Saturday, May 30, 2015

Jesus Prayed (PrayerLife)

The Mount of Olives, Jerusalem


Jesus prayed.

I am a disciple of Jesus. I am a Jesus-follower.

Therefore, I pray.

Using the logic of modus ponens:

1. If I am a follower of Jesus, then I pray because Jesus prayed.
2. I am a follower of Jesus.
3. Therefore, I have a prayer life.

Did Jesus "take time" to pray? This is not the way to talk about Jesus and praying. If prayer is talking with God about what the prayee and God are doing together, then "prayer" is a lifestyle of ongoing conversation with God. This entails getting alone with God - just you and God - and conversing.

Jesus prayed out of relationship with God. Prayer is relationship with God, just as ongoing communication with my wife Linda is the relationship. Prayer is a conversation with God.

In Scripture we see that...

a.   Jesus “was often found in prayer, not merely on formal and public occasions, i.e. when attending the synagogue, but informally and in private contexts, sometimes in lonely places.” (N. T. Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God, 149)

b.   Jesus spent time in solitude. Jesus began his ministry by spending 40 days alone in solitude (Mt. 4:1-11).


c.    Before choosing the 12 Jesus spent the entire night alone in the desert hills (Lk. 6:12).

d.   When he heard of John the Baptist's death Jesus "withdrew from there in a boat to a lonely place apart" (Mt. 14:13).


e.   After feeding the 5000 he dismissed the crowd and "went up into the hills by himself" (Mt. 14:23).


f.     After a long night of work, "in the morning, a great while before day, he rose and went out to a lonely place" (Mk. 6:31).


g.    After healing a leper, Jesus "often withdrew to the wilderness and prayed" (Lk. 5:16).


h.   Before his time on the cross he went alone to the Garden of Gethsemane (Mt. 26:36-46).

If our Lord took times of solitary prayer out of his own need to be in conversation with the Father, should we do any less?

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Boredom (Merton on...)

"The modern American is kept in terror of boredom and unfulfillment because he is constantly being reminded of their imminence - in order that he may be induced to do something that will exorcise him for the next half hour. Then the terror will rise up again and he will have to buy something else, or turn another switch, or open another bottle, or swallow another pill, or stick himself with a needle in order to keep from collapsing." (Thomas Merton, Contemplation In a World of Action)

Boredom as Anomie


"Boredom" is not having nothing to do; "boredom" is finding no meaning in what you are doing.


A person works for hours at a job and the clock drips down the wall like a Salvador Dali painting. One student sits in class bored out of her skull while another student is fully engaged and time flies by.


I live in a land where there are more things to do than ever and yet many are bored out of their minds. Evidence for cultural boredom is seen in things like: the inability to be still; non-reflective capacity; the Facebook Nation and its many games; oxymoronish appeals that couple money, sex, and power; the mass marketing of diversions; the loss of true happiness (see Aristotle [eudaimonia], and J.P. Moreland); "church" as entertainment of the masses [Thou shalt not bore the people!]; and Kierkegaardian herds of wandering norm-less amoralists entertaining one another with their boredom-fueled evil.


Anomie: a personal condition resulting from a lack of norms. 

Sociologist Emile Durkheim wrote"The state of anomie is impossible whenever interdependent organs are sufficiently in contact and sufficiently extensive. If they are close to each other, they are readily aware, in every situation, of the need which they have of one-another, and consequently they have an active and permanent feeling of mutual dependence." "Durkheim defined the term anomie as a condition where social and/or moral norms are confused, unclear, or simply not present. Durkheim felt that this lack of norms--or preaccepted limits on behavior in a society--led to deviant behavior."


Anomie = Lack of Regulation / Breakdown of Norms (Ib.)


The bored person lacks life-meaning. The meaning of "meaning" is: fitness within a context. The reason we don't get a joke is that we fail to understand the context. Where there is no context there is no joy. The bored person is out of touch.


Some "churches" have lots of stuff going on yet are boring. Why? They've lost their sense of fitness in the context of the Grand Narrative. THE MOVEMENT is not boring.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

The Importance and Power of Knowing Our Identity in Christ - Conference in New Jersey



This coming Fri-Sat-Sun I'll be near Newark, NJ speaking at a conference on "The Importance and Power of Knowing Our Identity in Christ."

Where: Stelton Baptist Church, Edison, New Jersey

I’ll be preaching and teaching on:

Fri. night, May 29 – “You Have a Soul and Have Been Created in God’s Image.” 7 PM.
-          
Saturday morning, May 30 – Workshop: “What Transformation Into Christlikeness Looks Like.” 9:30-11 AM.
-         
Saturday night, May 30 – “The Importance and Power of Knowing Who I Am in Christ” 7 PM.
-          
Sunday Morning, May 31 – “How to Life a Life of Meaning and Purpose” 11 AM.
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Sunday night, May 31 – “How to Be Set Free from Self-Condemnation”  7 PM.

Contact: Pastor Louis Ao, 732-985-1484  
Stelton Baptist Church
334 Plainfield Avenue
Edison, New Jersey

Deeper Bible Study: Revelation, Daniel, and Ezekiel




HELLO EVERYONE!

Deeper Bible Study (DBS) is something I've started with people in our Redeemer Church family. 

Purposes: 

  • to more fully engage our people in study of the Bible.
  • to prepare people to hear the biblical texts preached on Sunday mornings.
  • to provide guides to study the Bible more deeply.

