Saturday, January 31, 2015

Revelation - Good Commentaries vs. Wild Commentaries

The commentaries arrived last week.
On Sunday Morning, March 22 at Redeemer, we'll begin a 1-2 year preaching project - the book of Revelation. I already had some good commentaries on Revelation (e.g. Ladd, Mounce) but haven't researched this for quite a while. So I purchased four more (of the best, I think) and they arrived this week. I look forward to getting into these studies!

G. K. Chesterton once wrote: "Though St. John the Evangelist saw many strange monsters in his vision, he saw no creatures so wild as one of his own commentators." (Quoted in G.K. Beale, Revelation: A Shorter Commentary, vii.)

In addition to Beale's widely applauded commentary I've got:

Craig Keener, Revelation

Ben Witherington, Revelation

Grant Osborne, Revelation

I'll be getting N. T. Wright's Revelation for Everyone.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Hearing God: Deus Interruptus (PrayerLife)

Painting a room in our house.

Henri Nouwen once said he was bothered by life's many interruptions until he realized that the interruptions were his life. I must pay attention to the interruptions and discern whether or not they are from God. I need to have an interruptible heart.

An interruptible heart is one that hears and then follows. Without the following God's interruptions will diminish. Why would God continue to say "John, I know you have plans for today, but I want you to do this instead" if I would not "do this instead?" 

Dallas Willard writes:

"Perhaps we do not hear the voice because we do not expect to hear it. Then again, perhaps we do not expect it because we know that we fully intend to run our lives on our own and have never seriously considered anything else. The voice of God would therefore be an unwelcome intrusion into our plans. By contrast, we expect great spiritual leaders to hear that voice just because we see their lives wholly given up to doing what God wants."  (Willard, Hearing God: Developing a Conversational Relationship with God, p. 93)

Surely there are some who do not hear God's voice because they would never follow him if he called them to do something that was outside their control zone. It wouldn't surprise me if many people who call themselves followers of Jesus do not really intend to follow him since this means a change of their plans.

The Real Jesus Life is a series of interruptions. Deus Interruptus.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Forgiveness Is the Only Answer

Our front porch, in warmer, more forgiving days

"I will never forgive her for what she did to me."
- A husband, about his adulterous wife

When I was a campus pastor at Michigan State University a young mother and her two-year-old son knocked on my office door. She asked if I could talk with her.

She began to cry as she told me the story of her beautiful little boy, and how much her husband loved him. I'm thinking, so what is the problem with this? Then she said: "My husband is not the boy's real father. And my husband does not know this yet." Fear was gripping her as she spoke of how her son was more and more resembling his real, biological father. "My husband is going to see that his "son" doesn't look like him! What am I supposed to do?"

What were this woman's options? She could not tell her husband the truth and hope he doesn't see the non-resemblance. She could hope that he doesn't find out through someone else. What if the real father one day wants to connect with his son? She could hope this would never happen. Basically, she could live in constant fear all her life that, one day, her husband will discover the truth that she has hid from him. But this is a horrible option. Think of living like John Voight, at the end of the movie "Deliverance," waking up to the nightmare that one day, the dead body on the river bottom will somehow float to the surface.

She could tell her husband. This would break his heart, since he thinks his "son" is really his. How would he respond? She was fearful of his potential responses.

"I don't know what to do! I love them both! I made a mistake with another man! Can you help me!"

I knew the answer. I knew what she must do. I knew how it could work out.

"Do you know Jesus?" I asked. She did. He didn't.

"Tell your husband the truth. Ask for his forgiveness. Tell him you've talked with me. And I will talk with him."

How could that help?

"If I can meet with him and introduce him to the Real Jesus, and he comes to understand his own need for the redemptive work of the Cross, then he will be able to forgive you."

I spent some time explaining this to her. We've all screwed up and failed and hurt others and fallen short of God's desires for us. 

In Colossians 1:21-22 Paul writes: Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation.

And Romans 5:10-11 - For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! Not only is this so, but we also boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

I told her: "Christ died for all of us, not because we were so good, but because he loved us even though we were his "enemies." 

One day I came to realize how screwed up I was inside. The thought came to me: 'I have a problem.' I was beginning to realize the depth of how my life was messed up and was messing up the lives of others. The realization of my own screwed-upness helped me see my need for redemption. For forgiveness. To be set free from the heavy burden of trying to self-atone for my own sins, and from making people pay for what they've done to me."

