The Canon of the New Testament

Apologetics, Thoughts
I am a natural born skeptic.  When they say I should drink two glasses of water before breakfast, I wonder who they are.  When they say I should change my oil every 3000 miles, I wonder if they are engine experts or shills for the oil companies.  When they say I need eight hours of sleep a night, I wonder how they know that about me specifically.  I subscribe to the theory that my body will wake up when it has had enough sleep.  Is that too simple-minded?  Maybe I should ask they. So what happens to my skepticism when they tell me that the 27 books of the Bible that make up my New Testament are God-inspired?  In short, it disappears. And my skepticism disappears for two reasons.  First, the manuscript evidence supporting…
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The Thrill of Discovery – Epilogue

Apologetics, Thoughts
As a follow up to Josh and William's comments on our last post, let me add this:  When I was in early elementary school, I dreamed of growing up to become an explorer like Christopher Columbus.  By about the fifth grade, I learned that the whole world had already been "discovered" so I changed my "what do you want to be when you grow up" to professional baseball player.  (That dream died as well when I didn't go out for the high school team.) The irony in my path to a career is that, in time, I did become exactly what my first dreams desired; an intrepid explorer.  My interest in geology and geophysics was never in identifying rocks and minerals or unraveling the geologic history of the earth or…
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The Thrill of Discovery

Apologetics, Thoughts
(11 of 11 in a series) Hanging on my office wall is an advertisement torn from a geophysical magazine several years ago.  The page size print shows a little girl at the beach holding tightly to her brother’s foot as he digs deep in the sand looking for buried treasure.  The picture of determination on the little girl’s face is priceless.  The caption reads, “If it’s there, we’ll find it.” The reason this photo has followed me from office to office, job to job is because it captures, in visual form, the essence of the job of a geophysicist.  We use our training, skills, and keen eye for observation to look for buried treasure.  The “buried treasure” that geophysicists seek can take many forms:  oil, natural gas, water, minerals, fault lines…
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True Freedom

Apologetics, Thoughts
(10 of 11 in a series) When we hear the word freedom, we often think in terms of politics.  As part of a democracy, we are a free people.  Or we equate freedom with a suspension of the rules.  Teenagers are keen on gaining their freedom by having the house rules lifted as they get older.  Or we think in terms of morality, wishing we could act any way we please free from the ethics of our society, or religion, or peers.  Can this be true freedom? The Bible teaches that true freedom does not equal autonomy.  Complete freedom in terms of total autonomy from any master, motivation, or influence is not an option for us in the human race as much as we like to think it is.  We are…
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The Lost Son and the Lovesick Father

Apologetics, Thoughts
(9 of 11 in a series) Jesus told a parable – a story that illustrates a spiritual truth – about a lost son.  As the story goes, a wealthy landowner had two sons.  The younger son requested his share of the inheritance from his father so he could set out on his own.  The father agreed and the younger son took the money and headed off to a far away country.  After squandering his inheritance on loose living, the son ended up working on a hog farm in a time of famine and was in the process of starving to death.  When the son came to his senses, he said, “My father’s servants are treated so much better than this.  I will go to my father.  I will throw myself…
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Good News

Apologetics, Thoughts
(8 of 11 in a series) Jesus said, “You will know the truth and the truth will set you free.”  It is a basic premise of this blog, as well as the message of Jesus, that truth exists and that it can be known. When I leave my home in northwest Houston, I am faced with the concrete reality of a maze of roads that lead to my downtown office.  These roads are literally a concrete reality.  That is, if I want to travel safely from point A to point B, I must travel the roads where they are.  If I decide the highway system is not “truth” for me and head off cross country, I have absolutely no hope of reaching my destination.  Even with a four-wheel drive SUV,…
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The Shoe Fits

Apologetics, Thoughts
(7 of 11 in a series) The depravity of man has become in our day a compelling argument for the truth of the Christian message.  Modern man, when he is thinking, knows he is sick.  Recognizing our desperate condition is not the problem.  A large portion of the pop music of my generation was summarized in Steely Dan's, "Any world that I am welcome to is better than the one I come from."  In literature, music, and art, nihilism is a common theme; we know something is amiss.  Unfortunately, our “sickness” has clouded our vision and blinded our eyes to the true solution. It is my contention that when we embrace the “good news” message of Jesus Christ, the blinders come off and a whole new world opens up to…
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Summarizing the Data

