Sunday, June 18, 2017

The Evangelism of Ambassadors


We are Christ's ambassadors, called to be peace-makers in this world, to build fellowship and tear down the walls of division. The work begins within our own minds, our own hearts, as we root out any bitterness, rage, or malice and in its place sow love. As ambassadors we are strangers in a strange land. While we may have hours that are quiet or private, there is no public setting where people are not judging us -- and Christ -- by how we as ambassadors conduct ourselves. I will make some quick and obvious points before continuing to the real point of this post.

As evangelists, as ambassadors of peace, there are messages and conduct that undermine us and discredit us. 
  1. Justifying ourselves
  2. Elevating ourselves
  3. Accusing others (including its cousin fault-finding)
  4. Belittling others
  5. Anger or fits of rage (so-called righteous anger is usually self-righteous anger, and there is nothing righteous about it)
There are messages and conduct which further our message:
  1. God forgiving us and others
  2. Elevating God
  3. Forgiving others
  4. Lifting up others
  5. Love, joy, and peace
Why, then, on reading Christian writings -- whether on-line or in print -- do we see ourselves willingly rushing away from things that further our message, towards things that do not? What about the temptation to put down others and gain at their expense is so attractive to us? What is there about anger, or sarcasm or mocking, or displays of contempt that make us think these are suitable tools of disciples of Christ? What about forgiving others is so elusive to us? What about giving the glory to God is so foreign to us?

The answer is our own sinfulness, I expect. We see humility as a loser's virtue for when we aren't accomplished enough to merit pride. But pride is a decoy virtue that lures us away from our better intentions. Prestige and recognition are bait for a spiritual trap. It is humility that is the basis of friendship, fellowship, brotherhood. It is the basis for all relations based on mutual kindness in which each person enjoys giving and receiving compassion and respect. Without humility there is no peace, there is no forgiveness, there is no reconciliation, there is no fellowship.

We live in dark times. This is no age of saints. So it takes only a little effort to shine as lights. God, grant us wisdom and willingness to walk your paths.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Separating Authentic from Inauthentic Jesus Tradition

Over at CADRE Comments, Joe Hinman was responding to "The Bayes Craze" in atheist polemics, and he mentioned a common anti-Christian claim:
"[T]here are no reliable criteria for separating authentic from inauthentic Jesus tradition."
While the claim is fairly common, it is also so badly mistaken that I'd like to respond again, at the risk of being repetitive. I've previously done some research and posted summaries on this blog about objectively measurable ways for evaluating different accounts of Jesus to determine their historical value. These methods can be done by computer and do not depend on the evaluator's preferences. To recap:
  • The real Jesus was Jewish. When evaluating the accounts of Jesus, the more Jewish context there is, the more authentic it's likely to be. This can be measured in the prevalence or lack of reference to Jewish Scripture, Jewish national heroes, synagogue worship, Jewish religious holy days, trips to the Temple, Jewish controversies, Jewish religious traditions, and the like. It can also be measured by loan words from the original context and languages, or phrases recounted in the language in which originally spoken.
  • The real Jesus lived in Judea and the key events of his life took place roughly around year 30 of our era, in Roman-occupied territory. When evaluating the accounts of Jesus, the more we have of first-century Roman-occupied Judea, the more authentic it's likely to be. This can be measured in the prevalence or lack of reference to Roman occupation, Roman officials, first-century money systems in use in that time and place, and first-century events. 
  • The real Jesus lived in the geographical world of that era. When evaluating the accounts of Jesus, the more geography there is, the more authentic it's likely to be. This can be measured in the prevalence or lack of reference to cities, towns, rivers, lakes, valleys, hills or mountains, traveling, modes of travel, neighboring territories, and at the micro-level by reference to landmarks or particular peoples' homes.
  • The real Jesus was a physical human being. When evaluating the accounts of Jesus, the more physical context there is, the more authentic it's likely to be. This can be measured in the prevalence or lack of reference to everyday physical events like eating, drinking, sleeping, hunger, thirst, tiredness, looking at people, picking up things, standing up, sitting down, and all that type of thing that shows a physical context of physical beings. It can also be measured by the prevalence or lack of reference to the physical context of our surroundings such events happening at day or night, the weather being being hot or cold, whether a food crop is in season or not, passing storms, and the like. 
There are other criteria to be mentioned as well, but these are some of the most obvious and most easily measured. Anyone who reads the various accounts of Jesus -- both inside and outside the New Testament -- will quickly come to see that some documents are more grounded in a Jewish context, in first-century Roman-occupied Judea, in a physical world involving physical human beings. In fact, some documents are several orders of magnitude better grounded than others, with a far better claim to authenticity. The more a document's contents are grounded in the appropriate time and place and language and culture and physical world, the more we'd evaluate it as an authentic record of its time and place.

Here's the thing: I've run those analyses, and I know the answers; it leaves me with full confidence in the authenticity of the canonical gospels as the best sources on Jesus. Anyone with a computer and texts of the various documents could do the same. The fact that the scholars of the various Biblical studies departments haven't done a similar study leaves me with exasperated doubt about the authenticity of Biblical studies scholarship.

Sunday, June 04, 2017

"Heart, Soul, Strength, and Mind" Meets Some Other Touchstone Verses

When Jesus was asked which command was the greatest, he said it was this: that we love the Lord with all our heart, soul, strength, and mind. It's easy to think of love in terms of heart, or possibly in terms of strength if we're trying it by will-power without much help from our hearts in some situations. Sometimes I wonder, "What part does each play?" Sometimes I find myself thinking: it doesn't help much to break it down; the point is we love with all that we have. At other times ... Well, this is one of the other times when I'm curious whether it would help to see the part played by each. And so I've taken some of the other touchstone verses of the Bible, and looked at whether each thing seems like a way to love with heart, soul, strength, or mind, in hopes that I'll see other ways to increase in love. I should mention: I take it as given that all these touchstone verses instruct us in how to increase our love. 
  • Characteristics of love: patient, kind, not jealous, not boastful, not proud, not rude, not self-seeking, not easily angered, keeps no record of wrongs, takes no delight in evil, rejoices in truth, bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things (1 Corinthians 13:4-7)
Heart
Kind, not jealous, rejoices in truth
Soul
Not boastful, not proud, not self-seeking, takes no delight in evil, hopes all things
Strength
Patient, not easily angered, bears all things, endures all things
Mind
Not rude, keeps no record of wrongs, believes all things

  • Sevenfold spirit: wisdom, understanding, counsel, might, knowledge, fear of the Lord, joy in His presence. (Isaiah 11:2-3)
Heart
Joy in His presence
Soul
Fear of the Lord
Strength
Might
Mind
Wisdom, understanding, counsel, knowledge

  • Taking off the old self: Get rid of all bitterness, rage, and anger, brawling and slander, and every form of malice. (Ephesians 4:31)
Heart
Get rid of bitterness
Soul
Get rid of bitterness
Strength
Get rid of rage, anger, brawling
Mind
Get rid of slander and malice.

  • Think on these things: Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good reputation, if there is any virtue, or anything worthy of praise, think on these things. (Philippians 4:8)
Heart
Whatever is lovely, of good reputation, worthy of praise
Soul
Whatever is honorable, just, pure, worthy of praise
Strength
Anything of virtue, worthy of praise
Mind
Whatever is true
Think on these things

Some of these of course could have been placed differently. Still, when I find that my heart isn't cooperating it's good to know how to help it along with my mind or strength, and vice versa.