I told her: "If your husband could come to see his own need for Jesus and the Cross and forgiveness, if he could come to grips with his own failure and filth and corruptness and then experience God's love and forgiveness himself, he could forgive you."

As wild as this sounds, I have experienced this and seen it happen over and over and over again. Such experiences become victorious and celebrative moments of freedom. A person set free and saved from their own self will be able to forgive others. How could I not cancel someone's indebtedness towards me when I realize how much Christ has forgiven me of?

One day Jesus was at the home of a Pharisee. A prostitute heard Jesus was there, so she came, carrying an alabaster jar of oil to anoint Jesus' feet. Of course she's not there to do a favor for Jesus. She is deeply troubled. She's searching for redemption. She cries as she anoints his feet with the perfumed oil, so much so that her tears intermingle with the oil. A Pharisee named Simon is disgusted by this. Jesus tells him a story of a money lender who forgives the financial indebtedness of two people. He says, about this prostitute, "her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.”

Jesus then turns to the woman and says, "Your sins are forgiven."

I love this story. It means so much to me! If the husband of the woman in my office saw his need for forgiveness and experienced God's forgiveness he could forgive his wife for her adultery and the hiding that followed. For her, forgiveness is the only possible answer. For those of us who are Jesus-lovers it becomes Christologically impossible to withhold forgiveness from anyone, even from our enemies, because we have a glimpse of the stuff God has forgiven us of.

Dr. Robert Enright of the University of Wisconsin writes:

"Forgiveness cannot reverse what has happened to you, but it can reverse your reactions now to what has happened. If you take forgiveness seriously, and if you practice it faithfully, you can actually add love to your story as you give it to others, even to those whom you could not now imagine as being the recipients of your love.

This is now up to you - whether your story will be written with more or less love in it - because to love and to forgive are now your choice, now and in the future. To love and to forgive are part of your free will, your good will, and your strong will. Although forgiveness is not some kind of magical antidote to the poison of unfairness and others' failure to love you, you should know that forgiveness is strong enough to help you go back in time, in a psychological sense, and to mend wounds from your past. You need not continue to write your story with many subplots of bitterness and resentment." (Robert Enright, The Forgiving Life: A Pathway to Overcoming Resentment and Creating a Legacy of Love, 15)

Forgiveness is the only answer.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Plantinga's Modal Version of the Ontological Argument for God's Existence

In my MCCC Philosophy of Religion class I am teaching this to a couple of students who already have grasped Anselm's Ontological Argument; viz., Alvin Plantinga's modal version of the Ontological Argument for God's existence. It is a real head-twister! 

Using modal logic the following is true: If a necessary being is possible then a necessary being exists. (Think about it, modally.)


1. There is a possible world in which a necessarily existing being exists.
2. Therefore, a necessarily existing being exists.

Note: This argument avoids the Kantian criticism that 'exists' is not a predicate.


The argument goes:

1.    It is possible that there is a being (B) that has maximal greatness.

2.    So, there is a possible being that in some world W has maximal greatness.

3.    A being has maximal greatness in a given world only if it has maximal excellence in every world.

4.    A being has maximal excellence in a given world only if it has omniscience, omnipotence, and moral perfection in that world.

5.    Therefore, “there actually exists a being (B) that is omnipotent, omniscient, and morally perfect; this being, furthermore, exists and has these qualities in every other world as well.”

Needed to understand this argument:

Logical possibilities and impossibilities do not vary from world to world. If a given proposition or state of affairs is impossible in at least one possible world, then it is impossible in every possible world. For example, "square circles" are logical impossibilities in our world. Therefore they are logical impossibilities in every possible world. There is no possible world, no creatively invented world, that could contain a square circle.
  • There are no propositions that are in fact impossible but could have been possible. For example, square circles could not exist in any conceivable/possible world.
  • And, there are no propositions that in fact are possible but could have been impossible. For example, if there is a possible world in which SpongeBob exists, then there is no possible world in which SpongeBob could not exist.
  • Therefore, B's nonexistence is impossible in every possible world. And because B is a maximally great Being, B exists in every possible world.
  • Therefore B’s nonexistence is impossible in this world (since this world is a possible world).
  • Therefore B exists and exists necessarily.

