It’s time for a little update, not much, but I am no longer new to blogging. I have been at it a few years. Not that I have gained any particular stature. I simply can’t claim to be new at it. I still write as part of my profession, but blogging is more interesting. Blogging is my way of sharpening ideas and fleshing them out. I know I don’t always “get it right”, but it’s the journey that counts.
I have been on a journey for truth since I emerged from the haze and confusion of adolescence, much of it self-induced. Stepping out of that myopic existence I began to get an inkling that a world of truth lay in front of me to encounter, and so I set off. I didn’t realize, then, how much faith is required to seek truth. Continue reading “My Journey”→
Some of the oldest extant examples of ancient biblical text are the Ketef Hinnom amulets.[i] The silver amulets meant to be worn around the neck are very small. They are actually tiny scrolls made of rolled silver with inscriptions on them. They were found at the First Temple funerary site of Ketef Himmom southwest of Jerusalem.[ii]
Discovered in 1979, the inscriptions on the amulets were not detected until the scrolls were painstakingly unrolled in 1994 by the West Semitic Research Project at the University of Southern California. The inscriptions on one scroll contain text similar to the blessings found in the Tora[iii]h at Numbers 6:24-26[iv]:
6:24 Yahweh bless you and keep you; 6:25 Yahweh make his face shine upon you, and be gracious to you; 6:26 Yahweh lift up his countenance upon you,and give you peace.
(The italicized words are not found on the scroll but may have appeared in the area where the scroll has disintegrated.)
The other scroll contained language similar to the parallel passages in the Torah of Exodus 20:6; Deuteronomy 5:10 and 7:9, and the Prophets, Daniel 9:4 and Nehemiah 1:5.[v]
These amulets with the biblical inscriptions date to the First Temple period before the Babylonian exile. Conservative sources date them to the eighth–sixth centuries B.C.E.[vi] More liberal sources date them to the period immediately prior to the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians in 586/7 BCE.[vii] No one dates them after the destruction of the First Temple.
This is significant because the consensus of scholars date the Torah post exile to the Persian Period (539-333 BCE, and probably 450-350 BCE).[viii] While classic rabbinic views hold that the entire Torah was written by Moses during his life in the second millennium BCE, the consensus of modern scholars is that the Torah was written by a number of authors post exile.
The confirmed dating of the Ketef Hinnom amulets doesn’t necessarily prove that the Torah was written and in existence at the time those amulets were created. They could have been produced from oral tradition. It does establish, though, that pre-exilic Jews were familiar with the sayings in the Torah.
It’s also consistent (or not inconsistent) with the view that the Torah was written down before the exile – perhaps, even by Moses.
All five books of the Torah, and every book of the Christian Old Testament, except for Esther, was found among the Dead Sea Scrolls. The earliest Dead Sea Scroll texts date to 300 BCE. The remarkable similarity of the versions of the Hebrew text in the Dead Sea Scrolls to the texts preserved from a millennium or more later amazed scholars. While most of the books of the Old Testament found at Qumran were fragmentary, a complete scroll of Isaiah was found dating to no earlier than the first century BCE.[ix] The Ketef Hinnom amulets, though are much older still.
I have referenced mostly sources that are secular or liberal in their leaning. I did that on purpose, as even these sources attest to a certain factual baseline that is consistent with the biblical narrative, and not contradictory to it. They don’t rule out earlier dates and facts that are not just consistent, but which match the biblical record. Thus, archaeology continues to reveal artifacts consistent with a view of the historical reliability of the Old Testament.
I continue to consider and process the Ravi Zacharias scandal. The major issue with Ravi Zacharias, as I understand and perceive it, is that he thought too highly of himself. This is a serious danger for all great men, especially for men of God, because the poison of thinking too highly of ourselves can taint and distort our own thinking to our ruin and to the damage of those around us.
