Is the Trinity in the Bible? I have talked with Jews, Muslims, atheists, and even some Christians who say no. Recently I had the privilege of discussing the issue with an ex-Muslim and with a Jehovah’s Witness, who have prompted me to revisit the issue here. Of course I admit that the word “Trinity” nowhere occurs in the inspired text of the Bible. But the lack of a word does not mean the absence of the reality to which that word refers. The word “omnipresent” is also not to be found in Scripture, but the idea of God’s omnipresence is clearly taught there (e.g. 1 Kings 8:27; Psalm 139:7-12). Like God’s omnipresence, we need to explore what the Bible actually teaches about God’s oneness, and then consider what to call it. (more…)
As a historian, I am struck by how much of the Old Testament consists of historical narrative, over a third of the total (and it’s a big volume!). On the other hand, I am also surprised at the lack of historical method (as distinct from the methods of textual scholarship or archaeology) applied to these biblical narratives. It seems that most Old Testament scholars have concluded that there is nothing historical in the text to which historical methods might be applied. Yet I wonder whether the experts have not too quickly pre-judged the matter (always a dangerous conclusion for a non-expert such as myself to come to). Indeed, I find myself in the rather unenviable position of distrusting the experts, and this post is an attempt to explain one portion of why I think that is, and to suggest an alternate approach to the issue. (more…)
I recently heard a philosophy professor present a talk entitled, “Why I am not a Christian.” The title, of course, is taken from Bertrand Russel’s 1927 talk on the same subject, though the professor I heard was not nearly as hostile to Christians as Russell. Nevertheless, in common philosophical fashion he went beyond the apparently autobiographical scope of the title to claim that no one else anywhere is warranted to believe either in the existence of God or in the extraordinary claims made in the Gospels about Jesus. As he reviewed philosophical arguments for the existence of God and scriptural appeals to faith in Christ, he repeatedly said, “I have not found compelling justification,” and he took that to imply that neither had anyone else. There were various other elements of the talk that struck me (and upon which I may at some point comment here), but the assertion of categorical lack of rationality for certain conclusions is something I am wrestling with. (more…)
The Bible does not often report unanswered prayer; when it does, we should pay close attention. One such instance occurs in an unlikely place: the fallout of the story of David’s adultery with Bathsheba and subsequent murder of her husband Uriah. In this story (2 Samuel 12), David is no hero, but a villain, and when he was rebuked by Nathan, the prophet tricked him into condemning his own actions. Only then did he repent, and even so the Lord condemned the child to be born, for Bathsheba had become pregnant with David’s son, to death. David then lay in sackcloth for seven days, fasting and praying for the child to be spared, and yet at the end of the week the baby died. To the bewilderment of his servants, David then got up, cleaned himself off, stopped fasting, and worshiped the Lord. Even though this awful situation was the result of David’s own sin, the divergence between David’s actions and his servants’ expectations, a disjuncture occasioned by unanswered prayer, spotlights the difference between faith and feeling in Christianity.
Much of Euro-American culture, and especially its educated elite, has adopted two contradictory and equally useless attitudes toward miracles. The first, starting in mid-1700s, was a full-scale assault on the notion that miracles can happen. The second is a sentimental and vapid dilution of the term to mean anything really good or life-changingly beneficial. I’m not sure when this second attitude developed, but I’d be inclined to date it to the late 1800s as a defensive, and wrong-headed, rearguard action to preserve the language of miracle while emptying it of all meaning. In other words, having conceded the idea that genuine miracles are impossible, some Western Christians domesticated the notion of the miraculous in order to retain the language without its threatening implications. I think this is the wrong approach, and this post will critique the denialist approach, and propose a different definition of “miracle” which I think is more in keeping with its etymology, and with its pre-modern Christian usage. (more…)
I tend to think that I came to the question of divisions among Christians rather late in the day. We all have. Most of the divisions among Christians which exist now already existed before any of us were born. The division between European Christians and most varieties of Middle Eastern and African Christians happened fifteen centuries ago; the division between Eastern Orthodox and the Latin West is almost a millennium old. The Protestant Reformation is approaching half a millennium old, and even the Methodists are a quarter of a millennium old at this point. Many of the Pentecostal denominations are older than a century, as is the Fundamentalist-Modernist controversy which sprouted new denominations. All of these divisions occurred before we were born. So the question facing us is what to do about those divisions now, given the history that has already transpired.
There are many ways one might answer that question. Some people regard it as an intellectual challenge, to discern which denomination is the True Church and join it. Others regard the divisions among Christians as evidence for falsity and abandon the religion, or refuse to join it. Some people think the correct response is to convince everyone else to join their own group; others prefer to pretend there are no divisions among the groups. Perhaps the vast majority of Christians just ignore the issue, staying in the church where they are and ignoring other denominations as irrelevant to them. None of these is my response, although the reason why will require some background narrative of my own experience. (more…)
Peddling stereotypes is intellectually irresponsible, usually offensive, and occasionally funny. Along those lines, here is a list of parking lot layouts for various religious groups, in no particular order: (N.B. outside of America, “parking lot” is usually pronounced “car park.”) (more…)