Robin Collins's Fine-Tuning Argument for God's Existence

Monroe County Community College
(For my MCCC Philosophy of Religion students)

Oral Exam Question #5 - Explain Collins's Fine-Tuning Argument for God's existence.

1. Give the "biosphere" example.

2. The universe is analogous to such a biosphere.

3. The universe is "fine-tuned" for our existence. For example, "If gravity did not exist, masses would not clump together to form stars or planets, and hence the existence of complex, intelligent life would be seriously inhibited." (The gravitational constant is an "anthropic coincidence," or "cosmological constant." Stephen Hawking et. al. acknowledge the fine-tuning - see below.)

4. State the argument:

  • Premise 1. The existence of the fine-tuning is not improbable under theism.
  • Premise 2. The existence of the fine-tuning is very improbable under the atheistic single-universe hypothesis.
  • Conclusion: From premises (1) and (2) and the prime principle of confirmation, it follows that the fine-tuning data provides strong evidence in favor of the design hypothesis over the atheistic single-universe hypothesis.

5. The "prime principle of confirmation" is: whenever we are considering two competing hypotheses,  an observation counts as evidence in favor of the hypothesis under which the observation has the highest probability (or is the least improbable). 

6. Give John Leslie's firing squad analogy: "If fifty sharp shooters all miss me, the response “if they had not missed me I wouldn’t be here to consider the fact” is not adequate.  Instead, I would naturally conclude that there was some reason why they all missed, such as that they never really intended to kill me. Why would I conclude this? Because my continued existence would be very improbable under the hypothesis that they missed me by chance, but not improbable under the hypothesis that there was some reason why they missed me.  Thus, by the prime principle of confirmation,  my continued existence strongly confirms the latter hypothesis."

For a more recent discussion see:

Robin Collins, "The Fine-Tuning Argument Is Convincing," and

Victor Stenger, "The Universe Shows No Evidence for Design,"

both essays in Debating Christian Theism, eds. J.P. Moreland, Chad Meister, and Khaldoun A. Sweiss


1. Hawking and Mlodinow's The Grand Design can be understood as an atheistic response to the fine-tuning argument. They acknowledge the appearance of fine-tuning:

"Most of the fundamental constants in our theories appear fine-tuned in the sense that if they were altered by only modest amounts, the universe would be qualitatively different, and in many cases suitable for the development of life. For example, if the other nuclear force, the weak force, were much weaker, in the early universe all the hydrogen in the cosmos would have turned to helium, and hence there would be no normal stars; if it were much stronger, exploding supernovas would not eject their outer envelopes, and hence would fail to seed interstellar space with the heavy elements planets require to foster life. If protons were 0.2 percent heavier, they would decay into neutrons, destabilizing atoms... The emergence of the complex structures capable of supporting intelligent observers seems to be very fragile. The laws of nature form a system that is extremely fine-tuned, and very little in physical law can be altered without destroying the possibility of the development of life as we know it." (Grand Design, 160-161)

But, for Hawking and Mlodinow, "the multiverse concept can explain the fine-tuning of physical law without the need for a benevolent creator who made the universe for our benefit." (165)

Collins responds to this in his essay. For the purposes of our class we will not discuss the multiverse issue, important as it may be.
2. The anthropic objections plays an important part in Hawking and Mlodinow's objections to the fine-tuning argument. Collins, in citing John Leslie's "fire squad" analogy, writes:
"According to the weak version of so-called  anthropic principle, if the laws of nature were not fine-tuned, we would not be here to comment on the fact.  Some have argued, therefore, that the fine-tuning is not really improbable or surprising at all under atheism, but simply follows from the fact that we exist. The response to this objection is simply to restate the argument in terms of our existence: our existence as embodied, intelligent beings is extremely unlikely under the atheistic single-universe hypothesis (since our existence requires fine-tuning), but not improbable under theism.  Then, we simply apply the prime principle of confirmation to draw the conclusion that our existence strongly confirms theism over the atheistic single-universe hypothesis."

Collins then gives Leslie's example to illustrate this.

