Posts Tagged Ben Witherington III
Ben Witherington is picking apart Rob Bell’s Love Wins chapter by chapter here. Here’s a taste of his critique of chapter 7:
Let me be clear that I think in one sense Rob is right—- God is not quixotic. He is not gracious and loving one moment, and cruel the moment after you die. I think that is true— indeed I believe wholeheartedly in what Hebrews says— that Jesus himself is the same yesterday, today, and forever. The character of God does not change. The problem here with Rob’s equation is that the character of God is that he is always both holy and loving, always both just and gracious, always both fair and merciful. The problem is— Rob is forcing us to choose between the moral attributes of God, and suggesting that one of them, God’s love, erases or trumps the other ones. And this frankly is not the Biblical view of God.
The great mystery of God, which makes God’s grace and love all the more astounding, is that God doesn’t take a pass on his holiness or justice for a while in order to be loving and kind. And nowhere is that clearer than on the cross— God loves the sinner but hates the sin that separates us from God, and rightly so. And the reason he is so hard on sin is precisely because he has such a deep desire to have an everlasting loving relationship with us, and is inalterably opposed to anything that gets in the way of that.
Take for an analogy the doctor dedicated to saving lives at all costs. That doctor has a passionate dislike for cancer, indeed he is doing everything he possibly can to eradicate it. But there is a problem. Believe it or not, some people would rather keep their cancer and die an early death, than have to go through the painful arduous changes required of them in order to become a new person who is cancer free. You may be thinking, I’ve never met a person like that. Well, let me tell you, I have as a pastor, and it is heart-breaking. Read the rest of this entry »
By all means read Ben Witherington’s chapter by chapter review of Rob Bell’s Love Wins here.
Here’s a taste:
The first chapter of this book involves raising a plethora of questions (pp. 1-19). They are perfectly fair questions, but what comes to light in the enumeration of these questions is that in fact Rob Bell is reacting, reacting to a form of the Christian message that he sees as too narrow, cramped, judgmental, and just plain wrong, because it conveys an idea of God, that in his view is incompatible with his reading of what the real character of God is like. What is entirely missing from this chapter is any sort of discussion of sin, sin as the alienating cause of human lostness, sin as the reason why persons are not going to heaven. Let me be clear that I think Rom. 1.18-32 is crucial to this question. Unfortunately Rom. 1 is not dealt with in this first chapter and what texts he does cite he does not treat in any detail. Rather Rob sort of flits from one text to the next like a butterfly hoping to drain the tiny bit of nectar in each flower.
What Romans 1 says plain as day (which comports with what is said later in Rom. 3-5 namely that we have all consciously sinned and can’ t get up by our own efforts), is that people are not condemned to hell or judgment for what they have never heard about God. What Romans 1 says is that the reality of God and God’s power is evident in all of creation, and people are judged for what they do with the light about God that they have indeed received. What Paul says they do is that while they know God exists and is powerful, they refuse to acknowledge God, the most primal sin of all. In other words, most of the questions Rob raises in Chapter One are entirely irrelevant. People do not go to Hell (whether in a handbasket or by some other means of conveyance) due to ignorance of God or of Christ. They simply don’t. Nor do they go to Hell because God already decided they would do so from before the foundations of the universe. Equally untrue, and equally unhelpful in making sense of God and this issue.
The problem which already surfaces in Chapter One is that Rob has blended together in his creative mental cuisinart both some true aspects of the Gospel story and some false caricatures of the Good News, and unfortunately, he is not just rejecting some of the caricatures, he is rejecting some of the true aspects of the story. And this is a problem, all the more so when Rob wants to suggest that a just or righteous or holy or judging God is somehow not good news……
Bart Ehrman and friends are making the rounds with their books attempting to undermine the reliability of the New Testament witnesses to the life of Jesus. Have you bought their rhetoric? Have you joined the chorus of skeptics in an age of unbelief? Here’s a challenging rebuttal by Dr. Ben Witherington III to consider.
(This lecture was given at the Greer-Heard Forum last Saturday at New Orleans Baptist Seminary after the presentations the previous day by Bart Ehrman and Craig Evans.)