Apologetics, Thoughts
(6 of 11 in a series) It is time to analyze our collected observations.  Let’s review our “data” to this point.  Observation one:  The incredibly complex and orderly universe we inhabit implies a creator.  Observation two:  Man has a desire for a relationship with a supreme being.  Observation three:  Man has an innate bent toward moral and artistic beauty.  Observation four:  Man has an incredible capacity for cruelty. In fitting these "data" into a religion, belief system, or philosophy, I believe that the most thorough and reasonable explanation for these observations is found in the message of Christianity.  But in order to make this connection, we must set aside any preconceived notions or caricatures of what is meant by the word “Christian”.  In this blog, the Christian message has no political…
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Capacity for Cruelty

Apologetics, Thoughts
(5 of 11 in a series) When we observe acts of violence that illustrate the moral depravity of our nature, we often react with comments such as “that’s inhuman!”  Unfortunately, man’s inhumanity to man is all too human and is, in fact, an unchangeable condition of man being man.  One of the surprising observations at the Nazi war crimes trials was that the perpetrators of the Holocaust appeared to be normal.  The scary part is that for the most part they were.  Man's capacity for cruelty is observation number four. Man is sick and we know it.  From the evening news to the thoughts and intents of our own hearts, we know something is wrong.  What can explain the massacre, some years ago, of Albanians in Kosovo including a toddler with…
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Artistic and Moral Beauty

Apologetics, Thoughts
(4 of 11 in a series) When we turn our calculating scientist’s eye on ourselves, we capture observation number three.  Man has an incredible capacity for beauty.  Both in our ability to reflect on beauty and our ability to act in ways that are morally beautiful. In the first instance, reflecting on beauty, who has not marveled at an incredible sunset or the majestic peaks of a snow-covered mountain range?  In the beauty of the natural world as well as in the work of the artist and musician, collective man does not respond with a shrug and a “whatever”.  Instead, we purchase tickets to the concert or play.  We buy pieces of art that inspire us.  We photograph nature, people, and action.  We celebrate beauty in all its forms.  This…
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Our Search for God

Apologetics, Thoughts
(3 of 11 in a series) A second observation about the world we live in is man’s ongoing desire for a relationship with a supreme being.  Man’s belief in a deity crosses all boundaries of culture, education, and time.  The most primitive society has some sense of a “most perfect being” as does the most educated elite. In 1916, a survey of one thousand prominent American scientists revealed that 42% believed in a personal God.  While the public was appalled at the low percentage, the authors of the survey suggested that as scientific knowledge progressed through the twentieth century the number would soon approach zero.  That conclusion proved incorrect when the study was replicated in 1997 with a new group of science luminaries.  The percentage of “believers” was 39%, not…
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Is Someone Out There?

Apologetics, Thoughts
(2 of 11 in a series) Let's start our journey of discovery with some observations about the world as we know it.  Our first observation is that we inhabit an extremely complex yet orderly universe.  Many explanations for why this is so have been offered ranging from intelligent design to supernatural creation to the unguided march of evolution.  The detailed analysis of competing theories of origins has been written about in many places.  For our purposes, I ask you to trust me with this simple observation. Just as a wedding cake implies a baker and a watch implies a watchmaker, there is nothing in my geophysical training or practice that dissuades me from the straightforward conclusion that the incredibly complex and orderly world in which we dwell implies a creator. …
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The Truth That Sets Us Free – A Geophysics Lesson

Apologetics, Thoughts
(1 of 11 in a series) The author of this blog is a geophysicist.  Geophysicists study the physical properties of the geo, the earth, and make predictions about the composition, structure, and geologic attributes of the earth based on our observations.  With the entire earth (and beyond) as our “data set” to study, geophysicists are taught to think big picture.  Geophysicists are trained to develop both global and local theories based on sparse and sometimes conflicting data. We measure.  We study.  We evaluate.  We postulate.  We theorize.  We do algebra in our heads.  And we test our theories against the facts.  The theories that hold up become principles and laws of nature.  In essence, it is the job of the geophysicist to discover the truth about the earth and its form…
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Keeping the Faith – A Wrap Up