This coming Sunday Pastor Joe Atkinson will preach on Revelation Chapter 4 - the great throne room scene (the entire chapter). The following Sunday morning, June 7, I will preach again on Rev. 4. Joe and I are coordinating this. 

For Revelation 4:

  1. Copy the chapter and carry it with you. Read it slowly, over and over.
  2. The commentaries I am referring to in preaching through Revelation are found here.
  3. How to use Google books to study Revelation is found here

Summer DBS Study - the Books of Daniel and Ezekiel

Welcome to those of you who will be studying these books with me who are from outside our church!

I'm going to begin my Daniel-Ezekiel studies beginning June 8. (This weekend I'm speaking in New Jersey, and then Linda and I will be taking a week of vacation - back June 6.)

My way of doing this will be:

  1. Read through the book of Daniel, slowly.
  2. I'll keep a "Daniel Journal," recording thoughts, insights, and questions that come to me.
  3. I've purchased one commentary for my studies: The NIV Application Commentary: Daniel, by Tremper Longman. 
  4. I'll use Google books for further studies as needed.
  5. I will especially look at verses in Daniel that form a background for understanding Revelation better.
  6. I'll make posts on my blog and send you teaching and other insights I have about Daniel.
  7. If you are in the Monroe area I'm going to host 2 or 3 get-togethers to look at Daniel, and then at Ezekiel.

The commentary I'll be using to study Ezekiel is: The NIV Application Commentary: Ezekiel, by Iain Duguid.

I'm so glad you will be studying these biblical books with me this summer!

Please send any thoughts or comments or questions you have as we go through this.

Blessings,

John

P.S. - If you want to do this with me send me an email at: johnpiippo@msn.com

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Friends as Signposts Pointing to God

Bike trail up the hill at Munson Park, Monroe

Les and Leslie Parrott teach us that: "If you try to find intimacy with another person before achieving a sense of identity on your own, all your relationships become an attempt to complete yourself." Two relationship lies are:

1. I need this person to be complete.

2. If this person needs me, I'll be complete.

- From Real Relationships, Chapter 1, by Les and Leslie Parrott.

"It is only when we no longer compulsively need someone that we can have a real relationship with them."
- Anthony Storr, in Ib.


Henri Nouwen echoes this when he writes: "The power of friendship is great if it doesn’t find all its meaning in itself." (Nouwen, Discernment: Reading the Signs of Daily Life, p. 72) People who expect too much from each other can do each other harm. "Disappointment and bitterness can overpower love and even replace it." (Ib.)

But, "friends may be guides who see what we may not be able to see ourselves/" (Ib.) A good friend is not God, but can function as a signpost pointing towards God. This is about two basic truths:

  • I cannot change people, and people cannot change me.
  • God can use me to influence people towards him, as God has used certain people to influence me towards him.
I often thank God for those people he has placed in my life, through whom he has effected needed change in me.

Prayer, Presence, and Absence (PrayerLife)

Friday, May 22, 2015

Praying on the "Thank God Ledge" (PrayerLife)

Several years ago I watched a "60 Minutes" segment that fully engaged me. I dvr-ed it and showed it to several people. It was on rock climber Alex Honnold's "free solo" of Half Dome in Yosemite National Park.

Half Dome is a nearly vertical 2000-foot sheer granite wall. Alex climbs it... without the assistance of ropes or harness. It's just him, his hands, and his tennis shoes. It made me nervous watching him, even though I knew he survived. The shots of him clinging to the wall, with the trees and river a half mile below him, are astounding.

No one else in the world has done this. Perhaps no one else can. Alex's focus is amazing! One cannot help but think: one mistake and you are dead. No second chance. It's either perfection and completeness or total failure. This sport is unforgiving. To conquer Half Dome you have to be perfect.

Nine-tenths of the way up Half Dome there is a place climbers call "Thank God Ledge." This ledge is a 35-foot-long ramp that is anywhere from 5 to 12 inches wide. If a climber can get himself on this ledge he can jam his fingers into small cracks in the wall and "take a break." "Thank God Ledge" is a place of relief. It's a slim moment of mercy, grace, and forgiveness.

Alex Honnold on
Thank God Ledge
Fortunately, when it comes to God, it's all about forgiveness, mercy, and grace. In Matthew 18 we read: "Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times."" (vv. 21-22) Which means: we just keep on forgiving other people when they fail and when they fall. Why? Because we have been forgiven. Of much. Paul writes, in Colossians 3:13: "Forgive as you have been forgiven."

Thank God that he is forgiving! His forgiveness is not narrow. God's love is wide. Back in the 70s I wrote a song called "How Many Times?" The words go: "How many times we all fall down, broken and bent by the wind. How many times His love comes down, lifts us up again." In the forgiveness of the Cross God has placed us on "Thank God Ledge." When we experience his forgiveness we are lifted up to this place of beauty and rest. It is a place of restoration and healing. When experienced and understood, it provokes praise. When we forgive others we invite them to join us in this place. Unforgiveness lets people fall to their destruction. Forgiveness rescues.

In the Cross of Christ you have been conquered by God.

There's plenty of room on Thank God Ledge. Pray there.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Dr. John Piippo - "Hearing God: The Distinction between Discernment and ...





