Thursday, September 27, 2007

Apologetics Study Bible released

I'm not a fan of long blog posts... but this is a review that needed a little space, so please forgive me.

Given that I'm doing apologetics on the 'front-lines' every week through speaking, answer questions, writing books, and replying emails to the hottest issues of the day, the release of this Apologetics Study Bible was of keen interest to me. I wondered how they would tackle some of the objections I face on the street and with my own every growing list of questions.

Late yesterday afternoon, UPS delivered my pre-ordered Apologetics Study Bible from Amazon. This work has been many years in the making, having heard about it from J. P. Moreland while sitting in his class on consciousness. Moreland is one of the editors of the work. So is another friend of mine and former colleague, Paul Copan.

This Apologetics Study Bible is how theologians and philosophers defend the evangelical faith. It does not represent how thoughtful creatives, artists, or those in the humanities defend the faith. So expect from this work what it is offering. It doesn't follow the tradition of G. K. Chesterton or C. S. Lewis as it does Francis Schaeffer and Alvin Plantinga.

I've been thumbing all over the book since I received it--last night and this morning. I am pleased with the many notes and the honest evangelical scholarship throughout the work. And the articles highlighting various questions, helps the reader at least begin to think about some of the weightier questions people are facing today. For brevity, many of the articles hit the nerve of the controversy and the short answer to the question.

Most of the scholars in this book are professors and researchers and some of the best in their field on these particular topics. I would have liked to see some Anglicans, Roman Catholics, Orthodox and the like to also get a little representation-- like N.T. Wright). I would also have liked to see more women apologists represented, like Eleanor Stump and Nancy Pearcey. The names that are used to market the book like Colson, Zacharias, and Strobel have very little input in these pages. I would have like to seen a little more information and perspective of reaching some of the existential issues as well as practical ways to articulate. So much of my own work at Soulation is translating those abstract arguments into tangle ideas for the common-person to feed on. And my own work is to breath the life of metaphor and meaning into it.

There is only one article on the Trinity that I can find. This article by Douglas Blount (Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary) spells out how God can be three in one sense and one in another. After spelling this out (a bit unsatisfactory) there is no indication that I can find (yet) in the bible of the great significances of the Trinity... as an answer to deeper problems that every other religion in the world falters on.

My alma mater, Talbot School of Theology, is very well represented in these pages, including every philosopher I studied under while at Talbot.

J. P. Moreland has over 10 articles. Doug Geivett has one on religious experience. Garry DeWeese has one on knowledge. Scott Rae has three on ethical issues, including business and homosexuality.

Talbot's Dave Horner has an article on beauty which gives an ontological look at beauty, though I would have liked to see an entry as well on the role of imagination and metaphor as truth teller. (Yet evangelicals are not as good at that.)

There are many other familiar names in this volume: Arnold, Bock, Copan, Habermas, Craig, Dembski, Feinberg, Finley, Geisler, Groothuis, Hazen, Hultberg, Ware, and others.

The "scripture twisting" sections found in the text are especially helpful to show how aberrant versions of "Christianity" use those verses to mean things contrary to historical or exegetical thought.

Again, this study bible is an apologetic engagement from the conservative evangelical side, much of which is represented by the Baptist point of view. And within that, they have done a fair job balancing some views that are sometimes polarizing in evangelical discussions. Their discussion of origins (youth earth vs. old earth) is short but presents the major arguments of each, concluding that there has been too much heat in the debate and that both sides should continue to seek out evidence.

Their discussion on sovereignty vs. free will was also well played, with Bill Craig weighing in on Molinism and Bruce Ware showing well the tension but evidence for sovereignty and free will in Scripture.

These issues, once hotly debated in evangelicalism, has found some common ground and are moving forward with honest dialog.

Not as much can be said about the way gender is viewed in this study bible. And this is something I want to highlight.