My determination that Ravi Zacharias thought too highly of himself comes from one of the stories told by one of his victims. He warned her after exerting his influence over her in a sexual encounter that she must not tell anyone because disclosure of their tryst would endanger millions of souls – as if their salvation rested on him.
Yes, Ravi Zacharias may have planted or watered the seeds of the gospel in many people, but salvation is the gift of God. People are saved by responding to the prompting of the Holy Spirit, however that prompting comes. We may plant and water, but God does the real work, and God causes the increase.
No man is indispensable to God. Though every man be a liar, God’s is true. His word goes out and does not come back void. We dare not think God’s work depends on us to such a degree that we must hide our own sin and manipulate other people in the process.
The close relationship of the disciples to Jesus and the importance of their roles in God’s plan must have been intoxicating. It led them to argue between them who would be considered the greatest. These arguments broke out multiple times over the course of the disciples’ time with Jesus, and they tell us something about the dangers of greatness and our appropriate response to the temptation to desire greatness.
Anyone who pays any attention to apologetics has probably heard of Ravi Zacharias. Before his death last year, he traveled the world for decades as an evangelist and apologist. He spoke at secular universities and challenged non-Christian thinkers and leaders to consider Christian claims and the gospel worldview.
He was a winsome and charming speaker, erudite and polished. He toured the greatest institutions of higher learned on multiple continents and engaged people of all religions and atheists alike in deep conversations on the truth of the Gospel.
His organization, RZIM, boasted top notch Christian thinkers who contributed to the worldwide apologetics ministry. Sam Allberry, Amy Orr-Ewing, Abdu Murray, Nabeel Qureshi, and others were a formidable group of Christian apologists. Ravi Zacharias was greatly loved and much admired for his debonair, sharp-witted oratory and ability to answer people who challenged Christian thinking in public arenas.
I listened to him often and enjoyed his approach and insight. Thus, when a scandal erupted about the credentials on which he identified himself as “doctor”, I was quick to dismiss it. The accusation came from Steve Baughman, an atheist, charging Ravi Zacharias with falsely using the title, “Dr.”, and embellishing his connections to Oxford and Cambridge universities.[i]
Baughman seemed to “have it out” for Ravi Zacharias. He created a website, Ravi Watch[ii], in which he doggedly investigated the apologist and purported to document a number of false claims made by Ravi Zacharias. He was an atheist, so it was easy for Christians to dismiss his claims. Ravi Zacharias did have three honorary degrees, so the confusion about whether he earned a Ph.D seemed overblown.
Around the same time, though, some other allegations were emerging. A woman in Canada, who was a large donor to RZIM, went public with accusations that Ravi Zacharias developed a long-distance relationship with her, requesting nude photos from her and “sexting” with her. Ravi Zacharias strongly denied the claims, but he settled a lawsuit with the accuser for which the parties signed a non-disclosure agreement.[iii]
Most of the Christian world, including me, believed that Ravi Zacharias was being unfairly targeted by people who opposed his worldview and had an axe to grind. The allegations seemed out of character to the man we “knew” from his public ministry. The charges seemed wholly incongruent.
The charges, however, were true.
Sometime after his death on May 19, 2020, additional allegations began to emerge. They came from other sources, other women.
To its credit, RZIM hired an independent firm to investigate the charges. On February 9, 2021, a 12-page report was released from the investigation by RZIM.[iv]
The investigation confirmed allegations and disclosed many more. The report ends with these words:
“Our investigation was limited to Mr. Zacharias’s sexual misconduct, and even as to that issue it was not exhaustive. We acknowledge that we have not spoken to all individuals who may have relevant information to provide. We strived to balance the need for completeness with the need for expediency, and we are confident that we uncovered sufficient evidence to conclude that Mr. Zacharias engaged in sexual misconduct.” (emphasis added)
The release of the report was followed by an apology from the leaders at RZIM and shock from the rest of the Christian world.[v]
In the weeks that followed, the world of Christian apologists and the church have been wrestling with these disclosures. Everyone is talking about it. People are asking: How did it happen? What can we learn about it? What can we do to prevent this from happening again?