With American Baptist Pastors of Pennsylvania and Delaware.

"Servant Leadership Emerges from the Presence-Driven Chu...





With American Baptist Pastors of Pennsylvania and Delaware.

"Leading the Presence-Driven Church" 4/16/15





With American Baptist Pastors of Pennsylvania and Delaware.

"Prayer and Healing" 04/18/15





With American Baptist Pastors of Pennsylvania and Delaware. 

Living In the Presence of God Is the Greater Call

Climbing a dune at Warren Dunes State Park, Michigan
When Henri Nouwen met Mother Teresa he asked for advice concerning his spiritual distractions and temptations. Nouwen described his "unique complications" and gave "elaborate explanations" of the trials of his life. After listening to him Mother Teresa responded: "Well, when you spend one hour a day adoring your Lord and never do anything which you know to be wrong you will be fine!"

This answer startled Nouwen. He had expected her to diagnose him. Instead, she pointed him into God's presence. Nouwen writes:

"She knew that even if I better understood my distractions and problems, something else remained: a call to live closer to the heart of God. At first her answer didn’t seem to fit my questions, but then I began to see that her answer came from God’s place of healing and not from the place of my complaints. Getting answers to my questions is not the goal of the spiritual life. Living in the presence of God is the greater call. The gift of discernment is the ability to hear and see from God’s perspective and to offer that wisdom from above to others. Truly, God spoke to me through the mouth of Mother Teresa. She called me back to the discipline of prayer and being in God’s presence, which is the starting and ending place out of which guidance emerges." (Nouwen, Discernment: Reading the Signs of Daily Life, p. 67)

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Deeper Bible Study - Study the Biblical Text with Me


We were at the Tigers game last night.

I have over 100 Redeemer adults (and some from other churches - thank you!) doing Deeper Bible study with me. They receive the text I'm going to preach on for the coming Sunday. Plus notes on what I am doing, how I am doing it, and so on as I prepare to preach the text. I want to point them in a direction and not do the research for them.

If you want to join me in Deeper Bible Study email me at: johnpiippo@msn.com.

My Revelation sermons can be accessed here. You can see how I have integrated my studies into my sermons. And occasionally someone else in our church preaches. We mentor people to preach, and to do it this way.

PLUS: I will be studying the biblical books of Daniel and Ezekiel this summer, since they are key texts to help understand Revelation. I will be sending DBS participants notes and thoughts and resources, and we'll have three group meetings to discuss these books. And in the fall we will do an entire class on the book of Isaiah.

HOW I AM PREPARING
Here’s how I am preparing, today, for next Sunday.
1.   I’ll print these verses out (Revelation 3:14-22) and carry them with me. I’ll pull them out and read and re-read. If I have a thought or a question, I’ll write it down.
2.   Occasionally, I read – again – the entire book of Revelation. This is good to do to give me the broader context. In interpreting the Bible (or anything for that matter) context is necessary.
3. I turn to biblical commentaries on Revelation. As in anything, some commentaries are better than others. The Revelation commentaries I am especially looking at are by Ben WitheringtonN.T. Wright , Robert Mounce, Grant Osborne, George Beale, Craig Keener, Gordon Fee, George Ladd, and Eugene Peterson. You can see all these at amazon.com. You can access major sections of each at Google books. 


JOIN ME
Here are my suggestions for you, this week:
1.   Read the verses. If possible, over and over. Perhaps carry them with you on a 3X5 card.
2.   If there is something you do not understand, this is where you will want to do some study.
3.   This week, at least once, read the entire book of Revelation.
4.   Try pulling up one of the Revelation commentaries using Google Books.

RESOURCES
I use biblegateway.com to pull up the text. It’s easy to look at other translations on this website.
I mostly use the NIV translation. I really like what Eugene Peterson has given us in The Message.
One excellent study tool I use is Google Books. It’s free! 

When I use Google Books to look up biblical commentaries, I do this, for example:
1.   Pull up Google.
2.   Type in, e.g., “Revelation Laodicea" (because these are two of the key words).
3.   Click on “More”
4.   Click on “Books”
5.   Then, a number of commentaries appear. Some are definitely better than others!

Relationships Class - Boundaries,a Bibliography, and One More Meeting on Dating and Marriage





Hello everyone who was in our Relationships class at Redeemer. Linda and I are so thankful you have been in our class!


Here are few things I want to share with you.




  • The video we showed on "boundaries" is above.
  • Linda and I will lead one more Relationships session. When: Sunday, June 14, 6 PM. We will talk about and teach the second half of the Real Relationships book - On Dating and Marriage. read Chapters 6-7-8-9 ("Falling in Love Without Losing Your Mind"; "Sex, Lies, and the Great Escape": "Breaking Up Without Falling Apart"; and "Relating to God without Feeling Phony"). Please feel free to invite anyone to this special session.
Here are five of the best books on Relationships we have found. If you want to continue to grow in your relationship abilities read these, slowly.





Monday, May 18, 2015

Why Heartless Worldviews Fail




I have asked my MCCC philosophy students (60-100 per semester), over a period of 15 years, the question: "How many of you have heard of Richard Dawkins?" One student in 30 has responded yes. A slightly larger percent say they used to be Christians but have become atheists. Maybe 2 or 3 out of 30 say this. 

