Posts tagged ‘Religion’

We’ve Only Just Begun

Empty Tomb 1As a kid, I remember a song my mom used to play from the 70’s by the Carpenters called  “We’ve Only Just Begun.”  The song is about a couple’s wedding day and imagines all the things still to come in their relationship.  “We’ve only just begun to live,” the song muses.

The message of this golden oldie is a message I often share with the soon-to-be-wedded couples I counsel.  “The wedding day is a big day,” I will say, “but it is only one day.  Don’t just plan for your wedding day.  Plan for all the days that come after your wedding day.  After all, when you walk down that aisle and make your vows, you’ve only just begun.”

Yesterday, we celebrated the resurrection of Christ.  The apostle Paul summarizes Christ’s resurrection thusly:

For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures. (1 Corinthians 15:3-4)

For Paul, Christ’s death for our sins and resurrection three days later is “of first importance.”  The Greek word for this phrase is protos, from which we get our word “prototype.”  A prototype, of course, is a first run of a product or procedure meant to be a test for what comes after it.  And this is precisely what Christ’s resurrection is.  For, according to Paul, Christ’s resurrection – glorious as it is – is only the beginning.  Paul explains:

Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. (1 Corinthians 15:20-22)

Paul argues that in Christ’s resurrection on Easter Day, God was doing a test run for our resurrections on the Last Day.  As glorious as Easter is, then, it is only a foretaste of what is to come.  It is only a prototype for the big roll out of resurrection and life that will burst forth at Christ’s return.  God has “only just begun” to raise people from death.  An even bigger Easter is still on its way – an Easter when we will not only shout, “Christ has risen,” but, “We have risen!”

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April 21, 2014 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Not Just Any Old Crucifixion

"Calvary" by Josse Lieferinxe, c. 1500

“Calvary” by Josse Lieferinxe, c. 1500

In the ancient world, crucifixions were a dime a dozen.  Hardly a day passed without one.  Consider these statistics:

  • 519 BC: Darius I, king of Persia, crucifies 3,000 of the leading citizens of Babylon.
  • 332 BC: Alexander the Great crucifies 2,000 people after invading the city of Tyre.
  • 100 BC: Alexander Jannaeus, king of Judea, crucifies 800 Pharisees.
  • 71 BC:  A great uprising of slaves against the Roman Empire, led by the great gladiator Spartacus, leads to the crucifixion of 6,000 of his followers along a stretch of highway from Capua to Rome, totaling 120 miles.
  • 4 BC: Varus, governor of Syria, crucifies 2,000 Jewish rebels who were leading a Messianic revolt.
  • AD 70:  The Roman general Titus sweeps into the city of Jerusalem, sacks it, and begins crucifying 500 people a day he runs out of wood to make crosses.

Crucifixions happened all the time.  In fact, according to one estimate, as many as 30,000 people were crucified just in Israel by Jesus’ day.[1]

This Friday is Good Friday – a day when we commemorate a crucifixion.  But with crucifixions being so commonplace in the ancient world, it’s worth it to ask:  Why do we commemorate one particular crucifixion?  Why don’t we commemorate the many crucifixions of the citizens of Babylon, or of Spartacus’ followers, or of the Jews under Titus’ reign of terror?  Why do we commemorate only one crucifixion – Jesus’ crucifixion?

The Mishnah, an ancient compendium of Jewish rabbinical teaching, explains that if a criminal was condemned to execution, which would have included crucifixion, he was to say, “Let my death be atonement for all of my transgressions.”[2]  The idea was that if a person’s crimes were so heinous that he was deserving of death, only death could save him from those crimes.  Crucifixion, then, was connected not only to punitive punishment, but also to personal atonement.

Jesus’ crucifixion, however, was different.  Rather than making recompense for His own sins by His death, Jesus asks for forgiveness for others’ sins:  “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).  And rather than seeking atonement for Himself by His execution, the apostle John says Jesus makes atonement for the world:  “[Christ] is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:2).

This is why we commemorate Jesus’ crucifixion.  For we remember not only that Jesus was crucified, but why Jesus was crucified.  He was crucified not for His own sins, but for ours.  Jesus’ crucifixion did what no other crucifixion could do.  It saved us.  And that’s worth remembering…and celebrating.  And that’s why this Friday is not just any Friday, but a Good Friday.

______________________________

[1] John MacArthur, The MacArthur New Testament Commentary:  Matthew 24-28 (Chicago:  The Moody Bible Institute, 1989), Matthew 27:27-37.

