“The Bible was WRONG”… or Not; Religious Illiteracy in West Reaches New Low

Drouais Caananite Woman

Letter IImagine for a moment being told that your history book is wrong because archaeologists digging in Georgia have discovered evidence that the United States previously allowed slavery. You would rightly scratch your head, because anybody who knows anything about U.S. history knows that slavery has always been one of its defining features. A similar scenario recently played out in headlines across the web.

As background, the above painting is an oil on canvas by the eighteenth century French painter Jean-Germain Drouais. It currently hangs at the Louvre in Paris and is entitled ‘The Woman of Canaan at the Feet of Christ.’

For anyone who’s been paying attention to the recent headlines this painting should come as quite a shock. Sources from USA Today to The Telegraph and Science and Daily Mail all rushed to the presses in recent weeks to report that “The Bible was WRONG,” “DNA vs the Bible,“The Bible got in wrong,” “New DNA study casts doubt on Bible claim,” “Was The Bible Wrong?,” amongst others.

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Course Review: Apologetics 101 – Scott Oliphint, Westminster Theological Seminary

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Apologetics comes from the reality of Scripture. It is not an invention of theologians and philosophers.


Letter II‘ve decided to try something new, to start a new type of series. I love to read, and I’ve been writing book reviews for years. I also love to listen to lectures, and often fill the time during my daily commute with courses from the online libraries of schools such as Reformed Theological Seminary, Westminster, Gordon-Conwell, Covenant, and others.

So I’ve decided start providing summaries, analysis, and critiques of these courses and lecture series, partially to help me process what I’ve encountered and partially because it’s not something I’ve seen done before and I think it’ll be fun.

The first series of lectures I will be reviewing is Dr. Scott Oliphint’s course Apologetics 101 at Westminster Theological Seminary (WTS).

Scott is a minister in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC) and is professor of apologetics and systematic theology at Westminster. He is one of the foremost experts on Cornelius Van Til and the sphere of presuppositional apologetics (along with John Frame and the late Greg Bahnsen), and is perhaps best known for his re-framing of presuppositionalism in the form of Covenantal Apologetics.

Scott is on Twitter, has written for Ligonier and DesiringGod, and has many resources available on SermonAudio.

This course is available for free on iTunesU.

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Book Review: The Psychology of Atheism – By R.C. Sproul

SproulPsychologyofAtheism

Letter MMuch has been written trying to explain the psychology of theism. The foundational text in that field is probably Sigmund Freud‘s The Future of An Illusion, where Freud theorizes that religion came about as a sort of coping mechanism; it was comforting for early man to personalize the forces of nature and to turn their chiefs into legends, and eventually this evolved into the more institutional forms of religion.

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Book Review: The Dawkins Delusion – By Alister McGrath & Joanna Collicutt McGrath

McGrath The Dawkinks Delusion.pngLetter TThere are many individuals who act as poster-boys for certain religious and anti-religious movements. For the New Atheists, one of those individuals is Richard Dawkins; for evangelical Christianity, one of them is Alister McGrath. Both are doctoral graduates from Oxford with degrees in the sciences.

The Dawkins Delusion, as one could easily guess from the title, is the Alister and his wife Joanna‘s response to  Dawkins book The God DelusionThe self-stated goal of the text is to “assess the reliability of Dawkins’s critique of faith in God” by means of challenging Dawkins “at representative points and let readers draw their own conclusions about the overall reliability of his evidence and judgement.”

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Book Review: The Abolition of Man – By C.S. Lewis

Lewis Abolition of Man.pngLetter DDuring the past few centuries within discussions of philosophy there has been what might be called a revitalization of skepticism. This skepticism, what many deem free inquiry or free thought, has come to question everything, such that during the early Twentieth Century G.K Chesterton wrote that: “It is vain for eloquent atheists to talk of the great truths that will be revealed if once we see free thought begin. We have seen it end. It has no more questions to ask; it has questioned itself.”

The Abolition of Man is C.S. Lewis‘ answer to this same thought, his answer to the skepticism which has once again begun to run rampant throughout all philosophy and all society since the beginning of modernity. Despite being a well-known Christian writer, in this particular text Lewis is not arguing distinctively for a religious system, but is simply addressing the question of objectivity and first principles.