When my students are presented with logical, philosophical (and essentially non-religious) arguments for or against the existence of God, at least 50% say they are interested. Their interest is evident in the classroom discussions and interaction. A small percentage of my students, as a result of taking my classes, have converted from atheism to theism. (I estimate 5 out of 30 students do this; and probably slightly more.)

So I think students are interested in rational argumentation about God's existence. Virtually none of them have ever thought this way before.

For my students, as well as for humanity in general (and even myself), experience is more persuasive and needed than argument. Christian theists like myself should make a case for our beliefs. I do think God can encounter an irreligious person through sound argumentation. (Like, e.g., we see in Acts 17.) But experience is  very, very powerful, and should not only not be relegated as veridically inferior to reason but as epistemologically essential. Experience, not theory, breeds conviction. (I think it is ultimately impossible and misleading to separate "reason" and "experience.")

Terry Eagelton, in Culture and the Death of God, writes:

"Hegel notes in the Phenomenology of Mind that the abiding concern of the Enlightenment is the battle against religion - although he also insists that since religious faith has in any case been reduced to propositional status, as a body of theoretical knowledge or science of the deity, it has grown every bit as impoverished as the rationalism which lays siege to it." (Eagelton, Culture and the Death of God, 4) 

One reason (perhaps the reason) my students have never heard of Richard Dawkins or his worldview siblings is because his rationalism (so-called) is experientially vapid.

One reason some of my students have left Christianity (so they say, and well may have) is because their experience of "church" is as a head without a heart. Unless church captures people from the neck down we'll find more leaving. And, BTW, they'll eventually be leaving their newfound unbelief for the same reason. (Some, like Julian Barnes and John Gray (following Nietzsche, to Nietzsche's credit), have attempted to write about the experience of godlessness.)

Saturday, May 16, 2015

5 Things the Church Must Do to Reverse Declining Christianity in America

Mike Luckovich  Copyright 2015 Creators Syndicate


Here are 5 Things the Church Must Do to reverse declining Christianity in America.

1. Preach the Biblical Text.

Forget about trying to make people happy, or relaxed, or comfortable. (See here, e.g.)

2. Tap into Power.

Major in two biblical words: dunamis (power) and exousia (authority). Culture these. (Like this.)

3. Lead people into The Presence of God.

Think like Moses here: "Unless Your presence goes with us, we're not moving." (See here.)

4.  Teach Apologetics as Spiritual Warfare. Help people know why they believe what they believe. Watch, e.g., this

5. Form Community around 1-4. This is something the "nones" will never have. Community does not form around what people don't believe in. See this, e.g. And read this. No one in history has formed community better than Christianity has.


Friday, May 15, 2015

The Relationship Between Praying and Discernment (PrayerLife)

A petal landed in a gallon of paint
If I want to know what my wife Linda is thinking I have to spend time with her, and spend it in a certain way. We have to communicate with each other. We have to share what is on our minds, and we have to listen. Without this there will be no mutual understanding; hence, no discernment.

The same applies to the God-relationship. Henri Nouwen writes:

"To want to know God's plan and purpose without regular prayer and engagement with scripture and God's people is like trying to bake a cake without assembling the various ingredients. Discernment grows out of the life of faith rooted in community." (Nouwen, Discernment: Reading the Signs of Daily Life, K 15%)

What does God want? To know this:

1. Pray regularly.
2. Engage with scripture.
3. Engage in community.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Find Your True Identity


Sometimes I look at American culture and see a massive identity crisis, corporately and individually.

As a kid in the 60s I was in love with Elvis. I wanted the Elvis gene in me. One day I took an Elvis album cover into the bathroom, propped it up against the mirror, and began working on my image. I tried to get my hair to look just like Elvis's hair. Elvis would often curl his lip up in a kind of sneer. I wanted that for myself, so I practiced the Elvis lip curl. 

After my self-makeover I went out of the house, through my back yard, straight to my friend John's home. I was feeling good about myself! I was feeling Elvis-ish. I was Elvis. I am Elvis. When John saw me he said, without hesitation, "So you're trying to look like Elvis again?" I had hoped he would mistake me for Elvis. I wanted some shock and awe props! My facade was penetrated, my image-bubble had burst.

Today, many years later, I find myself not wanting to be like anyone else and discovering it to be freedom. I do want to be like Christ, but not like you (even if you are Elvis). I want Christ to be formed in me. (Galatians 4:19) God has spoken through many people to influence me. But this makes me want to be more like Jesus. Other people are not my hope of glory. Christ is.

 When I started off in college I was planning to be a metallurgical engineer. I headed in this direction because my high school counselor said it would be something I could do. And, I did like science. Here is something I know about metal. If you have a block of solid metal you can test its integrity. "Integrity," in metallurgical engineering, means that a block of metal is the same at point A as it is at point B as it is at point Z. If at any point the metal lacks integrity, it will crack when pressure is applied. "Integrity" means: "as of one piece." This is the idea of consistencyI want a life of greater integrity. I want my being to be "of one piece," and that piece is Christ.

If Christ has every part of me, then I have integrity. My life will have consistency as my life consists of Christ. When life's pressures squeeze I will remain firm and unyielding, even content, no matter the circumstances. But if, when under pressure, I crumble, it is at that point that I lack the influence of Christ, hence a lack of integrity. 