[2] m. Sanhedrin 6.2.

April 14, 2014 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Christian Persecution Under the Stars and Stripes

Cross 9Are rabid secularists persecuting Christians in the United States?  This is the question Robert Boston of Salon takes up.  His answer is an unambiguous and unapologetic “no way.”  He opens his article in an almost combative tenor:

Certain words should not be tossed around lightly. Persecution is one of those words.

Religious right leaders and their followers often claim that they are being persecuted in the United States. They should watch their words carefully. Their claims are offensive; they don’t know the first thing about persecution.

One doesn’t have to look far to find examples of real religious persecution in the world. In some countries, people can be imprisoned, beaten, or even killed because of what they believe. Certain religious groups are illegal and denied the right to meet. This is real persecution. By contrast, being offended because a clerk in a discount store said “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas” pales. Only the most confused mind would equate the two.[1]

Boston goes on to rehearse a litany of privileges that religious institutions enjoy in our society along with some examples of what he considers to be true religious persecution:

Go to Saudi Arabia, where it’s illegal to even open a Christian church, and experience the fear of those Christian believers who dare to worship in private homes, aware that at any moment they may be imprisoned.

Visit North Korea, where all religions have been swept away and replaced with a bizarre form of worship of the state and its leader that purports to promote self-reliance but, in reality, merely serves as a vehicle for oppression.

Visit any region under the control of the Taliban, a movement so extreme that, in Afghanistan, they trashed that nation’s cultural heritage by blowing up two sixth-century statutes of Buddha because they were declared false idols by religious leaders who are intolerant of any other faith but Islam.

There is real religious persecution in the world.  Right-wing Christians in America aren’t experiencing it.

On the one hand, there are some things to affirm in Boston’s article.  First, I agree that it is awfully tough to make the leap from someone wishing a Christian “Happy Holidays” rather than “Merry Christmas” to religious persecution.  That is not only a questionable example of persecution, but a silly one.  Second, I wholeheartedly and unequivocally affirm that compared to what Christians are experiencing in other countries, Christians who live “in the land of the free and the home of the brave” have it great.  There is no reason – ever – for Christians in this country to compare themselves to Christians who are, let’s say, awaiting execution in North Korea.[2]

But…

There’s always a “but,” isn’t there?

For all of Boston’s bravado about how Christians in the States are not persecuted, I’m not sure he really understands Christianity or persecution.

Boston rails against what he calls “right-wing Christians” and “religious conservatives.”  Just in case we’re unclear as to what he means, headlining his piece is a picture of Glenn Beck, Phil Robertson, and Michelle Bachmann.  His implicit message seems to be that those who claim that Christian persecution is taking place in the States are nothing more than puppets and parrots of conservative political groups.  But this is not fair to the breadth or the depth of Christianity.  Christian theology is much better defined in terms of “orthodoxy” and “heresy” rather than in terms of “liberalism” and “conservatism.”  After all, Christianity is much more concerned with the right teaching of divine truths than with a particular 21st century political ideology.  This is why there are Christians who are Republicans and Democrats.  No earthly political party can claim a monopoly on the Kingdom of God.

Second, though I understand Boston’s concern with Christians who brandish about the word “persecution” carelessly, I can’t help but suspect that he is guilty of precisely that which he rails against in his article.  I find it strange that while writing about Christian persecution, Boston never pauses to consider what Christ has to say on the subject!  So let’s do it ourselves.  Jesus says, “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me” (Matthew 5:11).  Notice that Jesus here explains persecution in terms of words rather than actions.  Jesus says that people will both insult and tells lies about His followers.  There can be little doubt that this does indeed happen – even in the United States.  And this, Jesus says, is part of persecution.  Thus, Boston’s stipulations on what qualifies as Christian persecution are far too restrictive – at least according to Christ.

I am aware there is quite a gap between the definition of persecution theologically and the definition of persecution popularly.  It is dangerous to throw out a word like “persecution” without any sort of background on how this word is used biblically and theologically.  Hopefully, the dust up during the Romney campaign over whether or not Mormonism is a cult taught us that not all people define all words the same way.[3]  Thus, if we’re going to apply the word “persecution” to anything that happens to Christians in the States, we need to explain what we mean.

