Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Questions Christians Hope No One Will Ask

“Postmodernism has made apologetics irrelevant.” I have read statements to this effect from various sources. The idea is that since the culture has largely imbibed the postmodern denial of absolutes, Christianity therefore cannot be defended; it must be demonstrated. While this may sound plausible on the surface, there are problems with this kind of thinking.

First, it is not clear how postmodern thinking has trickled down to street level. Certainly, in academia there can be found those who read their political correctness agendas into classical literary works and who revise history to give voice to the oppressed. It is likewise the case that judges and legislators adopt a type of postmodernism when they see the Constitution as fluid, not fixed. But the extent to which this kind of thinking has been embraced by our neighbors and coworkers is debatable.

Second, regardless of the prevailing culture, Scripture counsels us to always be “prepared to make a defense (apologia) to anyone who asks for you a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Pet. 3:15). The assumption seems to be that there will always be those who ask Christians “what” or “why.” Mark Mittelberg has produced a useable resource to help believers answer those questions. The book is The Questions Christians Hope No One Will Ask.

The title shows something of the dilemma. Unbelievers often ask difficult questions that many Christians are unable to answer. In 306 pages of text (excluding endnotes and resources), Mittelberg has prepared a manual that will help one find the Bible’s teaching on some of these difficult topics. In addition to showing how Scripture addresses an issue, Mittelberg will give insight on how to best articulate and frame the response.

Do not imagine that The Questions Christians Hope No One Will Ask is a catalogue of Bible verses listed by topic. The author distills the Biblical teaching and calls science, politics and logic to witness to the truth expounded in the Bible. At the end of the book is a list of resources for further study. The aim is to point the Christian to every resource necessary to make a reasoned defense of his or her faith.

Apologetics is not dead. Christians will be asked hard questions. This book will help to provide solid answers.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Tyndale Publications as part of their Blogger Review Program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commision's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

The Ten Commandments

There has been some buzz about the rerelease of the Cecil B. DeMille classic “The Ten Commandments.” It has been restored to DVD and will be released on BluRay. What a great movie! Who would not want to see tough guy Edward G. Robinson as Dathan, complete in Egyptian headdress? (Does anyone remember the 1973 sci-fi movie that reunited Charlton Heston and Edward G. Robinson?).

It wasn’t too long ago that Christians were protesting the removal of the Ten Commandments from the Alabama Supreme Courthouse. The commandments gained renewed popularity after being the target of the “secular and liberal elite.” It seems that we Christians (or conservatives or card-carrying members of the religious right and now TEA party activists) are always on the prowl for a cause to defend. Do not misunderstand. I do not suggest that people of faith roll over and play dead as the culture “slouches more and more toward Gomorrah” (to paraphrase Robert Bork’s great title), but we better be equipped to engage the battle intelligently.

Regarding the Ten Commandments, many modern Christians gave little thought to them until them became a cause celebre. Stop reading this and take this little test: grab a paper and pencil and see how many of the Ten Commandments you can list (insert Jeopardy theme music here). If you are not able to list all ten, you are probably like many, if not most, evangelical Christians. We have relegated the Ten Commandments to a bygone era that has little relevance to the modern age. Some have even claimed that since we are under grace, then the law – as represented by these rules – has no meaning to us.

This is a strange paradox: defending principles that many cannot articulate and some consider unimportant. However, the Scripture teaches that there is a “lawful use of the law” and our neglect of this has contributed to the cultural problem. Books and sermons produced by smarter people than I have expounded the proper use of the law. For the sake of brevity, I will point to one aspect. The moral law of God, the Ten Commandments, exposes the moral bankruptcy of our culture and shows sin as being the transgression of God’s law.

Of course, we “get” the first table of the law: no other Gods, no images, not taking the Lord’s name in vain, and the Sabbath day observance (with its attendant controversy). Most of us would claim that we are guiltless concerning these – although idols and images are not merely statues of stone. They may be concepts that stand opposed to God; they may be people who usurp our loyalty to God; they may even have wheels, account numbers, or 160 channels.

The second table of the law is where the transgression is closer to where we live. Honor father and mother – a direct indictment on modern family dynamics where Homer Simpson is the quintessential father. Do not steal – at least the Bible honors the private ownership of property (take heed, socialists). Do not commit adultery – how does this square with a culture that has invented the concept of “serial monogamy” and “starter marriages.” Do not murder – unless of course he or she had it coming, or was old and wasting resources, or lived in the womb of someone who planned to terminate the pregnancy. Do not covet – if we followed this, how would General Motors, Ford or Chrysler ever sell a new car (something to consider, capitalists)? And of course, if we took seriously the bearing false witness business, what would that do to contract law?