Apologetics, Thoughts
For the past several months, we have been addressing the issues raised in Dr. Ruth Tucker's book, Walking Away from Faith.  We started out by emphasizing the importance of love and humility in how we respond to our young people's doubts and questions as they stand on the brink of leaving the faith.  And we explored these five broad reasons folks identify for walking away from faith: Scientific and philosophical issues, particularly evolution and naturalism. Biblical perplexities and higher criticism. Disappointment with God regarding personal and wide-scale suffering. Hypocrisy and lack of caring among leaders in the church. Lifestyle and perspective, including homosexuality, feminism, secularism, and pluralism. We worked our way through this list looking at biblical answers to these faith challenges, and at the risk of overly simplifying the answers, let me…
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Love: One Strategy, One Message

Apologetics, Love is ..., Thoughts
I personally believe that one area where Satan has really muddied the waters in the American church is on the topic of love.  I believe Satan is quite content to see our message proclaimed basically without interference here in the States while he busies himself sowing seeds of discontent and strife among the body.  As we learned last time, this disharmony takes the power right out of our message and our witness.  I can think of at least two ways Satan delights in this current situation. First, we have taken the life out of our message because we have reduced Christianity to an adherence to a moral code (see yesterday's excellent post on this very thought by Mark Galli at Christianity Today online).  We have failed to emphasize the finished…
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Love: The Final Witness

Apologetics, Love is ..., Thoughts
"A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.  By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another" (Jn 13:34-35).  The world has a God-given right to judge our affiliation with Christ on the basis of our love for each other. Jesus extends the connection between our love and His mission as One sent by the Father in John, chapter 17.  Listen to Jesus' prayer for His disciples and His followers who will come after them.  "I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word, that they may all be one, just as You, Father,…
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Biblical Perplexities and the New Covenant

Apologetics, Thoughts
Another challenge in the area of biblical perplexities is how we handle the time gap, the language gap, and the culture gap between the New Testament and our present experience.  This is where our theological humility comes into the picture.  Our western and modern mindset wants to put everything about God and His communication with man into neat, logical pigeonholes.  Insisting on a specific theological bent forces us into apparent contradictions and complicated efforts to explain them away rather than just accepting and celebrating the mystery.  There will always be a certain amount of mystery in Scripture.  That is just the way God is. So while the Bible includes plenty of chronological detail, it is not a western-style history book.  And in our efforts to understand it as one, we are frustrated…
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The Distorted Message

Apologetics, Thoughts
Comedian Ricky Gervais, a professed atheist, famously wrote in a Wall Street Journal editorial that he is a better Christian than many Christians because he does a better job of keeping the Ten Commandments.  My first response to Mr. Gervais would be, "Wrong religion!"  He is talking about Judaism, not Christianity.  But I am inclined to give the British comic a pass because it is a common mistake made by religious and irreligious alike.  And it gets to the root of our young people's problem with biblical perplexities and higher criticism. The message of the Bible that our young people think is fraught with contradictions, overseen by an angry God, and disconnected from reality is NOT the true message of Scripture, but a caricature of the Bible that we have…
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Biblical Perplexities

Apologetics, Thoughts
Another of the challenges identified by Dr. Ruth Tucker in her book Walking Away from Faith is biblical perplexities and higher criticism.  For those of us who have grown secure in the reliability of the Scriptures, it can be easy to dismiss other's doubts with a quick wave of the hand across the standard arguments that convinced us.  But as in the case of our previous topic - the interaction between faith and science - a proper mix of confidence and humility is in order. On the confidence side, we have the Bible rooted in secular history more securely than any other religious text.  For example, here is a New Testament passage you probably did not memorize in Sunday School that sets the tone for accepting and embracing the authenticity…
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What We Know