This is an area of real apologetic need. And if the strong patriarchical view is what God is really teaching us, there must be a better way to reconcile it with sound philosophy. We need a better presentation on what God thinks about gender, theologically and philosophically (I haven't found any philosophers on gender represented in this work--Rebecca Groothius would have been a good choice). In fact, in reading the Bible alone with historical background I would not reach the forced conclusions some of the commentary this book pushes. Based on the evidence below, I would have either treated this issue more fairly or left it altogether out of the study Bible. As it is, it is an ugly mark against it, especially in light of today's evangelical scholarship.

One article, "Does the Bible Demean Women?" by Sharon James (author, pastor's wife) tows the typical hard patriarchal line that doesn't even hit on a lot of modern scholarship or arguments dealing with the equality of women. In the article, she eternally subordinates the Trinity to justify her position (a heresy in the early church) and even concludes that the roles of man are 'provider and protector' and the roles of a woman are 'nurturer and carer' (a stereo-type that ties down both genders). Ironically, her article falls in the book of Esther where the queen is playing the role of 'provider and protector.' For a good treatment on how femininity is unfairly boxed in with romanticism or stereo-types, see "Femininity Beyond Fairy Tales" in Jonalyn Grace Fincher's Ruby Slippers: How the Soul of a Woman Brings Her Home.

"Is God Male?" by Chad Owen Brand (The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) continues with gender misconceptions. If God is masculine as his article implies, then that really does rule out that femininity is made in the image of Go--a category he doesn't want to deny but gives no room for it. He says the Holy Spirit is neuter gender in the Greek but with male pronouns, but he avoids that the Holy Spirit is feminine in the Hebrew. Then he caps off his article by saying that seeing God as only a Father and Jesus as only a Husband is the key to life transformation--leaving no room for how potentially homosexual that sounds for a man to think of Jesus as his husband. Again, this really is a gross misconception of the work being done in the area. It is not even a good apologetic!

Some of the verse-by-verse commentary says that the Bible is clear that men and women are equal, etc., yet this view was only formulated in the late 1970s by the patriarchalists which did not find it "clear" prior to that. Beware of cultural moves in gender that say the Bible is 'clear' on some of these issues. Most of the time it isn't clear and requires good scholars and research to find the clarity.

Both of these entries pay lip-service to the equality of women but do not give good grounds of it. They say men and women were made in God's image, but even the translation they use, Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB), says God created 'man' in his image. They use the masculine word even though the Hebrew word can be used for humans--male and female--not just males.

I appreciate many things about the Apologetics Study Bible. If the editors could have seen that the gender issue is like the creation issue (a non-essential issue), they would have made a better study bible. Seeing that the general editor of this study Bible is part of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (like Chad Owen Brand) and that the HCSB version (like the ESV) were translated with a gender agenda in mind that skews gender in some texts to maintain modern-day partriarchialist views, I am not surprised to see the bias on the gender debate.

But I expect better things from scholars.

Here's is evidence to me of gender agenda taking precedence over apologetics: I wanted to see what the editors would say about 1 Peter 3:6.

It says in the verse that Sarah called Abraham, "Lord." This particular phrase is not Peter's quoting from Genesis, where the story of Abraham is found. Rather, it is Peter quoting from a Jewish source contemporary to him that is not part of the Scripture.

This particular verse has come up in my apologetic conversations. In the notes in the Apologetics Study Bible they do not mention this apologetic issue, rather they immediately go to the gender debate, about subordination in the Trinity and the subjection of women to men. I perceive it is because of their focus is so pitted on the gender debate, they overlooked the more important apologetic issue in this particular verse.

To the editors' credit they do note in Eph 5 that Paul commands mutual submission of the sexes, but this doesn't inform the special articles written by James or Brand nor does it inform the commentary on 1 Timothy 2:11-15 (which is, in my opinion, abominable). Even some patriarchalists are conceding there was mutual ruling in the Garden of Eden. For an apologetics book, this contradiction between Eph 5 commentary and 1 Tim 2 commentary should have been more clearly dealt with.