I listened to my scholarly colleagues yesterday give us a variety of answers as to whether the Gospels are historically reliable when it comes to their portraits of Jesus, debate differences in the accounts and their significance, talk about how we derive historically responsible conclusions about Jesus, and speak with passion and conviction about their subject matter, and one might add, also some exasperation. They were both exasperated with flat, insipid, overly literalistic fundamentalistic readings of the four canonical Gospels served up by the right Rev. Billy Bob Proverb all too regularly on a cable network near you. And I understand and share that exasperation. But at the end of the day I was also frustrated with what I heard from both Bart and Craig yesterday to some degree, and I will now explain why.
We are all products of our education, and in case of myself and indeed all of us, we were all trained to analyze the Gospels in detail using source, and form, and redaction criticism. Now these methods have their pluses and minuses. They can be useful in getting at certain aspects of things about the historical Jesus, but unfortunately these methods cannot help us very much to deal with the canonical Gospels if we seek to treat them as they were intended to be treated by their original inspired authors. More on that in a minute.
These Gospel authors were not operating with the canons of modern secular historiography which tends to have an anti-supernatural bias with its practitioners regularly muttering astoundingly dogmatic things like “that didn’t happen because those kind of things don’t happen. People don’t rise from the dead.” I have to say that that sort of dogmatic statement puts the dog back in dogmatic just as much as the dogmatic statements of some fundamentalist TV preachers. It is especially proper to ask persons who are dogmatic in modern secular anti-supernaturalist ways, just as it is proper to ask persons who are dogmatic in others ways— ‘How do you know things like that don’t happen?’ And if the answer is ‘I have never seen such a thing happen’ then we realize we are dealing with persons who needs to get out more, see more of the world of human experience, but have the arrogance to assume that his or her private, individual experience exhausts what is possible when it comes to the limits of historical reality. This person is in fact saying “talk to the hand with your miracle reports, the face is not listening.” What is even worse is when such scholars then take the next step of suggesting that if you don’t have these sorts of presuppositions you are not a critical scholar, and are not doing proper historical analysis of the Gospels. Read the rest of this entry »
I was minding my business drinking my morning coffee, and looking out on the unexpected snowfall on Black Friday which made it white Friday here in Lexington when ‘what to my wondering eyes did appear, then a plane load of Irish, seeking out reindeer’. Yes, that’s right. On CNN this morning we were regaled with the story of two Irish ladies from Belfast, who had in fact been on a whole plane load of Irish ladies coming to America quite specfically to go shopping on Black Friday at Macy’s and elsewhere, and boy did they snap up the bargains when the door opened at 4 A.M. in the morning. Yikes! In fact Sears and some stores opened at midnight, so desperate are they all to make money. About half of the annual revenue of such large chain stores will be made between now and Dec. 27th according to the news broadcast.
I know Jesus said that in his Father’s House there are many rooms or mansions but if there is a Mall in heaven, I’ll bet these two Irish ladies have already reserved their places there. Today is the day such folks shop until they drop. As for the Irish ladies, this is clearly the spirit which led all those folks to leave the U.K. in the 16th-19th century coming to America to acquire fame, fortune, or at least a farm. The acquisitive spirit is a wonder to behold.
Bargain hunters are almost as fun to watch as folks at a flea market. Some of them almost have it down to a science. Like mercantile blood hounds they sniff out the best deals, get geared and ginned up to go out early and push their way through the barriers to the bargains. It made me think of the difference between Black Friday and Good Friday.
On Black Friday the best possible outcome is finding bargains.
On Good Friday the best possible outcome is finding salvation to be free of charge.
On Black Friday you have to work hard and go sniff out the deals.
On Good Friday, the hound of Heaven came looking for you.
On Black Friday satisfaction comes from realizing how little you had to pay.
On Good Friday satisfaction comes by Jesus paying it all. In the ultimate paradox salvation is both free, and extremely expensive.
Advent is coming friends, and as a little reminder, its not our own birthdays we will be celebrating at Christmas, buying ourselves all these gifts. It’s his birthday. And nothing you can find at Macy’s is an adequate gift for that King. Only you yourself will do.
“Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light” (2 Cor 11:14).