Apologetics, Thoughts
Our last several posts highlighted some of the challenges with synthesizing our faith and our science.  The specific topic has been the process of creation.  When I said last post that Genesis is not a science textbook, it may have raised the hair on the back of your neck since for years that quote has been code for joining "the other side" in the creation/evolution debate.  With the baggage that comes with the term "evolution" and the contentious history of the debate, it behooves me to make sure some points are clear. I believe the Bible is the inerrant Word of God and everything recorded in it is true, including where it touches science and nature. I personally do not have a firm opinion on the length of God's creative process, but…
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Genesis Chapter One

Apologetics, Thoughts
Moving now to the biblical record of creation, many attempts to "fit" evolution into the Genesis record have led to the "gap" theory, the "day-age" theory, or other progressive creation theories.  These efforts, in my opinion, are unnecessary exegetical and scientific gymnastics.  Instead, we need to step back and recognize that Genesis chapter 1 does not give us an exhaustive record of God's creation of the world.  A common theme I was taught in my student days was, "Everything the Bible says about God is true, but when we know everything the Bible says about God, we still do not know everything about God."  It is an accepted theological principle that there is more to God than He has revealed. Similarly, it is not much of a jump to conclude that there could be more…
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Out of the Box

Apologetics, Thoughts
Last post, we left our college student and fledgling biologist at a crossroads of tension between the faith of his childhood and the science of his current study.  We have basically placed our student in a box of our own making.  A box that, in my opinion, is entirely unnecessary.  The box we create for young people, or inquirers of any age, is the "either or" approach to faith and science that we have constructed.  Will our college friend follow the scientific evidence wherever it leads or will he conclude that to keep the faith he must turn his back on the science?  Many students faced with this needless dilemma will jettison the faith. One of the ways we help our young people navigate their way out of the box…
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Science vs Faith

Apologetics, Thoughts
Imagine this scenario.  A young man raised in a Christian home and evangelical church heads off to college.  He has an interest in science.  In fact, he plans to major in biology.  His experience to this point with the theory of evolution has been a general antipathy.  He honestly doesn't know much about the specifics.  He just knows, based on his upbringing, that it is not true.  His biology teacher at his Christian high school more or less avoided the subject for obvious reasons.  He has a sense that if evolution is espoused by his college professors, it will be because they are avowed atheists and part of a grand scheme to hide the scientific evidence from biology, chemistry, and geology supporting creationism.  He is pretty sure the Bible teaches…
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Walking Away from Faith

Apologetics, Thoughts
When church leaders are asked about the growing trend of 20-somethings leaving the faith, their responses usually coalesce around lifestyle issues; that is, the lure of immorality has caused these young people to fall away.  I believe this is only a part of the story.  Yes, the Christian lifestyle can be difficult to maintain during the transition from the relative security of home to the new found freedom of college life, the workplace, and a new group of friends.  (As an aside, we often exacerbate this challenge when we have not trained our children thoroughly in the provisions of the new covenant for living the Christian life, but we will have to save that discussion for later.) When "young leavers" cite a theological or intellectual crisis as the reason for…
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Honest Questions, Honest Answers

Apologetics, Thoughts
Several posts ago I quoted Dietrich Bonhoeffer on the need to celebrate the mystery of our faith and not become too attached to our theological systems.  One of the things "celebrating the mystery" does for us as parents is that it enables us to pour into our children a faith that is living, authentic, and inquiring.  Much has been made recently in both the Christian and secular press about the alarming trend of young people leaving the faith.  The level of concern varies greatly from authors Robert Putnam and David Campbell's American Grace:  How Religion Divides and Unites Us, "young Americans are dropping out of religion at an alarming rate of five to six times the historic rate" to Baylor sociologist Rodney Stark who writes, "young people have always been…
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Theological Systems

Apologetics, Holidays, Thoughts
I am a big fan of systematic theology.  God's story of redemption is epic in its sweep and fitting His words and works into that epic is both intellectually satisfying as well as pertinent to how we live.  Proper theology casts a long shadow in our lives, especially as we understand all that came to us through Christ in the new covenant.  But I am not a fan of theological systems. Our work, as theologians, is to prayerfully investigate the mysteries of God and explain such in an accessible format to our readers.  Accessible does not mean diminishing the grandeur.  It is more like being a bridge.  Just as many pastors are a bridge on Sunday morning taking the Word of God, recorded primarily in Greek, and making it accessible…
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