If Christ grips every piece of my being then I am Christlike when no one is around, Christlike in my home, Christlike in the work place, Christlike at the worship service, Christlike in the bathroom, and Christlike when invading the darkness. Jesus wasn't someone different when the crowds weren't around, right? Jesus didn't wear a Christ-mask.

Thomas Merton, in Raids on the Unspeakable, wrote: "If we take our vulnerable shell to be our true identity, if we think our mask is our true face, we will protect it with fabrications even at the cost of violating our own truth." 

It took some time for me to realize that, not only is Elvis not my true identity, no one is. My identity is found in Christ. Christ has made his home in me. Christ indwells me. I will allow Christ to be formed in me today. And be free.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

What If You Don't Feel Like Praying? (PrayerLife)

Bee in my backyard

I set aside times to pray. If you are new at this I suggest praying 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week.

What if you don't feel like praying? Pray anyway. Choose to pray anyway because to pray is to engage in relationship with God. Think of it like this. I talk with Linda every day, multiple times. Whether or not I feel like talking with her is irrelevant, because we are married. Because I love her, I mostly feel like talking with her. But my communication with Linda is not proportionate to any feelings I have. 

It is important to pray when you don't feel like it. The person who only prays when they feel like it is not a praying person any more than a person who practices the guitar only when they feel like it is a serious guitar student. We are not to allow feelings to determine whether or not we will actively stay in relationship with God. Henri Nouwen writes:

"Often we do not feel like praying and our minds are distracted. The lack of motivation and difficulty focusing make us think that our prayer time is useless and wasted time. Still, it is very important to remain faithful to these times and simply stick with our promise to be with God , even if nothing in our minds, hearts, or bodies wants to be there. Simple faithfulness in prayer gives the Spirit of God a real chance to work in us, to help us be renewed in God’s hands and be conformed to God’s will ." (Henri Nouwen, Discernment: Reading the Signs of Daily Life, Kindle Locations 496-500)

A praying person is a faithful person. Choose to pray today. If you do, I expect feelings will come.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Mind blown... bet you will watch it more than once.

Posted by Gabi Butler on Thursday, March 12, 2015
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10-Minute Introduction to Boundaries in Relationships





Linda and I teach our last Relationships Class at Redeemer this coming Sunday night, May 17 (6 PM).



Persons in our class - please watch this 10-minute introduction to "boundaries." We'll especially look at the place of boundaries in relationships.

Hearing God: Asking God to Raise My Level of Experience

Central Kenya - in the Rift Valley area

A constant prayer of mine is: "God, raise my level of experience to the experiential realities recorded in the Bible." This is why, at Redeemer, we continue preaching through the biblical text, with much joy and expectation. 

If we only read the biblical text as a book of doctrine, or a book containing abstract truths about God, then we might search forever yet despair of actually knowing God and hearing God's voice. Experience, not theory or abstractions, breeds conviction.

In his book Hearing God Dallas Willard writes of the importance of reading Scripture "on the assumption that the experiences recorded there are basically of the same type as ours would have been if we had been there." (p. 44) In regard to this Willard quotes A.W. Tozer, who writes that...

... "it is altogether possible to be instructed in the rudiments of the faith and still have no real understanding of the whole thing. And it is possible to go on to become expert in Bible doctrine and not have spiritual illumination, with the result that a veil remains over the mind, preventing it from apprehending the truth in its spiritual essence." (In Willard, 45)

Expect to know God by experience.

Monday, May 11, 2015

"Zeitgeist"

So serious. So funny!
(Sadly, one of my philosophy students recentyly asked me what I thought of the "Zeitgeist" intenet movie. Gladly, I've already written about this. Here it is.)

One of my philosophy students asked me: "What do you think of the movie "Zeitgeist?" I told her I had seen it, and made a few comments over a year ago. I decided to make a more thorough response, based on Dr. Mark Foreman's recent presentation at EPS entitled "Challenging the Zeitgeist Movie: Alleged Parallels between Jesus and Ancient Pagan Religions."

"In 2007 the ZEITGEIST movie appeared on the internet and had over 50 million viewers in the first three weeks. ZEITGEIST is a two hour documentary film that attempts to argue, among other things, that Christianity is a non-historical myth based purely on teachings and ideas from earlier pagan myths. The primary evidence used to support this claim is the number of parallels between Christianity and other religions. This presentation assess both the claim and the methodology of this argument noting a number of fallacies with this kind of reasoning."


I listened to Foreman's presentation and made the notes below. For $1.99 you can download it and listen - it's very thorough. Nearly everything below is straight from Foreman. It's a bit rough, but hopefully you can see that, though "Zeitgeist" has achieved a level of internet popularity, it is weak, non-scholarly, and grievously erroneous.

*****

What is the “Zeitgeist” movie?


• “Zeitgeist” literally means “spirit of the age.”

• It was released online in June 2007.

• Within 3 weeks of its release it already had 50 million viewers.

• “Zeitgeist” is a two-hour documentary conspiracy film.

• It alleges to show three frauds/myths: 1) the Christian story; 2) the terrorist attacks of 911 were really government-sponsored attacks; and 3) the domination of international events by world bankers (everything that is happening in the world is a because of a conspiracy of international bankers).

• The thesis of the Christianity part of the film is this: Jesus Christ never existed, but is simply a Jewish version of an ancient pagan mystery religion based on sun worship.

To begin with: there are a few astronomical errors in “Zeitgeist.”

