Most Christians tend to take for granted that Jesus was born in Bethlehem but most New Testament scholars think the opposite, that it was an invention of Matthew and Luke to bolster Jesus’ prophetic credentials as the Messiah. New Testament scholar Jonathan Rowland in his paper On Chickens and Eggs: The Use of Old Testament Prophecy in the New Testament Birth Narratives of Jesus makes a scholarly case for why Jesus was born in Bethlehem and why it matters but not exactly for the same reasons as most Christians would suspect. Continue reading “The Case for Jesus’ Birth in Bethlehem”
Have you ever heard the Trinity being described as a community of persons in mutual, voluntary, loving relationship with one another? Chances are that is a social theory of the Trinity that is being described. In the video below, theologian Dr. Karen Kilby discusses what social theories of the Trinity are and some of the problems they present in understanding the Trinity. Continue reading “The Social Trinity and its Pitfalls”
New Testament scholar Dr. Haley Goranson Jacob’s Conformed to the Image of his Son: Reconsidering Paul’s Theology of Glory (IVP 2018) is one of the best books in biblical scholarship I have ever come across. I read it earlier this year and it has had a profound impact on my own theology. I have covered or referenced her work multiple times this year, which you can read here including a helpful summary of her book which you can find here. She concludes her book with a powerful statement on how we ought to think of salvation. Dr. Jacob writes,
I return my reader to one of the key questions of this book: What is
the goal of salvation? For too long, scholars and laymen alike have myopically viewed justification and salvation as ends in themselves, whether for the benefit of the individual or of the incorporative body of Christ. The goal of salvation is believers’ conformity to the Son of God—their participation in his rule over creation as God’s eschatological family and as renewed humanity—but only and always with the purpose of extending God’s hand of mercy, love, and care to his wider creation. This was humanity’s job in the beginning; it will be believers’ responsibility and honor in the future; it is God’s purpose in calling his people in the present.
In the 2,000 years Christianity has been around, its history has been somewhat turbulent but overall it has been an astonishing success. Christianity has so deeply permeated the world we live in its pervasive influence has become nearly imperceptible to most people today. Christianity has obviously profoundly affected religion but also ethics, society, art, literature, politics, philosophy, law, science and economics as well. Since Christianity has been so thoroughly woven into the fabric of modern civilization, most Christians today are unaware of just how utterly bizarre their faith is, especially in the context of world history.
For our brothers and sisters around the world who live as minorities in countries where they are directly harassed and persecuted, they are fully aware of just how crazy it is to give your allegiance to King Jesus. For those of us in living in more comfortable circumstances we remain largely blissfully unaware of how weird it is to be a Christian. This is something as a church we desperately need to be reacquainted if we are to properly maintain our identity, accurately represent it in the world as well being able to circumspectly navigate challenges to the church in the world in whatever form they take. Unless you are informed, it is hard to tell just how unique a historical phenomenon Christianity is. There are some wonderful presentations by Larry Hurtado and John Ortberg, which you can find here and here, that provide a wonderful introduction to this topic. For this piece, I wish to briefly refamiliarize ourselves with the most bizarre aspect of Christianity, which is simultaneously the cornerstone of our faith and that is the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. Continue reading “A Strange Faith”
Modern Christian apologetics arose at a time in Europe when rationalism was on the rise. To combat this new wave of intellectual scepticism Christians also raised rational arguments of their own in defence of their faith. Because of this, Christian apologetics as we know it today is rationalist in nature. While it is just the way it is, it has been a constant point of criticism among some Christians for apologetics’ reliance on rationalism. Now there are some critics who advocate for true fideism, the position that faith is completely independent of reason, but fortunately they are few and far between. However, most apologists do recognise the inherent theological problems with the rationalist nature of their discipline. While they obviously think their discipline is incredibly important, they also acknowledge that the biggest hurdles to faith are not usually intellectual but emotional and psychological. For this reason, they are often acutely aware that it is not arguments that save, only God does. Noted Christian apologist Francis Schaeffer described apologetics as “pre-evangelism”, that is necessary ground work that needs to be done in preparation for the gospel to preached to someone.
While recognising that most apologists have a nuanced understanding of the role of reason in defending the faith and are usually careful not to overstate its significance, there is a reason why it remains a perennial source of criticism. In the middle of intellectual debate, you are going to present your strongest rational arguments, which in turn masks the problems with a rationalist approach in general. Now this is not a deliberate oversight but it is still a problem. It creates the impression that it is simply the rational choice to become a Christian and if you do not accept the arguments then you might be just incredibly foolish. Frankly speaking, the more I have understood the nature of our faith, particularly at its historical core, the more I recognise that there is nothing obvious or intuitive about it. While I am convinced that the faith is not completely irrational, as some militant atheist sceptics like to assert, I am equally convinced that it is not irrational to be sceptical even after you have been presented the best arguments for it.