Whatever you may think does or does not qualify as persecution, what is most important is how Christians respond to those who are against them.  Boston says Christians have reacted to that which they perceive to be persecution with “so much carping.”  This, I agree, is tragic.  When Christians are persecuted, our response should not be one of carping, whining, or fretting.  After all, according to Jesus’ Beatitudes, when we are persecuted, we are not victimized, but “blessed.”  This is why, when the apostles experience physical persecution at the hands of the Sanhedrin, they leave “rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name” (Acts 5:41).

I like what Robert Morgan of the Huffington Post says about Christian persecution:

The Bible anticipated [persecution] years ago. The founder of Christianity, after all, was tortured to death and His original 12 followers were all persecuted; most were slain. Though His message was a Gospel of peace, His critics nailed Him to a cross but failed to keep Him in the tomb. They hated Him but could not contain Him. They sought to limit His influence, but they only broadened His impact.[4]

Ultimately, no matter how badly Christianity may be persecuted, threatened, belittled, cajoled, and legislatively restricted, it just won’t die.  Why?  Because its Founder lives.


[1] Robert Boston, “The ultimate guide to debunking right-wingers’ insane persecution fantasies,” Salon (3.16.2014).

[2] Cheryl Chumley, “Kim Jong-un calls for execution of 33 Christians,” Washington Times (3.6.2014).

[3] Richard Oppel & Erik Eckholm, “Prominent Pastor Calls Romney’s Church a Cult,” New York Times (10.7.2011).

[4] Robert Morgan, “The World’s War on Christianity,” Huffington Post (1.14.2014).

March 24, 2014 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Unreal Sales for Real Marriage

Real MarriageIt seems as though the New York Times bestseller list just isn’t what it used to be.  In an article for the Los Angeles Times, Carolyn Kellogg writes about the saga of a recent book that became a New York Times bestseller not because lots of people were buying it, but because a company called ResultSource was buying thousands of copies of the book with the express intent of turning it into a bestseller.  Kellogg begins by citing from World magazine, the news outlet that broke the story:

“The contract called for the ‘author’ to ‘provide a minimum of 6,000 names and addresses for the individual orders and at least 90 names and address [sic] for the remaining 5,000 bulk orders. Please note that it is important that the makeup of the 6,000 individual orders include at least 1,000 different addresses with no more than 350 per state.’”

Measures like these are designed to game the systems set in place by BookScan and other book sales talliers to protect the integrity of their bestseller lists …

After getting thousands of names with geographic diversity, RSI took another step to place [the book] on bestseller lists, according to the World article. The agreement specifies, “RSI will use its own payment systems (ex. gift cards to ensure flawless reporting). Note: The largest obstacle to the reporting system is the tracking of credit cards. RSI uses over 1,000 different payment types (credit cards, gift cards, etc).”[1]

Wow.  That sure sounds shady.

Did I mention the book in question is Real Marriage, written by famous mega-church pastor Mark Driscoll?  And did I mention his church, Mars Hill in Seattle, shelled out, according to some reports, over $200,000 to get his book to the top of the New York Times bestseller list?

In many ways, Mark Driscoll and I are kindred spirits.  We share many of the same theological commitments.  When it comes to preaching, we both believe a good sermon must not primarily be about what we are to do, but about what God has done for us in Jesus Christ.  When it comes to Scriptural authority, both of us hold doggedly to the doctrine of inerrancy, even though some voices are seeking to discredit it these days.  When it comes to salvation, we both believe that, contrary to our society’s pluralistic ethos, salvation is found in no one but Christ.  We share a lot in common.  But for all our theological similarities, what happened with Real Marriage represents a weighty ethical difference.

I know sales number shenanigans are not at all unusual in the publishing world.  Authors do this kind of thing all the time.  Sarah Cunningham of the Huffington Post explains that Real Marriage’s marketing strategy is only a symptom of a systemic disease:

This book launch strategy … wasn’t shocking to anyone who has been involved in the publishing industry … There have always been ways to underwrite the success of authors in any field, religious or not, when the efforts were attached to a deep enough bank account.  Don’t doubt for a second, then, that some of Mark’s … counterparts haven’t done (or tried to do) the same.[2]

According to Cunningham, when it comes to cooking sales numbers, “everybody’s doing it.”  But this go-to teenage quip is a sorry justification for what is a seriously unethical practice.