Meeting with God In the Waiting Place (PrayerLife)

Green Lake, Wisconsin
10 As Pharaoh approached, the Israelites looked up, and there were the Egyptians, marching after them. They were terrified and cried out to the Lord.11 They said to Moses, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die? What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt? 12 Didn’t we say to you in Egypt, ‘Leave us alone; let us serve the Egyptians’? It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert!”
Exodus 14:10-12

The Moses who is about to respond to the fearful response of the Israelites is a different from who he was at the beginning of his journey. Ruth Haley Barton writes: 

"This is the moment where we begin to see more clearly the relationship between Moses’ journey into solitude and his effectiveness as a spiritual leader. Because of his encounters with God, Moses is now a fundamentally different person." (Barton, Ruth Haley, Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership: Seeking God in the Crucible of Ministry, p. 95).  

In the face of serious danger Moses gives a deeply spiritual response. He is not going to be strengthened by getting caught up in the people's fears and complaints. Barton writes:

"Instead he turns inward, to that place where he has learned to seek God, and from that place he delivers this most counterintuitive message. He says, “Do not be afraid, stand firm, and see the deliverance that the LORD will accomplish for you today; for the Egyptians that you see today you shall never see again. The LORD will fight for you, and you have only to keep still” (Exodus 14:13-14, emphasis added)." (Ib., p. 96)

Here in Moses we see the fruit of God-encounters during periods of extended heart-stillness in the presence of God. "Moses’ effectiveness in this moment had to do with the fact that even though he was fully aware of the people’s emotion, he was even more attuned to the reality of God’s presence. He knew that the first thing he needed to do was to help the people still themselves and learn to wait on God even in the face of their greatest fear." (Ib.)

I will pray in stillness before the Lord. I will train my soul in the fortress of silence and solitude. I meet with God in the Waiting Place. 

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

New Testament Scholars and the Historicity of the New Testament Documents

T wrote me and requested: "If you have time to dig up a few youtube links, can you give me suggestions for lectures on the historicity of the new testament to counterpoint the hours of Richard Carrier and Bart Ehrman I've already watched. Thanks."

I'm posting my response here.

Thank you T. Here's what I think.

Bart Ehrman is an actual New Testament scholar; Richard Carrier is not. So in terms of NT studies it is important to pay attention to people like Ehrman. I've listened to him and read some of his material. I also have listened some a read of bit of Carrier's stuff. My observation is that, in general, NT scholars pay attention to Ehrman, and Carrier gets no attention. He's just not especially qualified in this area.

The majority of my NT studies on the historicity of the text come from biblical commentaries that dig deep into each word and sentence in their context. I have read lots of textual studies, and watched very little on youtube. So I can't refer to specific youtube presentations. But I can refer you to scholars worth looking at if you can find their lectures on youtube or elsewhere.

My suggestion is this. Any NT studies (books or youtube lectures) by the following NT scholars are worth listening to and reading. These scholars (who pay attention to Ehrman but do not arrive at many of his textual conclusions) include:

  • Craig Keener
  • Ben Witherington
  • Andreas Kostenberger
  • N.T. Wright
  • Craig Blomberg
  • Craig Evans
  • Richard Bauckham
  • Grant Osborne
  • Robert Mounce
  • Gordon Fee
  • D.A. Carson
  • Donald Hagner
  • R.T. France
  • Gary Burge
  • Robert Yarbrough
  • John Nolland
  • David Garland
  • R.T. France
  • Darrell Bock
  • Joel Green
  • Anthony Thiselton
  • Peter O'Brien
If any of these have youtube videos on biblical textual studies they will be worth watching. I have used all of these for the past 20+ years in my preaching through the NT books. This, to me, is the most valuable way to get a grip on historical issues in the NT.

A number of these have especially responded to Ehrman, questioning his methodological assumptions. Kostenberger and Bock have recently written Truth In a Culture of Doubt: Engaging Skeptical Response to the Bible

Warning: all of these scholars study the NT texts as ancient historical texts. You won't find any fundamentalist (and therefore anachronistic) scholarship in them.

6 Core Messages at Redeemer

Beginning Feb. 8 we will preach 6 core messages at Redeemer. These messages represent who we are as a church.

We'll package them on thumb drives and give to visitors and friends who are checking us out.

6 Core Messages
o   2/8 – The Presence-Driven Church
o   2/15 – The Real Jesus Church
o   2/22 – The Abiding Church
o   3/1 – The Praying Church
o   3/8 – The Worshiping Church
o   3/15 – The Spirit-Empowered Church   

THEN... we will begin preaching through the Book of Revelation!