Let’s be honest. Many in our churches today care little about the Ten Commandments. It may be the stuff of a classic movie, but that’s about all. It has become cliché, but it is true that we see them more as the “Ten Suggestions.” If we really took this seriously, the results would be life altering – much too uncomfortable for us to bother about.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Keep Your Greek

It has been nearly 40 years since my 2 years of Greek in Bible College (this sentence alone makes me realize how much I’ve squandered). It was a strange paradox: 2 years of Greek were required for my major, but there were subtle undercurrents that lead us to believe that it was not really relevant to “red hot, evangelistic preaching.” And since the world was going to hell with unprecedented rapidity (it was the early 70’s, after all), there was no time to waste in seminary. Souls needed saving and God needed us on the front lines. Needless to say, Greek was something I had to do, but not something I relished. I purposely steered clear of the difficult instructors (who may have actually taught me something) and found the easier ones that would help me land a decent grade.

It wasn’t until sometime later that I came to myself and realized the importance of the Biblical languages and adequate preparation for a lifetime of study and exposition. If I had it to do over again, I would be proficient in Latin, Greek, Hebrew, and German. But then I would probably be living alone surviving on a diet of Hot Pockets and Froot Loops.

If you need help or motivation to rediscover New Testament Greek, The Minister and His Greek New Testament by A.T. Robertson will motivate you to make Greek a daily part of your ministerial life. Keep Your Greek by Constantine Campbell will give you practical tools that will help you keep what Greek you have learned and recover part of what you have forgotten. This little book is a great help for those of us who remember just enough Greek to get into serious trouble. The road back is often steeper than it was the first time, but Campbell can help – after all, “it’s the climb” (I know, fewer things are more pitiful than an old guy quoting Miley Cyrus – in fact, anyone quoting Miley Cyrus is pitiful. Chalk it up to a pathetic attempt at being cool).

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Zondervan as part of their Keep Your Greek blog tour. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

Saturday, March 5, 2011

The King James Bible

Arguably the most significant literary work in the English language celebrates its 4ooth anniversary in 2011. Of course, I refer to the publication of the King James Version of the Bible. It has influenced our language in ways that many do not realize. It may surprise some to realize that this Bible translation is responsible for phrases still used today: “skin of your teeth,” “apple of my eye;” “cast the first stone,” and a “two- edged sword,” among many others.

It is unfortunate that the anniversary of this great translation is not given the accord that it is due, at least among some of my evangelical brethren. I recall last year that significant celebration went into the recognition of Calvin’s 500th birthday. Many of us read through his Institutes together and enjoyed numerous articles and blog posts examining his contribution to systematic theology. I do not see the same level of celebration for the KJV.

I think that part of the reason for this is that this great translation has become a polarizing factor in some parts of the Christian world. On the one side stand the “King James Only” adherents who cast all manner of scorn and abuse on any translation of the Bible that is not KJV. For many of them, the KJV is the only trustworthy Bible in existence today. All subsequent attempts at translation derive from flawed documents wielded by unspiritual men who have an insidious agenda: dilute, distort, and destroy the pure Word of God.

On the other side stand the champions of modern language translations. They promote versions that are known by an almost endless list of initials: RSV, NRSV, ASV, NASV, NASB, NAS, NCV, LB, NLT, NKJV, ESV, TCV, NIV, TNIV, MESS, HCSB; and I think I am omitting some. Some of these new translation zealots take a condescending tone toward those who still prefer the KJV. To them, anyone still reading from the KJV is a hayseed that needs to be enlightened for his own good. It is almost a Gnostic attitude.

Thus, in the words of Buffalo Springfield on their debut album that I was not permitted to play in my dorm room in the fundamentalist college I attended, “The battle line’s being drawn. Nobody’s right if everybody’s wrong.” It’s like saying something good about Richard Nixon because he brought an end to the Vietnam conflict and opened China to US trade – but he was still Richard Nixon.

Let’s not let this infighting prevent us from paying homage to a great translation of the Bible. Yes, it is a great translation in many ways. I may have more to say later.