When I visited ResultSource’s website, I found it curious that although they made all sorts of promises that they can get a book onto the New York Times bestseller list, they didn’t give a clear explanation of how they can get a book onto the New York Times bestseller list.  Here’s a sampling of what their website boasts:

We partner with authors to create and tap an audience – to connect the potential buyers of your book directly with the bookseller to leverage your launch potential.  Our goal is to reach further than just typical launch management – our deep relationships enable us to create opportunities outside of what’s expected, to gain substantial traction within the critical “first 90 days” of your launch – or booksellers will send your book back to the publisher.

RSI can:

Leverage our relationships with individuals in “Seven Channels of Influence” to promote your book.  Research shows that people are influenced by multiple touch-points – and that our buying decisions are driven by as many as seven channels within our culture.

Send email promotions to as many as 300,000 book buyers on our proprietary database of business and self-help book buyers.

Write and design electronic promotions such as banners, excerpts, and Q&As.

Build a powerful merchandising program with key retailers like airport booksellers, Amazon, B&N (Brick-n-Mortar and BN.com), Borders, Books-A-Million and independent outlets.  The key to a winning book launch campaign is to have copies of your book in prominent positions at as many retailers as possible – and then drive sell through.[3]

Now, besides being a little leery of any company that makes selling a book through Borders (NYSE: BGP $0.00 +0.00%) a featured component of their marketing strategy, I am also deeply unsettled by the ambiguity of their claims.  I honestly have no idea what they’re talking about.  What are the “Seven Channels of Influence”?  What, exactly, does it mean to “build a powerful merchandising program with key retailers”?  And why don’t they mention that their primary strategy to drive sales is for this company to buy thousands of copies of a particular book in a way that dupes bestseller lists into believing thousands of people are buying the book?  If a company can’t talk openly and honestly about the services they offer, perhaps they shouldn’t be offering them.

Ultimately, I point out what happened with Real Marriage not to pick on Mark Driscoll, but because this scandal is indicative of a wider, toxic pattern that needs to be addressed.  In this particular instance, I appreciate how the Board of Advisors and Accountability at Mars Hill has responded to this controversy, writing, “While not uncommon or illegal, this unwise strategy is not one we had used before or since, and not one we will use again.”[4]  I am glad to hear that.  I hope others follow suit.

From a theological perspective, Driscoll pinpoints the root of the problem in this whole saga in another one of his books when he writes, “This world’s fundamental problem is that we don’t understand who we truly are – children of God made in His image – and instead define ourselves by any number of things other than Jesus.”[5]

I couldn’t agree more.  If the prestige of being a New York Times bestselling author is so bewitching that a whole company can be created to help authors pay their way onto this list, something is terribly and tragically awry.  We are defining ourselves by all the wrong things.

Regardless of whether or not Mark Driscoll actually is a bestselling author, he is a child of God.  So am I.  And that’s good enough.  Because, in the end, that’s what really matters.


[1] Carolyn Kellogg, “Can bestseller lists be bought?Los Angeles Times (3.6.2014).

[2] Sarah Cunningham, “The Injustice of Silence: Why Our Culture Pulled Mark Driscoll Over For a Broken Headlight,” Huffington Post (3.6.2014).

[3] ResultSource.com, “Book Launch Campaigns.”

[4] “A Note From Our Board of Advisors & Accountability,” Mars Hill Church (3.7.2014).

[5] Mark Driscoll, Who Do You Think You Are? Finding Your True Identity In Christ (Nashville, Thomas Nelson, 2013), 2.

March 17, 2014 at 5:15 am 1 comment

S.B. 1062

Credit:  LA Times

Credit: LA Times

A funny thing happened on my way back from a recent trip I took to Arizona.  The state became embroiled in a heated political battle over Senate Bill 1062.[1]  Okay, it may not have been funny.  But these kinds of battles are common.

According to some, S.B. 1062 championed religious liberty, allowing business owners with religious convictions to deny service to a party if the business owner felt that serving that party would substantially burden or contradict his religious convictions.  According to others, S.B. 1062 violated the civil rights of homosexuals by formally and legally legitimatizing discrimination against them.

Last Wednesday, Governor Jan Brewer vetoed the bill, explaining, “I have not heard of one example in Arizona where business owners’ religious liberty has been violated … The bill is broadly worded and could result in unintended and negative consequences.”[2]  Of course, the political pressure on Governor Brewer was hot:

Companies such as Apple Inc. and American Airlines, and politicians including GOP Sen. John McCain and former Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney were among those who urged Brewer to veto the legislation. The Arizona Super Bowl Host Committee, which is overseeing preparations for the 2015 game, came out with a statement against the legislation. The Hispanic National Bar Association on Wednesday said it canceled its 2015 convention in Phoenix over the measure.[3]

In observing the volley between supporters and detractors of this bill, two things strike me.