3/22 – Rev. 1:1-3
o   3/29 – Rev. 1:4-8 (Palm Sunday)
o   4/5 – Rev. 1:9-19 (Easter Sunday)
And...  all the way through to Revelation 22:21...

Monday, January 26, 2015

First Century Fragment of Mark Discovered

Craig Evans is one of our greatest biblical scholars. He was a lead researcher and expert on the Dead Sea Scrolls. I have his book Jesus and His World: The Archaeological Evidence

Here Evans talks about a first century fragment of the Gospel of Mark found in a mummy's mask. How did this happen?

Ancient mummies were often made out of paper mâché. Non-Christian cultures that had no value for the Bible used - when available - Christian documents written on paper to make the paper mâché out of. 

For the full story see the Washington Post article "Biblical scholar claims to have found the oldest known Gospel - inside a mummy mask." 

The Power of Prayvailing (PrayerLife)

Judge & Condemn                                      Rescue & Save
Yesterday at Redeemer I spent time teaching our 2nd-5th graders. I asked them a question: "What do you think I do as a pastor?" A lot of the kids responded, giving answers such as...

... "You preach."

... "You do weddings."

... "You do funerals."

... "You spend time with people you love."

... "You play games with kids."

... "You get to have a wife."

... "You drink coffee in the church kitchen."

... "You meet with people in your office in Panera Bread."

... "You help people who have problems."

What great answers! All of them are true.

I especially like the last one. I love being used by God to help people.

After spending time with these kids I went into the sanctuary and preached on 1 John 5:16, which reads: 16 If you see any brother or sister commit a sin that does not lead to death, you should pray and God will give them life. If I see a Christian brother or sister screwing up I am not to judge them, condemn them, finger-point them, post their screw-up on Facebook, slander them, or gossip about them. I am not to view myself as above them and bask in the glow of my own superiority. What I am to do is pray for them, with a promise.

I am to pray for my fallen friend. I am to be on their rescue team. The Greek word we translate as 'pray' is aiteo (αἰτέω), which can be translated as:

  • to ask  
  • to beg
  • to crave
  • to desire
  • to require
  • to command

All these words ramp up the intensity. 

I remember getting off the airplane in Mumbai, India, and walking out of the terminal, only to be surrounded by begging children. One of them was maybe 12 years old. His teeth were brown and rotting. They were touching me, pleading for money. I remember their eyes. 1 John 5:16 says that when you pray for a brother or sister who is engaged in wrongdoing your eyes should look like this, before God. This is praying as craving something; viz., the rescue and saving of people you love.

This is travailing praying. To "travail" is physical or mental work that is sometimes painful. The word is used of a woman in labor about to give birth to her baby. We see an example of travailing praying in Colossians 4:12-13, where Paul writes of Epaphras who is always laboring earnestly for you in his prayers, that you may stand perfect and fully assured in all the will of God. Paul writes that Epaphras is filled with deep concern for his Christian brothers and sisters.

Travailing praying has two foci:

  1. Love for the followers of Jesus.
  2. Concern for what sin can do to them.
Sin can crush a person. Sin can separate a person from God, and can destroy friendships, families, and marriages. We cannot love and help people if we do not have compassion for them and towards the ramifications of wrongdoing in their lives. The foundation of rescuing people is love + concern.

If we see a brother or sister stumble and fall we are to travail over them in prayer. In this we are given a promise, which is: God will give them life. Jim Goll writes, "The prayer of travail is God desiring to create an opening to bring forth a measure of life and growth." Travailing prayer brings prevailing in the fallen person's life. Travailing praying brings prevailing. I call this prayvailing

What if we all went after our stumbling brothers and sisters with prayvailing? What would the environment in our churches look like? They would be safe places. They would be rescuing places. They would be loving and healing places. There would be a new level of holiness and a new level of unity. Fault-finding and gossip would unavail, intercession and love and life would prevail. Wholeness would return to churches, and they would be what God has always intended for them. The Church is a great, prayvailing rescuing community.

This is the power of prayvailing people. It begins with love for one another. It takes sin and wrongdoing seriously. It knows the power of praying for others in the community. Heaven's gates are opened. As we prayvail God gives us life!