Christians have always had a tough time with Halloween. The danger usually associated with the message of Halloween was its association with the occult — the glorification and celebration of evil, death, Satan, witchcraft, blood-sucking vampires and the like. Clearly the people called to “live in the light as he is in the light” (1 John 1:7) have no business dabbling in this sort of darkness. Christians living in the bright new day of the Resurrected Son are called to “put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light” (Rom 13:12).
I have always appreciated C. S. Lewis’ balanced approach to the topic of Satan and the forces of darkness, warning that: “There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them.” So, reasonable and balanced Christians and church leaders have attempted to recognize the real evil standing behind the folk religion of Americanized, materialized, sugar-laden Halloween by offering alternatives to dressing up as goblins, witches and vampires. The Harvest Party and other family-friendly gatherings that celebrate the true Light’s victory over the powers of darkness have provided alternatives to trick-or-treating. (Read Ben Witherington on “Should Christians celebrate Halloween?”)
Well, one wonders if even the creative mind of C. S. Lewis who wrote at length from the point of view of the “devils” in The Screwtape Letters could have anticipated the sneaky way our culture (or the Devil) would try to put a new spin and sexy veneer over the dark focus of Halloween’s evil under layer. Lewis has the senior Devil named Screwtape write to Wormwood, his devil in training, instructing him on how to try to keep humans (called “patients”) from even believing in their existence (since they can do more harm when their “patient” is unaware of them):
“I don’t think you will have much difficulty in keeping the patient in the dark. The fact that ‘devils’ are predominantly comic figures in the modern imagination will help you. If any faint suspicion of your existence begins to arise in his mind, suggest to him a picture of something in red tights, and persuade that since he cannot believe in that (it is an old textbook method of confusing them) he therefore cannot believe in you.”
Well, take a trip to the nearest Halloween Costume Outlet store today and you will find that old Screwtape and his junior devils have taken it a step further. You would have to be blind or living in a cave somewhere to not have noticed the trend in costumes the past several years. The cultural forces at work (driven by the sexual forces within) have managed to add an entirely new kind of darkness and evil to the traditional favorites. I speak of the overt sexualization of Halloween costumes. Read the rest of this entry »
Two significant voices offer well-needed clarity on the ongoing battle within the Episcopalian and Anglican churches over the question of homosexual clergy. Check it out:
1. My number one favorite blog that is a part of my daily diet of reading is Jesus Creed with Scot McKnight. It’s hard to top the variety of topics and the depth of discussion found there. I have been honored to have some of my writings featured there. I admire Scot as a reputable New Testament scholar and a down-to-earth, genuine Christ follower. If you like to be up to speed on the most contemporary discussions within the field of Biblical Studies but written in a quite accessible way, you should stop by. Currently, you’ll find discussions on “Homosexuality in the church”, “Science and Religion” (esp. Evolution), “Common Heresies,” “Paul and Justification: N. T. Wright vs. John Piper”, and a verse by verse study in James. Check it out.
2. Another great blog I frequent is Ben Witherington. He is a prolific New Testament scholar the one moment and the next moment being completely random and anecdotal. You won’t be disappointed for stopping by. He’s often posting fun videos, interesting news items, and entertaining tid-bits. This week he brought to my attention Kevin Roose and “an interesting news piece about this young man who is a student at Brown but decided to go “behind enemy lines” and spy on the Liberty U, the domain of Jerry Falwell for a semester, and write a story about his experience.” You might be surprised what this young man from a liberal university discovered during this time at Liberty University, the bastion of conservative Christian higher learning. He has written a book called “The Unlikely Disciple.” Check out the FULL STORY.
3. Michael Spencer is the Internet Monk. I am a kindred spirit with so much of what Michael Spencer says. His assessment of the Evangelical landscape is very right on. He is only critical because he is a committed member of this evangelical ship we’re trying to steer through these stormy, post-modern waters. I don’t read his blog as much as I listen to his weekly Internet Monk Radio Podcast. I would highly recommend subscribing to the podcast via iTunes today. Don’t pre-judge Michael Spencer before you give him a fair hearing. He is getting a lot of mixed attention as of late from his provocatively titled “Coming Evangelical Collapse” article. His commitment and passion for a more “Jesus-shaped Christianity” and evangelicalism is a passion that I share 100%. If you are broadly evangelical, but tired of all the “baggage” that comes with that label, Michael Spencer is most likely your friend and brother. Check him out!
What are your favorite blogs?