First, homosexuality – and, specifically, gay rights – is not only a hot topic in our society, it is the hot topic in our society.  Interestingly, nowhere does S.B. 1062 mention homosexuality.  It simply speaks of “the free exercise of religion.”  Yet, USA Today reported on Governor Brewer’s veto of the bill with this headline:  “Arizona governor vetoes anti-gay bill.”[4]  These days, how a piece of legislation will affect the gay community is the litmus test as to whether or not a bill can or should pass, even if that bill does not specifically mention the gay community.  Gay rights, then, are front and center.  They are the battleground du jour of our society.

Second, there are a lot of homosexuals who deeply despise Christians with orthodox beliefs concerning the sinfulness of homosexual activity and will go to great – and even duplicitous – lengths to paint Christians as homophobic bigots.  Stories abound of people who have concocted heinous hate crimes against themselves.  Take, for instance, the lesbian couple that spray-painted their own garage with the message “Kill the gay.”[5]  Or how about the Tennessee man who falsely claimed that three men beat him and robbed his store in an anti-gay attack?[6]  Then, of course, there was the famed incident of the waitress who falsely claimed she was stiffed on a tip because she was a lesbian.[7]  Personally, I don’t want to think of anyone in the homosexual community as my enemy.  Life is too short to keep an enemies’ list.  But I am not so naïve as to believe that there aren’t some in the homosexual community who think of me as their enemy.

So what am I to do?

Jesus’ admonition to pray for those who are on the outs with you (cf. Matthew 5:44) seems to be especially apropos for a time such as this.  To this end, I would invite you to join me in praying for three things as the culture war over sexual rights continues to rage.

First, pray for forgiveness.  Though it is painful to admit, it was not too long ago that it was exponentially more likely for a message like “Kill the gay” to be spray painted not by someone self-imposing a hate crime, but by someone committing one.  And sometimes, that someone was even a self-professed Christian.  This, of course, directly defies a myriad of biblical commandments concerning our conduct as Christians.  Our call to tell the truth about sin must never be a license to commit sin – especially the sin of hate.  We need forgiveness for our missteps – which are plenty – in this debate.

Second, pray for understanding.  I want to be understood.  I want people to understand and believe that I am not a homophobic hate monger who wants to oppress, humiliate, and exile those who do not share my same faith and ethical commitments.  But if I want this for myself, it is only fair that I afford the same courtesy to others.  Martin Luther summarized the Eighth Commandment by saying that, when dealing with our neighbors, we should “put the best construction on everything.”[8]  I can think of no better way to respond to those who put the worst construction on Christians’ intentions than by putting the best construction on theirs.  Generous understanding offers our greatest hope for peace in the midst of a hotly contested and, sadly, dirtily fought culture war.

Third, pray that true love would prevail.  The “true” is just as important as the “love” here, for our society has settled for a counterfeit love that reduces love to nothing more than tolerance.  Just the other day, I heard a caller to a radio talk show explain how one of the primary virtues of Christianity is tolerance.  Really?  A quick search of the word “tolerate” in the Bible brings up verses like these:

  • Whoever slanders their neighbor in secret, I will put to silence; whoever has haughty eyes and a proud heart, I will not tolerate. (Psalm 101:5)
  • Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; You cannot tolerate wrongdoing. Why then do You tolerate the treacherous? (Habakkuk 1:13)
  • It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that even pagans do not tolerate: A man is sleeping with his father’s wife. (1 Corinthians 5:1)

Tolerance does not seem to be the high brow Scriptural virtue that some would like to peddle it as.  This is not to say that we shouldn’t live with, work alongside with, and care for people who do not share our same moral commitments.  In this way, we should indeed be tolerant.  But tolerance does not necessarily entail endorsement.

Ultimately, as Christians, we ought to aspire to a much higher value than that of tolerance.  We ought to aspire to love.  “Love,” the apostle Paul reminds us, “does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth” (1 Corinthians 1:6).  To love someone well, we must tell him the truth, even when the truth is unpopular.  This is our calling with all sin – sexual and otherwise.

So these are my prayers.  Now, it’s your turn.  Will you join me in praying the same?


[1] S.B. 1062, 51st Leg., 2nd sess. (Ariz. 2014).