In short, Lewis’ argument is in favor of what he terms the ‘Tao‘, that is, the “practical principles known to all men by Reason” or in other words “the doctrine of objective value, the belief that certain attitudes are really true, and others really false.” In rejecting this Tao Lewis argues that mankind has created “men without chests.” They have done away with basic axioms of morality and virtue in attempt to create their own system.

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Book Review: The Problem of Pain – By C.S. Lewis

cslewis-problem-of-painletter-cC.S. Lewis is one of those authors I can always turn to when in need of a good read. The goal of this book is pretty self-explanatory by the title: to address the problem of pain. More specifically, the goal of this text is to solve the intellectual problem of suffering; this is important, as the book is an endeavor in the philosophical/theological, not primarily the pastoral or the therapeutic.

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Book Review: The Future of An Illusion – By Sigmund Freud

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Letter WWell known for his work in the fields of psychology and particularly his founding of the field of psychoanalysis, The Future of An Illusion is Freud‘s tackling of the foundations and future of religion, especially as it relates to civilization.

Religion, as Freud see is, arose out of the “necessity of defending oneself against the crushing superior force of nature” where “the primal father was the original image of God,” or rather a model on which he was shaped. Freud sees religion as a sort of neurosis which, with the advancements of science and proper education, the human race will eventually overcome.

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Exploring The Uniqueness of the Bible [In Its Ancient Near Eastern Context]

bible-and-coffeeLetter TThe ancient world was one filled with myths and stories of all types, stories about gods and about prophets and oracles who spoke with those gods. In secular society the Bible is often seen as just another one of these ancient myths.

The Bible is not just another myth, but it is in the context of these myths that the Bible was written. They provide the background against which we are to interpret the text; it was often these sorts of myths which the Biblical narrative was responding to. Thus, it is important for Christians to analyze the Scriptures in light of their ancient Near Eastern literary and cultural contexts.

So just what are the similarities and differences were between the Scriptures and those other myths which seem to bear some resemblance to it? It is by answering this question that we may determine whether or not the Bible is indeed unique in its content.

Some areas in which the Christian might compare the Scriptures to similar texts in the Near East include (1) how they present their creation accounts, (2) their understandings of morality, and (3) their understandings of prophecy and revelation.

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Book Review: The Everlasting Man – By G.K. Chesterton

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Letter WWith such a well-beloved author as C.S. Lewis positing this book as one of the great contributors to his conversion to Christianity one can’t help but give into the curiosity to delve into the mind of Chesterton.

During the early Twentieth Century four of the biggest writers were H.G. Wells, Bernard Shaw, Hilaire Belloc and G.K. Chesterton; the latter two often engaging in debates with the former. As was noted with Chesterton’s book Orthodoxy, it was written in a format parodying that of one of Wells’ essays.

In continuing the bout, The Everlasting Man is Chesterton’s answer to a book written by Wells entitled The Outline of History (which was possibly plagiarized anyway). Chesterton’s issue with Wells’ book was the minuscule role given to Christianity in the history of the world and thus he set out his own outline, that of The Everlasting Man (Hilaire Belloc’s book The Great Heresies similarly attempts to portray religion’s impact on history).

The book is divided into two parts: the first a discussion of man and the second a discussion of Christ and the church. Chesterton begins his text in a discussion of the anthropology of his time, specifically as it had begun to analyze primitive man [in relation to evolutionist theory]. This discussion is amusing and insightful; the ideas concerning the gulf between man and the animals, and his refutations concerning evolution, are quite good. One such quip involves art, stating: “A monkey does not draw clumsily and a man cleverly; a monkey does not begin the art of representation and a man carry it to perfection. A monkey does not do it at all; he does not begin to do it at all; he does not begin to begin to do it at all. A line of some kind is crossed before the first faint line can begin.”