One thing that is in error is the claim that Sirius follows the 3 stars/kings in Orion’s belt, that on Dec. 25 they align that way. The fact is they align that way every night. There’s nothing special that happens on December 25.

It is also false that on Dec. 25 these three stars in Sirius point to the sunrise. That would mean Orion would have to be in the eastern part of the sky around sunrise on Dec. 25. But Orion is a winter constellation. This means that beginning at the time of winter (late October) it begins to rise on the horizon. By December, at midnight, Orion is straight up in the sky. Where, then, is Orion at sunrise on December 25? Orion is in the west. It’s nowhere near the east. This is just a mistake in astronomy.
These two elementary astronomical mistakes should tell us we need to wonder about the accuracy of this film’s claims.

Four General Comments about “Zeitgeist”

The film argues that the story of Jesus Christ is a myth, incorporating various aspects of other pagan religions. This is called “the pagan copycat theory.” The idea is that Christianity is just a “copycat” of other religions that are out there.

The tactic “Zeitgeist” uses to argue this point is this: list characteristics of pagan deities that are parallel to the story of Jesus. Then claim that the Gospel writers borrowed from these pagan stories and invented Jesus. Some of the claimed parallels are:

• Born of a virgin

• Born on Dec. 25

• Hailed as a “savior” by his followers

• Give royal and divine titles

• Has 12 disciples

• Was baptized

• Performed miracles (especially turning water into wine)

• Was crucified

• Was resurrected after three days

• His death and resurrection are celebrated in a ritual meal

The idea of using parallels is the essence of “Zeitgeit’s” argument. Biblical scholar Samuel Sandmel noted that finding parallels can be overdone, and used the word “parallelomania,” meaning: “that extravagance among scholars which first overdoes the supposed similarity in passages and then proceeds to describe source and derivation as if implying literary connection flowing in an inevitable or predetermined direction.” We’ll see that “Zeitgeist” is parallelomanical. Foreman says that “’Zeitgeist’ is parallelomania on steroids.”

This is an old idea. There is nothing new here. Many people, when they first see “Zeitgeist,” think “Wow – I have never heard that before!” Zeitgeist-parallelomania was propagated in the late-18th century on Germany by a school called the religionsgeschichte school, the “history of religions” school.” Here was the idea that all religions are related to one another and they all evolved over time. “Christianity” was just another step in the evolutionary process of religions. This 19th -century theory lasted a few years, and in the 1930s began to die out. The reason it died out what that critical scholars looked at it and said, “There’s actually no evidence to support it at all.” Many of the ideas in “Zeitgeist” come from these 19th-century sources. For example, the movie is indebted to James Frazier’s popular The Golden Bough. Frazier’s book has since been discredited by nearly all critical scholars.

Dorothy Murdock was a major consultant for this movie. She wrote a book under a pen name, Acharya S. Her work has even been debunked by Robert Price who himself ultimately agrees with idea that Jesus never existed. Price thinks “Zeitgeist got it all wrong.”

So the idea behind “Zeitgeist” is an old idea – there’s nothing new here.

Another point is: there are going to be some similarities between religions. (20) That should not surprise us. Most religions, for example, believe in a godlike figure. Most religions have rites and ceremonies, and incorporate a meal in their religion. Re. the meals, acknowledging this is not to say that the meals are the same thing as the Lord’s Table in the Jesus story. Just because there are similarities does not mean they are the same, or even say the same things. Most religions try to deal with the universal human condition and questions all peoples ask. Foreman says: “Similarity does not imply dependence.” And that, precisely, is the charge “Zeitgeist” makes against the Jesus story.

For example, one major difference between Christianity and pre-existing pagan religions is that the latter are syncretic while Christianity is exclusivistic.

Note: There is evidence that the Christian church adopted Dec. 25 from pagan religions and used it for the birth of Christ. But that happened in the 4th century, not the 1st century. So it is not original, not an “origins” thing. For the Zeitgeistian parallelomaniac to make her case she has to show that there is a 1st-century pagan influence on Christianity that created the myth of Jesus.

Another point is this: the whole parallelism argument is an example of post hoc, ergo propter hoc. In philosophy this is caused the “post hoc fallacy,” aka the “false cause fallacy.” To explain see here.

“The post hoc ergo propter hoc (after this therefore because of this) fallacy is based upon the mistaken notion that simply because one thing happens after another, the first event was a cause of the second event. Post hoc reasoning is the basis for many superstitions and erroneous beliefs.

Many events follow sequential patterns without being causally related. For example, you have a cold, so you drink fluids and two weeks later your cold goes away. You have a headache so you stand on your head and six hours later your headache goes away. You put acne medication on a pimple and three weeks later the pimple goes away. You perform some task exceptionally well after forgetting to bathe, so the next time you have to perform the same task you don't bathe. A solar eclipse occurs so you beat your drums to make the gods spit back the sun. The sun returns, proving to you the efficacy of your action.”

Here’s the form of the post hoc fallacy:

1. Event A happened before event B.

2. Therefore, event A caused event B.

For example:

1. It rained just after I washed my car.

2. Therefore, washing my car caused it to rain.

So the fact that a previous pagan religion had a similar belief to that of early Christianity does not in itself prove that the previous religion was the cause of particular belief of Christianity.