[2] Aaron Blake, “Arizona governor vetoes bill on denying services to gays,” The Washington Post (2.26.2014).

[3] Bob Christie, “Arizona Religious Bill That Angered Gays Vetoed,” ABC News (2.27.2014).

[4] Dan Nowicki, Yvonne Wingett Sanchez and Alia Beard Rau, “Arizona governor vetoes anti-gay bill,” USA Today (2.26.2014).

[5] Alyssa Newcomb, “Lesbian Couple Charged With Staging Hate Crime,” ABC News (2.19.2012).

[6] Chuck Ross, “Report: Man falsified police report in alleged anti-gay attack,” The Daily Caller (12.26.2013).

[7]  Cavan Sieczkowski, “New Jersey Waitress In Anti-Gay Receipt Saga Reportedly Let Go From Job,” The Huffington Post (12.9.2013).

[8] LC 1.8.

March 3, 2014 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

A Camel Controversy

Camels 1And you thought it was it only impossible for a camel to go through the eye of a needle.

As it turns out, threading camels isn’t the only thing that’s impossible according to some archaeologists.  Domesticating them before the tenth century B.C. also turns out to be quite the trick.  Writing for the New York Times, John Noble Wilford provocatively declares, “Camels Had No Business in Genesis.”[1]  Wilford explains:

There are too many camels in the Bible, out of time and out of place.

Camels probably had little or no role in the lives of such early Jewish patriarchs as Abraham, Jacob and Joseph, who lived in the first half of the second millennium B.C., and yet stories about them mention these domesticated pack animals more than 20 times. Genesis 24, for example, tells of Abraham’s servant going by camel on a mission to find a wife for Isaac.

How does Wilford know that camels had no role in the era of the biblical patriarchs?  He cites a study, recently published by two archaeologists from Tel Aviv University, which employed radiocarbon dating to test some camel bones found in the Aravah Valley.  This study found the bones to be from the last third of the tenth century B.C., which, Wilford notes, is “centuries after the patriarchs lived and decades after the kingdom of David, according to the Bible.”  So there you have it.  Thanks to some late breaking bones, Genesis is discredited – at least the parts that talk about camels.

Now, before we fall prey to camel chaos, a few things should be noted.  First, the Tel Aviv archaeologists, by declaring that camels could not have been used in the way Genesis 24 describes them, are making an argument from silence.  Their assumption runs like this:  because we do not have domesticated camel fossils dating before first millennium B.C., there must have been no domesticated camels before the first millennium B.C.  The Bible must be wrong.  But a lack of evidence does not necessitate a lack of existence.  One need to only think back to 1961.  This was the year the “Pilate Stone” was discovered at Caesarea Maritima.  It had an inscription dedicated to the emperor of Rome at the time, Tiberius Caesar:  “To the Divine Augustus Tiberieum:  Pontius Pilate, prefect of Judea has dedicated this.”  Before this stone was discovered, because there was no hard archaeological evidence of Pontius Pilate, many assumed that Pilate was a fictional character, made up out of the sacred authors’ over-active imaginations.  Whoops.  So much for that argument from silence.

It should also be noted that the archaeologists who discovered these bones do not even have complete silence in favor of their argument against camels during the time of the biblical patriarchs.  They only have archaeological silence.  There are extra-biblical references to domesticated camels prior to the first millennium B.C.  Titus Kennedy, adjunct professor at Biola University, notes that a camel is mentioned in a list of domesticated animals from Ugarit, dating anywhere from 1950 to 1600 B.C.  In an interview with Christianity Today, Kennedy explains:

For those who adhere to a twelfth century B.C. or later theory of domestic camel use in the ancient Near East, a great deal of archaeological and textual evidence must be either ignored or explained away …

[Israel] doesn’t have much writing from before the Iron Age, 1000 B.C. … So there aren’t as many sources to look at. Whereas in Egypt, you have writing all the way back to 3000 B.C. and in Mesopotamia the same thing.[2]

Kennedy concludes that there were not only domesticated camels at the time of the biblical patriarchs, but before the time of the biblical patriarchs.  Thus, the biblical record is quite believable.  There is no reason that Abraham could not have acquired “sheep and cattle, male and female donkeys, male and female servants, and camels” (Genesis 12:16), just as Genesis says.