Following this discussion of science and anthropology Chesterton takes a step backwards, to discussing the mythology and philosophy of the pagans, how they grew into their golden age, became all that man could be on it’s own, and yet the never combined into a universal system. These two quotations serve well to sum up the section: “Simple secularists still talk as if the Church had introduced a sort of schism between reason and religion. The truth is that the Church was actually the first thing that ever tried to combine reason and religion… Polytheism, or that aspect of paganism, was never to the pagan what Catholicism is to the Catholic. It was never a view of the universe satisfying all sides of life; a complete and complex truth with something to say about everything.”

By the time he gets to the second section of his book the central theme has emerged, a theme standing in great contrast to the of Wells, the theme of history being centered around Christianity. Calvary was the crux of history, producing something completely unique to itself, something incomparable to everything that was or came afterward.

Again I’ll offer two quotations which convey well the ideas presented: “To compare the Christian and Confucian religions is like comparing a theist with an English squire or asking whether a man is a believer in immortality or a hundred-per-cent American. Confucianism may be a civilization but it is not a religion… In truth the Church is too unique to prove herself unique. For most popular and easy proof is by parallel and here there is no parallel… Nobody understands the nature of the Church, or the ringing note of the creed descending from antiquity, who does not realize that the whole world once very nearly died of broad-mindedness and the brotherhood of all religions.”

Christianity is a thing unique amongst itself which served to bring life to a mankind which had exhausted it’s own resources, the pinnacle of which is placed in the high mythology and philosophy of Greece and Rome. The church has faced many trials and even died, but as Chesterton notes it has as its head a figure who knows the way out of the grave.

While this is a fairly short read I don’t recommend it as a first step into reading Chesterton, for that I’d recommend Orthodoxy or one of his novels (such as The Man Who Was Thursday). Still, The Everlasting Man is a brilliantly written text which will serve to challenge any readers perception of history, specifically the place of Christ in it.

Memorable Quotes:

[As with Orthodoxy this book is filled to the brim with memorable quotes, here are a few of my favorites…]

-“If man cannot pray he is gagged; if he cannot kneel be is in irons.”

-“When the world goes wrong, it proves rather that the Church is right. The Church is justified, not because her children do not sin, but because they do.”

-“In other words, whatever else is true it is not true that the controversy has been altered by time. Whatever else is true, it is emphatically not true that the ideas of Jesus of Nazareth were suitable to his time, but are no longer suitable to our time. Exactly how suitable they were to his time is perhaps suggested in the end of his story.”

-“Now that purity was preserved by dogmatic definitions and exclusions. It could not possibly have been preserved by anything else…. If the Church had not insisted on theology, it would have melted into a mad mythology of the mystics, yet further removed from reason or even from rationalism; and, above all, yet further removed from life and from the love of life.”

-“It was supposed to have been withered up at last in the dry light of the Age of Reason; it was supposed to have disappeared ultimately in the earthquake of the Age of Revolution. Science explained it away; and it was still there. History disinterred it in the past; and it appeared suddenly in the future. To-day it stands once more in our path; and even as we watch it, it grows.”

Specific Criticisms

I don’t have many criticisms of this book. One, as I noted above, is that it’s not the most accessible of his writings and therefore I wouldn’t recommend it as a first book to read by him. That’s not to say that it’s difficult reading, simply that it’s much easier reading once you’re used to his style.

Another minor criticism is the way in which the author casually references philosophers, classic authors and his own contemporaries, as if the reader should simply be aware of all these individuals and their ideas. One can generally get the idea of the text without being familiar with them but it still causes the writing to be more dense and less accessible to audiences not living during Chesterton’s time.

Lastly, I’m not sure what’s up with the landscape on the cover pictured above, it looks more suitable to one of Tolkien’s books than this one, but I digress…

Book Review: The Certainty of Faith – By Herman Bavinck

Bavinck Certainty of Faith.pngletter-aAs Bavinck says in his second chapter: “When our highest interests, our eternal weal or woe is at stake, we must be satisfied with nothing less than infallible, divine certainty. There must be no room for doubt.”

The title of this book, The Certainty of Faith, seemingly has two different connotations. At a glance, the title seems to refer to a discussion on how it is that the Christian comes about having certainty in their faith; in actuality, the book is an answer to that self-same question. The book is not primarily a discussion on how to obtain certainty in faith, but a discussion of the differing types of certainty, one of which is faith.

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