October 30th, 2013
Podcast: Play in new window
These days the internet is chock full of claims that Jesus did not exist. Some stop there while others go so far as to state Jesus was little more than a pagan solar deity revamped for the “Age of Pisces.” It is all rather silly and not taken very seriously by scholars (save the self-proclaimed ones who inhabit the fringe regions of the atheist web), but they are loud enough and repeat the same mantras often enough to cause confusion among those unfamiliar with the academic literature.
For a while, Christian apologists all but ignored the growing chorus of “Jesus mythicists” so they could concentrate their efforts on “important matters” like the Jesus Seminar and Bart Ehrman. After all, why waste time on what is obviously absurd. The problem was that if no one explained why it was absurd, it would not be obvious why it was absurd. All that came from most apologists was the curt dismissal of the claims without any details. This left most Christians unfamiliar with the arguments without a real defense.
For those who searched the web for an answer, the likely place they started to find it was at J. P. Holding’s Tektonics apologetics website. Eventually, much of the material was assembled, refined, and included in Shattering the Christ Myth: Did Jesus Not Exist? Holding serves as editor of the volume and the author of about two thirds of the included articles that cover just about every issue concerning Jesus mythicism at the time of its printing (2008). Most importantly, it addressed the Zeitgeist film that had recently been released and was an internet sensation. Thus it was as close to a “real time” response as any printed book could be.
The book begins with an introduction by historian James Hannam who gives a brief history of the Jesus Mythicist position that illustrates its connections to conspiracy theories, outdated scholarship, and general quackery. The main body of the book is divided into five parts on the evidence for Jesus outside the New Testament, the “Silence Thesis” version of Jesus mythicism (using arguments from silence), the “Copycat Thesis” version of Jesus mythicism (claiming Jesus was based upon pagan mythology), films supporting Jesus mythicism, and additional issues. Each covers the main attacks upon Christianity in each category.
For many Christians confused by these claims, this was the first thorough refutation written for a lay audience and the first time many Jesus mythicists were put on the defensive. Although the book is in need of some updating, it still remains the most thorough response to the various forms of Jesus mythicism and the first read for Christians needing a response.
August 27th, 2013
Podcast: Play in new window
Recent years have brought stories of Protestants turning to the “historic Churches” as an answer to the trivial approach to worship, individualistic understanding of doctrine, and ahistoric view of the Church that infects much of modern Evangelicalism. Some of these converts sacrificed promising careers in the Protestant ministry for the chance to experience liturgical and doctrinal roots stretching beyond the last few centuries. Less noticed is a call among Protestants who, while agreeing with some criticisms by those who left, believe the Reformation was right in its stand for the supremacy of Holy Scripture and other doctrinal positions expressible only within Protestantism. Rather than turn their backs on these Protestant distinctives for a richer worship and more historically rooted theological approach, they have issued a call to recapture the ideals that fueled the Reformation and rethink the direction Protestantism has drifted for over a century. This includes the reaffirmation of the traditional Protestant use of liturgy and its understanding of the historic beliefs of the Christian Faith enshrined in the Creeds.
About a decade ago, D. G. Hart released his call for the reevaluation of the direction of Protestantism is Recovering Mother Kirk. The title indicates the attachment to the Presbyterian cause of the author, but this should not dissuade others from benefiting from his well reasoned analysis. The ills of the modern Church are not isolated by denominational boundaries and, although the author is primarily concerned with the Reformed tradition, his points can apply (with appropriate adjustments) elsewhere as well.
Hart begins by noting the neglect of worship in Reformed circles even among those who are sticklers on matters of Reformed belief and practice. Rejecting the current trend to conform to the theology of popular Evangelical Protestantism, he counters the Reformed Tradition is better placed among the magisterial Protestants (e.g., Lutherans, Anglicans) and the current drift is a marked departure from their heritage. Although the Reformed Tradition emphasizes doctrine, cultural transformation, and piety, none of this can be properly understood without the context of Reformed worship. The importation of revivalist patterns into Reformed settings inevitably cause confusion and a weakening of adherence to Reformed distinctives elsewhere.
The main part of the book consists of essays on five topics (the Church’s commission, the contemporary worship scene, offices and ordinances, ecumenism, and the influence of revivalism on Reformed worship). In each section, Hart presents evidence, both historical and theological, supporting his thesis that the Reformed Tradition properly belongs to the “high church” end of Protestantism but was sidetracked by the importation of revivalist theology. The chief culprit, according to Hart, was the Great Awakenings and its blurring of distinctions between evangelistic outreach and worship. This error, he concludes, continues to this day with the “church growth” movement and other modern manifestations of the same confusion between worship and evangelism.
Hart closely examines historical sources in painting a picture of a Reformed worship centered upon Word and Sacrament. Although it shares many aspects with “high church” liturgical traditions, it is governed by the “regulative principle” of using only those elements with biblical warrant. Important to this Reformed understanding of worship was the development of liturgies heavily dependent upon Holy Scripture and the singing of the Psalter. The net result was a worship both reverent and austere.
Overall, Hart presents a compelling case for the place of the Reformed worship tradition in the Church. He finds roots for much of his alignment of the Reformed Tradition as a high church manifestation of Protestantism by pointing to Calvin’s high view of the Church and call for a weekly Communion as evidence. As with others who have made related claims (e.g., Michael Horton and Keith Mathison), there is truth in their arguments, but it may not be quite as simple as its supporters contend.
Unlike the Lutherans and Anglicans who reformed (however successfully) existing practices by pruning what was perceived as excess, the Reformed Tradition began with its own distinctives and constructed its worship from a fresh template. The process of wholesale changes was difficult to control and could often lead to splits within the movement. The force of Calvin’s theology maintained some sense of historical order, but points of his program (e.g., a weekly Communion) were never implemented even in Geneva. Straddling the boundary between catholicity and sectarianism has often left the Reformed less agreed on doctrine than attitude. These contradictory visions have left them prone to division and subject to the idiosyncratic interpretations of individual Church leaders. Even the slogan “Reformed, Ever Reforming,” while intending to indicate the submission to Scriptural authority, also hints at an inherent ecclesial and doctrinal instability.
Another issue that can be raised is the application of the regulative principle itself. Although aspects of worship are considered in Holy Scripture, much of it is not explicitly discussed. This is not surprising since much of early Christian worship had already developed a basic form and was not a point of contention in the writing of the New Testament. The restriction to points explicitly described in the New Testament may actually give us an unbalanced view of the worship of the Apostolic Church and place unintended barriers to Christian freedom. Indeed, the historical research into early Christian worship gives us a picture at odds with than implemented by Zwingli, Calvin, et al, who were influenced by historical and social currents not relevant in a first century context.
Yet for those on the high church side of the Reformed faith, Recovering Mother Kirk is a powerful presentation of their beliefs. As a blueprint for what Reformed Christianity should be, this book seeks a return to a purely Reformed identity and to halt their assimilation into the Evangelical mainstream (on the right) and the liberal mainstream (on the left). Thoughtful Reformed Christians like Hart are now asking the right questions. It is uncertain how many others, disillusioned by current conditions, will find common ground with his answers.