Ultimately, the difficulties with the premature conclusions drawn from this discovery reach much deeper than simply whether camels were around in the second millennium B.C.  These difficulties are summed up in Wilford’s conclusion:

These anachronisms are telling evidence that the Bible was written or edited long after the events it narrates and is not always reliable as verifiable history. These camel stories “do not encapsulate memories from the second millennium,” said Noam Mizrahi, an Israeli biblical scholar, “but should be viewed as back-projections from a much later period.”

In other words, the Bible cannot be trusted to get its facts straight – at least not all of them.  When reading the Bible, then, skepticism must be given preference over faith.

Finally, if I assume camels could not have been in Genesis based on an argument from paleontological silence, it is only reasonable for me to assume that a Savior cannot rise from death based on medical science.  After all, doctors have long known that dead people tend to stay that way.  Thus, Jesus’ resurrection must have never happened.   But if this is true, then my “faith is futile; I am still in my sins … [and] I am to be pitied more than all men” (1 Corinthians 15:17, 19).  Wow, that’s a downer.

Let’s hope the archaeologists are wrong on this one.  After all, I don’t really like to be pitied.


[1] John Noble Wilford, “Camels Had No Business in Genesis,” New York Times (2.10.2014).

[2] Gordon Govier, “The Latest Challenge to the Bible’s Accuracy:  Abraham’s Anachronistic Camels?Christianity Today (February 2014).

February 24, 2014 at 5:15 am 1 comment

Let Freedom Ring…Temperately

Beyonce and Jay Z 1It was Jean-Jacques Rousseau who wrote, “Man was born free, and everywhere he is in chains.”[1]  Of course, Rousseau’s conception of freedom was one where man was free from all restraints, most especially moral and social restraints. Rousseau argued that man’s ideal state is one where he is not reliant on morals or on others.  Reliance on morals and others rather than self-reliance, Rousseau opined, threatens man’s very survival and existence.

Rousseau wrote his words concerning man’s freedom in 1762.  We’ve been trying to decide whether or not he was right ever since.

Case in point:  Beyoncé’s performance at the Grammy’s.  Anand Giridharadas of the New York Times, in an article on her Grammy appearance, characterized Beyoncé like this:  “God-fearing girl from Texas, scantily clad and sexualized vixen, mononymous superstar and feminist icon, the wife who took Jay-Z’s last name, Carter.”[2]  What an interesting combination of characteristics.  She’s a sexualized vixen and a God-fearing girl.  And both were on display in her Grammy performance.  On the one hand, Beyoncé sang a truly blush-worthy and downright raunchy song in an outfit that defied common decency.  On the other hand, she performed with her husband, Jay-Z, as together they extolled the pleasures of sex within marriage.  Extolling the pleasures of sex within marriage is solidly Christian.  Grinding in front of 28.5 million viewers is crass voyeurism.  Marital intimacy is solidly moral and, I would point out, biblically commanded (cf. 1 Corinthians 7:5).  Dropping your bedroom onto a national stage is a Rousseauian dream.

The apostle Paul writes, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1). Rousseau’s freedom was a freedom to sin.  Paul’s freedom was a freedom from sin:  “You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love” (Galatians 5:13).  Rousseau abhorred the notion that man would rely on others.  Paul called Christians to be people on which others could happily rely.

Thomas Jefferson once noted, “It would be a miracle were [people] to stop precisely at temperate liberty.”[3]  Jefferson feared that, left to their own devices, people would all too easily and quickly lapse into “unbounded licentiousness,” running headlong for the unbridled freedom of Rousseau rather than toward the virtuous liberty of Paul.  And this is, sadly, what has happened.

But not completely.

There are still some who understand that true freedom is not so much about the moral bounds you can break, but about the responsibility you can take.  There are still some who understand that freedom is not so much about the selfish hedonism in which you can engage, but about the loving service you can offer.  That’s true freedom.  That’s real freedom.  And, by God’s grace, we can still carry forth in that freedom.  We must carry forth in that freedom.

Anything else is just “a yoke of slavery.”


[1] Jean-Jacques Rousseau, The Social Contract, Christopher Betts, trans. (Oxford:  Oxford University Press, 1994), 45

[2] Anand Giridharadas, “Beyoncé and Jay-Z’s Sultry Dance Makes a Case for Marriage,” New York Times (2.3.2014).

[3] Esther Franklin, Thomas Jefferson: Inquiry History for Daring Delvers (Esther Franklin, 2012).

February 10, 2014 at 5:15 am 1 comment

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