eight centuries. As a philosopher, Aquinas developed principles of just war and natural law, and outlined an argument for God’s existence from contingency—the intellectual forerunner to the modern Argument from Design.
Christianity’s engagement with non-Christian thought proceeds from the Christian belief that reason and faith are complementary, not oppositional. Thomas Aquinas’ synthesis of Aristotle and Christianity is a vital chapter in this engagement. His interaction with the philosophy of Aristotle demonstrates both the harmony of reason and faith and the oneness of truth, which are both central to the Christian intellectual tradition....
Aquinas felt comfortable undertaking such incorporation because, as he said, “All truth is one.” He argued that what we learn from the natural world through science and philosophy, provided it is unquestionably true, can never contradict that which we learn from revelation, that is, directly from God. He compared Scripture and reason to two books, “the book of revelation” and “the book of nature,” which were both “written” by God and consequently compatible. Therefore, though Aquinas was well educated in the Bible and the writings of earlier theologians, he preferred to base his arguments in logic and philosophical reasoning that could appeal even to nonbelievers. He did so confident in his faith that reason and philosophy would confirm and not contradict the revelation of God.
Wallace of the Center for the Study of New
Testament Manuscripts has an interesting article offering evidence that the
transmission of the New Testament text wasn’t merely linear—that is, it wasn’t
like a child’s game of “Telephone” (or “Chinese Whispers,” for our European friends),
where one person tells the next person, and he tells the next, and so on.
Instead, imagine a
game of Telephone where the third, fourth, and fifth people in line can go back
to the first and second and check the message they received against the
original before they pass it on. Then imagine the first person doesn’t just
tell one person, but multiple others who also check their copies against
earlier copies (likewise with the second person, third person, etc.), and add to
that the fact that the goal is to get an exact copy (not to end up with a funny
joke), and you have a better picture of the situation.
Wallace explains how
statements by Tertullian reveal the early church’s concern with textual purity
and their practice of resolving variants by referring back to copies as close
as possible to the apostolic originals, and possibly to the originals
There are two or three places that
address whether the originals survived into the second century. Tertullian,
writing in c. 180 CE, said, “Come now, you who would indulge a better
curiosity, if you would apply it to the business of your salvation, run over
[to] the apostolic churches, in which the very thrones of the apostles are
still pre-eminent in their places, in which their own authentic writings are
read, uttering the voice and representing the face of each of them severally”….
Tertullian goes on to discuss each
of these ‘authentic writings’ as being found in the very churches to which they
were written. He mentions Corinth, Philippi, Thessalonica, Ephesus, and Rome.
He urges his reader to visit these sites to check out these authentic writings.
This seems to suggest that he believed that these documents were the
autographs. In the least, it suggests that by his day carefully done copies of
the originals were considered important for verifying what the apostles meant,
and such copies had a strong connection to the churches to which they were
Tertullian’s statement tells us
that some early Christians were concerned about having accurate copies and that
the earliest ones still in existence were not quietly put on the shelf….
An important ramification of all
this is as follows: By the middle of the second century, when canon
conscientiousness was on the rise, the Christian community regarded the autographs,
or at least the earliest copies of the New Testament documents, as important
witnesses. They were concerned about the purity of the text with regard to
select textual variants. Most likely, this implies that the copying of the
manuscripts in the early decades of the Christian faith was not that of
strictly linear descent (one copy of another copy of another copy). Rather,
there would be times when at least a few scribes would want to check behind
their exemplar and look at its exemplar. This would especially occur whenever a
disputed reading cropped up. So, there seems to have been a bit of a check on
the quality of the transmission of the text from very early on.