Another point: the whole Z-theory rests on the premise that Jesus did not even exist at all. Why does the Z-movie need to hold that very extreme position? Because the Z-claim is that every major event in Jesus’ life is a fabrication of early Christians, and therefore are all mythical. However, to make the claim that Jesus never existed at all is to go against an enormous amount of critical scholarship. Foreman is correct when he says “The vast majority of critical scholars [underline “vast” to include extremely liberal and even radical scholars] acknowledge the existence of the historical Jesus.” For example, John Dominic Crossan [who is, understatedly, no conservative scholar] says that “the crucifixion of Jesus Christ is the most verifiable historical fact of the ancient world.” Yet according to the “Zeitgeist” movie all these critical scholars are wrong. “Zeitgeist” addresses none of this. That’s but one major problem of this movie.

Foreman then points out 7 fallacies "Zeitgeist" commits.

1. The Generalization Fallacy

This fallacy says: all the ancient religions follow one universal model. This is simply false – there was no one universal belief all these pockets of pagan religions copied. But that’s what Zeitgeist’s astral-theology claims; viz., all of them were basically about sun worship. Not true. There were similarities. They all brought in the vegetative cycle because they were from agrarian societies. Foreman says it is a “simplistic fiction” to believe that there was one universal archetype that all these religions followed. Rather, each developed on their own.

Listen to Foreman’s explanation here of how Z-theorists (copycat theorists) first look to Jesus and then pull out things from various pagan religions that look similar and then claim Christianity is just a copy of them. And then, the Z-theorists stand back in awe and marvel at how similar Christianity is to pagan religions. But of course, since they are using the life of Jesus to guide their “research!” But “Zeitgeist” does not deal with the many things in pagan religions that do not look like Jesus. (I find this really funny…)

2. The Terminology Fallacy

This fallacy does this: events in the lives of the mythical gods are expressed in Christian terminology in order to subtly manipulate viewers into accepting that the same events that happened in the life of Jesus also happened in the lives of the mythical gods. For example, in the movie they talked about the “Messiah Solar God.” Messiah? “Messiah” is a distinctly Hebrew term. Talking about Horus being a “Messiah” is simply absurd. Another is example is the term “baptism.” “Baptism” is a Jewish-Christian concept. You don’t find it in other religions. But Zeitgeisters, in talking about Horus being thrown into the Nile, call it Horus’s “baptism.”

Here are three more examples of the terminological fallacy.

a. “Born of a virgin.” Horus – “born of a virgin.” Krishna – “born of a virgin.” Attis – “born of a virgin.” But these are not really virginal births, at least in the same way we mean when we talk about Jesus.

Take Horus. The most common birth story of Horus is that he was the conception of two gods, Osiris and Isis. Osiris was killed and his body is cut up into 14 parts which were buried all over Egypt. Isis, his wife, looks for the missing parts and collects them. She finds all the parts but one – his penis. So she creates a penis out of wood which she has sexual relations with. Out of this Horus is born. Can this be called a virginal conception? I don ‘t think so. That’s not what is going on here.

How about Attis? Attis was “born of a virgin,” according to “Zeitgeist.” The story is this. Zeus masturbates and spills his seed onto a mountain. His seed becomes a pomegranate tree. Nana, eventually the mother of Attis, is sitting under the pomegranate tree when an apple falls into her lap. She conceives. And Attis is born. This is (understatedly) not exactly the same thing that happens with Jesus.

How about Krishna? Stories of Krishna being virginally conceived come from the 7th century, 700 years after Jesus. And Krishna’s mother had seven children before Krishna, so she was hardly a virgin!

So we don’t really have virginal conceptions in the pagan gods. But why would they say that? Because Z-theorists want to make the pre-Jesus pagan gods sound like Jesus.

b. “Crucifixion.” We are told that many of these gods were crucified. But is that true?

Krishna was shot in the heel by an arrow. Attis castrates himself, flees into the woods, and dies. What about Horus? It depends on which version of the Horus myth you go with. One version tells us he never died. Another versions tells us he died by being stung by a scorpion. In other versions Horus’s death is conflated with that of Osiris. How can Z-ers claim such mythological gods were “crucified?”

Foreman quotes Dorothy Murdock, one of the major consultants for the movie, who says: “When it is asserted that Horus or Osiris was crucified, it should be kept in mind that it was not part of the Horus-Osiris myth that the murdered god was actually held down and nailed on a cross. Egyptian deities (including Horus) were depicted in cruciform with their arms extended or outstretched.” When Murdock says they were “depicted in cruciform” she is already trying to manipulate us. Because they were merely depicted with their arms out. Egyptologists will tell you that he died with his arms out because he was the Sky-god and was “suspending the sky.” This is, truly, deceptive “scholarship.”

c. “Resurrection.” We are told that all these gods were resurrected from the dead. Oh really? Let’s look at the original sources.

After Horus died he became “lord of the underworld.” He never came back to this world. But this is like a resurrection, right, since he’s still alive?

Attis was eventually turned into a pine tree. He’s back in this world, but not exactly resurrected.

Krishna – the earliest tradition says he returned to the spirit world. In the 4th and 5th centuries there was a teaching that Krishna was resurrected. But that’s long after the Jesus-story.

The great scholar Jonathan Z. Smith writes: “All of the deities that have been identified as belonging to the class of “dying and rising deities” can be subsumed under the two larger classes of “disappearing deities” or “dying deities.” In the first case the deities return but they never died; in the second case they die but they do not return. There is no unambiguous instance in the history of religions of a dying and rising deity.”