I just wish a poor treatment of gender didn't show up in a work that offers so many other valuable insights and resources.

In the back of the study Bible are timelines and charts of major apologists throughout the ages. This is good for the reader to see the tradition, learn new names, and, consequently, pick up some new titles.

Overall, I think this Apologetics Study Bible an excellent resource. But it lacks in the area of gender, imagination, and existential engagement. Someone reading this may perceive that all apologetics is academic and find it irrelevant to their daily life and neighbors. While so much of cerebral apologetics depends on research in the academy, a lot of work still depends on the thoughtful creative to translate truth into a truth and goodness full of beauty and everyday life.

If you are new to apologetics, this study Bible will help get you started. Even better, my book, Living with Questions, covers a lot of the major first questions in our culture and it's easier to walk through.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Living with Questions in practice (Visa Ad)

In question one--"Does What I Think Really Matter?"--of Living with Questions, I explain the endless diversions we have in the Wild that keep us from searching for Home. These diversions often silence our most important questions.

In the list of questions to explore at the end of the chapter, one of them reads:

Hunt for Jedi Mind Tricks. Watch your favorite TV show. Pay close attention to the commercials. Whom are they trying to convince? What are advertisers trying to get you to believe?

Today, a reader of Living with Questions came across this magazine advertisement and he immediately thought of chapter one and sent me the following from Visa (click pic to enlarge):

Notice what is in the picture. It's the New York City skyline redrawn in endless electronics. And many of those electronics are for music (a diversion I cover in chaper 1 as well).

Note what is written in the bottom left.

What belief is this advertisement pushing? The Jedi Mind Trick is that electronics are 'essential' for 'modern living.' So if you don't have them, you aren't 'modern.' And, 'modern' is another way of saying 'up-to-date' or 'with-the-times' or 'relevant.'

To compound the ad, Visa isn't selling you electronics. They are selling you a loan at a high interest rate. So the 'essentials' to being 'modern' are within reach and Visa dupes the reader (especially the lower-income reader who needs loans to have such 'essentials') as it takes your money to the bank.

The truth is most electronics are not 'essential.' Food is 'essential.' Love is 'essential.' Electronics are not 'essential.' They are mere luxuries that often divert us from real life and the things that matter.

And 'modern living' is an illusion. We're still the same kind of humans that existed 5,000 years ago. The only thing modern is our technology. But our souls still need the same answers they needed in the ancient days.

Will we be tricked into ignoring we're connected to a larger story?

The diversions are endless in the Wild. Keep an eye out for them on your journey Home.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Lost Words: Sin - Beyond Commands

In this issue of fledge, we approach the word 'sin' and what it means:

fledge | v2, i10

In the last fledge, I wrote about a boy that missed the important thing because he was distracted the lesser thing. And oftentimes, the more important thing is how we use such meaningful and intentional words like sin, faith, and love. In this fledge, I will begin to unpack the meaning of 'sin.'

Standing before a couple hundred teens in New England, I asked them to define "sin" for me. A rumble moved over the audience, several shouted out answers, and then one blurted, "Anything we think, do, or say that displeases God." Everyone nodded, excited that someone finally got the right answer articulated for everyone.

I paused. "You've told me what sin does, but you still haven't told me what sin is."

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Living with Questions in The Christian Post

Softer Approach to Apologetics in a Not-So-Postmodern Culture
by Nathan Black

Sometimes, giving pat answers to some of the most common apologetic questions students ask isn't satisfying.

"What is truth?" and "How can we know Christianity is the true religion?" are two questions that Dale Fincher, author of the newly released Living with Questions, frequently comes across in his ministry career.

Fincher is offering students a softer approach to apologetics, a reading that doesn't sound academic and that's more accessible to younger Christians and those seeking answers about Christianity.

"I really sensed there was this world out there that needed to wrestle with these questions and get honest with themselves [about] them," he said...