Like most shocking events or discoveries, the furor will die down, and we will go back to our daily lives after we have exhausted our initial angst.
We won’t really know the longstanding effects of this scandal for years. Even then, the ripples of this scandal in the Christian world will largely merge into the ether of all the happenings in the world, good and bad, that affect the way people see things and respond to them.
It will be remembered by many as a reason why they no longer believe, or never believed in the first place. The hopes and faith of many people have been affected. Some will find a way to move on, but others will be dogged by it and a million other doubts. Many will be tempted to categorize it as an aberration, and for many nothing will change.
I didn’t plan on writing about the Ravi Zacharias scandal. I wasn’t sure I had anything to add to what has already been said. I am skeptical of the real, long-term benefits of the hand-wringing exercises we do when these things occur. We go through the exercises, but we go back to our regular routines as quickly as we are done, and the change we think we are accomplishing isn’t realized.
Not that I have the answers. I have a hard enough time with long-term change in myself from the besetting sins of my youth that haunt me in middle age, and I am in no place of influence.
Yet, we must try. The Christian life is nothing if not a continual posture of repentance, turning to God to receive forgiveness, and desiring to do better. We would truly be doomed if not for a God who forgives us more than seventy times seven. So, we must turn to the Author and Perfecter of our faith – again, and again – for our answers.
During the second half of the Obama administration and leading up to and through much of the Trump administration, immigrants were much in the news. The country was divided over how immigrants should be handled: whether we should build a wall and be more restrictive at the borders; how strictly we should enforce the laws; whether the laws should be changed; whether immigrants from certain countries should be restricted or prohibited; and so on.
Much of the public “discussion” was inflamed with political rhetoric. The tone was angry on both “sides”. It seemed that most people were talking past each other. People took extreme positions. The issues were couched in all or nothing language, as if the choices were to open the borders wide or shut them down completely.
As I talked with people privately on both “sides”, though, the tenor and tone was different. I didn’t speak with anyone who advocated open borders with no security or regulations. I didn’t speak with anyone who wanted to close the borders and keep everyone out. Most people really fell in the middle; it was the inflamed rhetoric that created the appearance that people were amassed at the polar extremes, like angry mobs with pitchforks in their hands.
The heat of the immigration discussion has died down, but the issues haven’t gone away. President Biden has undone most or all of the executive orders issued by President Trump to tighten up border security and other immigration controls, but the laws haven’t changed.
We can expect less and enforcement and efforts to , but the laws haven’t changed. The issues haven’t been resolved. Our immigration system is still not very workable, and issues are bound to boil to the surface again and demand attention.
I first seriously dug into the “issue” of immigration in the Obama administration. I was buffeted by the opposing winds of the political rhetoric, but I wanted to know how Christians should view immigration… if there was a definitive Christian position to be taken. Most Christians knew were well-versed in the political rhetoric, but I wasn’t hearing a biblically focused critique of the subject.
The Syrian refugee crisis was flooding the news and my conscience. I had to confess that I didn’t know where God stood. I didn’t know what the Bible said on immigration, if anything. I wanted to step back from the political fray and do my own searching of Scripture and meditation to let God speak to me on the issue.
I spent a weekend searching the Scriptures. I discovered that the Bible has much to say on the subject. The terms, aliens, strangers and sojourners, were found throughout Scripture from the Old Testament to the New Testament, and those terms permeated everything from start to finish.
I found that Scripture speaks very clearly and directly on subject and left me little room to wonder how we ought to respond to immigration issues in our current day. I wrote about it for the first time in November 12, 2014 in the article, Immigration: the Strangers Among Us.
God’s “view” of immigrants is closely aligned with how God relationship with Abraham and his descendants. We might forget that told Abraham his descendants “would be foreigners in a strange land, and that they would be enslaved and mistreated four hundred years”. (Gen. 15:13; and Acts 7:6) Thus, Abraham’s faith prompted him to live “like a stranger in a foreign country” (as did Isaac and Jacob) (Heb. 11:9)
“For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.”