3. The Biblical Fallacy

Copycat theorists often make claims about the life of Jesus that are not based on the Gospel accounts but originate from other sources. In “Zeitgeist” things are mentioned, in support of the argument, that are not even in the Bible. For example, the “December 25” date. These pagan gods were “born on Dec. 25.” Why is this important to Z-ers? Because we celebrate Jesus’ birthday on Dec. 25. But the Gospels tell us nothing about when Jesus was born. We have no evidence for the exact date of Jesus’ birth. The date of Dec. 25 came about in the 5th century. There is some evidence that they may have picked that date because of pagan religions. So in the fifth century the Church was influenced by pagan religions. But it was not influenced by pagan religions in the first century. Which is the century when Christianity was birthed.

What about the “three kings?” In the Horus story there is nothing about three kings coming to worship Horus at his birth. But note: there are no three kings, in the Bible, at the birth of Jesus. It’s true we sing Christmas songs about them. But the Gospels do not tell us that these figures were “kings.” They are called “magi,” who are priests in the Zoroastrian religion. They don’t tell us how many there were. There’s no “three” there, in the Gospels. Yes, there were three gifts there. But this does not mean there were three kings, one for each gift. And, Jesus was probably about three years old when these magi came. Yet “Zeitgeist” wants to talk about these supposed “three kings.” But the issue is not what later Christians came to believe, but about original sources.



4. The Chronological Fallacy

This fallacy says that in order for the copycat charts to succeed one must provide evidence that the “parallel” chronologically preceded the writing of the Gospels and the New Testament epistles which were all written in the first century A.D. For the Z-idea to work one must have evidence that these teachings were around before the first century A.D. so that the early Christians could “borrow” from them and create their myth about Jesus. Do we have that kind of evidence? The answer is: No. There’s no evidence of any pagan mystery influence in first-century Palestine. The mystery religions evolved and changed over time, and as they did their beliefs and practices and narratives changed. Therefore what we know about them from later on is not necessarily true about what they taught earlier. This is important because most of the evidence we have about the mystery religions comes from the second and third centuries, when they were at their peak. We have very little evidence about what these mystery religions were like in the first century. Foreman says “because they evolved so much you simply can’t take the fallacious step and say that what they believed in the third century they must also have believed in the first century.”

In fact, we have evidence to the contrary. Third-century pagan mystery religions may have been adopting beliefs in light of Christianity. Rather than Christianity being influenced by the mystery religions, there is evidence that the mystery religions borrowed from Christianity.

5. The Source Fallacy

Supporters of “Zeitgeist” often talk about how well-documented the movie is. It refers to a lot of sources. But it’s not the quantity of documentation that makes the difference, it’s the quality of that makes the difference. “Zeitgeist” is weak on the use of primary sources. And it is weak on citing authoritative-scholarly sources. And most of Z’s cited secondary sources are from scholars who have been discredited and whose work has been abandoned long ago. These Z-sources often make undocumented assertions. They speculate on causal relationships.

One of Foreman’s favorite examples is Z’s use of the constellation Virgo, which is said to be Mary, since the constellation looks like the letter ‘M.’ And that’s why we have “Mary,” and “the virgin Mary.” Aha! Virgo? M-shaped? Therefore, the Virgin (Virgo) Mary? The claim is that the constellation symbol ‘M’ was the cause of the biblical name ‘Mary.’ But no evidence is given for this astounding claim. Let’s pause here to give thanks that, we hope, our reasoning never sinks to this depth…

There’s a real problem in choosing primary sources for these ancient pagan religions, since in many cases there is no single authoritative text available.

6. The Difference Fallacy

This is where copycat theorists over-emphasize the supposed similarities and they ignore enormous substantive, relevant differences between these religions. “Zeitgeist” gives us the idea that all these religions are saying basically the same thing, and that is simply not true. Especially the pagan religions in comparison to Christianity.

For example, mystery religions are cyclical, generally following the cycle of birth-death-rebirth (vegetative-harvest cycles) ad infinitum; Christianity is linear (history is heading in a certain direction).

Mystery religions involve secrecy with secret initiation rites; Christianity was completely open – no secret rituals and rites.

For mystery religions doctrines were completely unimportant – they were religions of emotion and mystical experience; in Christianity doctrines and beliefs were central. That’s why mystery religions were so syncretic – it didn’t matter what you believed.

Mystery religions were void of any ethical element; Christianity emphasizes moral teachings and living a righteous life.

Mystery religions were not interested in the historicity of their myths; Christianity is wrapped up in its history. The mystery religions self-referred as “myths.” But in Christianity, if Christ is not risen in history, the whole thing fails.

Finally, the meaning and purpose of Jesus’ death in history is completely different from the death of the mystery religions’ gods. In Christianity Jesus died for us, for the sins of mankind. None of the pagan gods died for anyone else. Most of them died under compulsion – they were murdered. Jesus, on the other hand, died willingly. Pagans mourned the death of their gods. Jesus’ death was viewed as a victory.

The Z-copycat theorists do not address these differences.

***
Note, for something actually scholarly that relates to this stuff see Greg Boyd and Paul Eddy, The Jesus Legend: A Case foir the Historical Reliability of the Synoptic Gospels