In fact, this status of being an alien and a stranger on the earth applies to all people of faith in the past:
“All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.”
The status of God’s people as aliens and strangers was built into the very fabric of the their relationship with God and emphasized by centuries of living with that status.
I recently read an article by Ed Stetzer and Andrew MacDonald, Waking Up After QAnon: How Can the Church Respond, posted by Christianity Today. The secondary headline is: Evangelicals disproportionately believed conspiracy theories in 2020. How do we recover?
I do not agree completely with everything in this article, but I think it is more “right” than wrong. The following assertion, for instance, certainly rings true to me:
“For years a segment of Christianity has sought to reclaim the United States of America as a Christian nation—or at the very least a nation founded upon Judeo-Christian values. However, they have, at the same time, witnessed the American culture (and, yes, what they see as American elites—media giants, big tech, politicians, and Hollywood) adopt a more secular and progressive agenda.”
I know this to be true because I “grew up” in Christianity in an atmosphere influenced by the Moral Majority and efforts to reclaim the Christian heritage of this country. It was a patriotic movement made “sacred” with Christian reference and fervor.
The community in which I was engaged out of college joined the effort. It seemed that some momentum was being generated in the direction of reclaiming the United States as a Christian nation…. at least while I remained in that community. When I left to go to law school, my perspective changed.
Looking back, I see that patriotic Christianity appeals to a certain narrative of faith and a desire to protect what is familiar and comfortable. It affirms a sense of place in the world as an American Christian who believes fully that the United States was blessed by God more than other nations in the world and stands alike a city set on a hill for the world to see.
While I think there may be some truth to that blessing from God, we shouldn’t confuse His blessing for a time (and for His greater purpose) with our own desires for prosperity, influence, protection of lifestyle, culture and familiar life. God raises kings, and he takes them down.
The patriotic movement in the church going back in time was influenced, in part, by the “prosperity gospel”. A certain exhilaration accompanies the thinking that we are part of a sacred movement of God’s people uniquely blessed with faith. It was a kind of manifest destiny for the church.
I imagine the 1st Century Jews saw the world similarly, though they didn’t have the prosperity or power of American Christians in 1st Century Judea. Their sense of being God’s people and being culturally “right”, however, made it difficult for them to accept that God loved Gentiles who didn’t observe Jewish rituals. It caused the first schism in the early church.
The American exceptionalism that is part of the allure of this politically-charged faith embraces modern Israel and the Jewish state. They see a kinship there, and I believe are prone to the same kind of error that the early church fell into.
Moving on from that community of my early walk in Christ and seeing faith and the world from different angles changed my perspective. I loved my time in the community of my early Christian years. They did many things right, and they were eager and earnest in their faith in refreshing ways, but I have come to see that God is bigger than our patriotic ideas of Him.
(Not that all the people in the church I attended wandered down that road. I know many of them still, and many of them did not get swept up in the patriotic fervor. They have adjusted and adapted, and their perspectives have changed also.)
The real point here is that God has a global and universal purpose. We are as much a part of that purpose as my brothers and sisters in China, or India or in the African American churches in the US.
That is not to say that everyone is right about the way they view the world from their own unique vantage points and perspectives, but it means I need to listen to them because they offer perspective that I have trouble seeing from my own, limited position. Perhaps, if we can all come together in the shared experience of Christ who died for all mankind and learn to set aside the things that divide us, we can catch a more global and universal glimpse of what God is doing in the world.
The Stetzer and MacDonald article makes the following statement regarding the headlong embrace of Donald Trump: “Christians need to understand how this foolishness not only hurts relationships in the local church and community but diminishes our witness. In such situations, our gospel witness is at stake and we cannot afford to be passive.” This is a major concern.
We may have trouble seeing the ways in which we have wandered off the narrow path unless we take time to listen to what other believes are saying.