What Does Archaeology Have to Do with Racial Justice in Modern Times?

A new voice is rising up that is reconnecting social justice to the truth of scripture

The Dead Sea Scrolls on display at the caves of Qumran that located on the edge of the Dead Sea in Israel.

“These are the things you are to do: Speak the truth to one another, render true and perfect justice in your gates. And do not contrive evil against one another, and do not love perjury, because all those are things that I hate – declares the Lord.” Zechariah 8:16-17

A major archaeological discovery was made recently in some remote caves in the Judean Desert. Among the discoveries were, coins from the time of the Bar Kochba Revolt, the skeleton of a child dating back some 6,000 years, and a 10,000-year-old exceptionally well-preserved basket. (From 2,000-year-old biblical texts found in Israel, 1st since Dead Sea Scrolls by Rossella Tercatin for the Jerusalem Post, March 16, 2021.)

These items were found in “the Cave of Horror” in the Nahal Hever area of the Judean Desert. The Nahal Hever is an intermittent stream in in the West Bank, flowing from Yatta to the Dead Sea. At the head of the stream are two caves, the “Cave of Letters“, and, further up, the “Cave of Horror“.

Though the caves are hard to access, looters have raided them over the years. Archaeological efforts many years ago netted portions of the Book of Numbers, Psalms and Deuteronomy. Until recently, people might have assumed all artifacts to be found in those caves had already been removed.

The Greek scroll of the minor prophets found at Nahal Hever may even be the most significant find to date. Some date these fragments in the 50 years before Christ, and others date them in the 50 years after Christ. We don’t really know, but scholars seem to agree that the fragments come from “an early revision of the Septuagint in alignment with the Hebrew text”.


Modern archaeological finds continue to affirm Scripture and the continuity of Scripture through the ages. Poignantly for today in these times, the discovery of the scroll of the minor prophets found in the Nahal Hever speaks to an age old theme.

The passage in Zechariah 8 quoted above was found among the fragments. From old, from ages and ages past, we find that God desires truth and justice from His people.

“Speak the truth to one another, render true and perfect justice in your gates.”

I am reminded that God’s desire for justice and truth from His people is the same today as it was then. I think about these things after listening to the Disrupters podcast in which host, Esau McCalley, spoke to the political strategist, Justin Giboney. As they were talking about faith and politics, I realize that justice and truth continue to be priorities for God, and only the circumstantial details have changed.

Continue reading “What Does Archaeology Have to Do with Racial Justice in Modern Times?”

How Can You Say your Religion is Right, And Everyone Else is Wrong?

“How can you say your religion is right and everyone else has it wrong?” This is a common challenge to Christianity and to all religions that claim to have exclusive truth.  All of the world religions make exclusive truth claims, and that fact is a common object of complaint.

A commitment to a set of exclusive religious principles is especially anathema in a post-modern world. It’s the cardinal sin of post-modernism. In such a world, it seems crude and out of step to believe, let alone admit that you believe, that some religious and philosophical assertions are true and others aren’t.

It’s much more acceptable to say that I can have “my belief”, and you can have “your belief”. We would quickly add, “What’s true for me doesn’t have to be true for you.” We believe with religious truth that people should be able to have their preferred spiritual cake and eat it too.

We do this with ethics also. People sometimes conflate religious or spiritual truth with ethics, but that’s another topic maybe for another time.

In the western, post-modern world, it’s ok for me to believe in chakras, or karma, or queer theory or a particular gender identity (even if my gender identity is unique to me), or aliens and whatever ethical construct goes with those things. It doesn’t need to be internally cohesive. It doesn’t really matter what a person believes, as long as she doesn’t claim it to be universal or exclusive. Claims of universality and exclusivity though, are not tolerated. 

Notice, however, that even this “tolerant” position can’t escape the charge of being an exclusive truth claim. The very claim that no one can make exclusive truth claims is an exclusive truth claim. The person who says exclusive truth claims are not valid is making that claim against all people who believe that exclusive truth claims are valid. 

I believe that people who are making the claim that religious people (especially) should not make excusive truth claims are doing so in response to the fanatical, self-righteous, judgmental and militant tendency of some people who make exclusive truth claims. Much tension in the world, cruelties perpetrated against other people and even wars are the result of exclusive religious truth claims. We can’t deny it. 

So what do we do? Following are some thoughts on the subject of truth claims, with some additional comments on the subject of tolerance and respect.

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J. Warner Wallace on the Limited Usefulness of Personal Testimonies

Experience and testimony can move people, but it doesn’t tell us whether something is true.

J. Warner Wallace, the “cold case detective”, has become a leading Christian apologist. He brings a unique perspective to the world of faith. Having grown up in an atheist family, he didn’t come to faith until well into adulthood.

He didn’t grow up in the church, obviously. The traditional focus on personal experience and testimonies in evangelicalism was not part of his background. He didn’t come to faith through experience or the influence of personal testimonies. For him, it was simply a matter of the facts.

Wallace observes that the most popular answer people give for being a Christian is that they were raised in a Christian family. The second most popular answer people give for being a Christian is some experience that demonstrates that Christianity is true.

Wallace criticizes these bases for Christian faith because because Mormons give similar answers to explain their belief in Mormonism. The number one answer people give for being a Mormon is that they were raised in a Mormon family, and the second most popular answer is some experience that demonstrated for them that Mormonism is true.

Christians don’t think Mormonism is true, but their stories are the same as ours. Thus, Wallace concludes, experience can be a powerful thing, but it doesn’t necessarily settle the truth of the matter. People who rely on experience are relying on weak anchor to faith.

More important than experience is whether something is true.

Wallace goes on to share his testimony in the short interchange linked at the end of this article with the caveat given above – don’t put too much faith in his (or anyone else’s) testimony.

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Paul Put the Pieces of a Puzzle together for Dionysius at the Areopagus

Some people want to fit the pieces to the puzzle together.

Perhaps, my favorite speech (sermon) in the Bible is Paul’s address to an elite group of people in Athens. The people in Athens were fond of spending their time “in nothing except telling or hearing something new”. (Acts 17:21) When some Epicurean and Stoic philosophers heard Paul in the marketplace, they brought him to the Areopagus.

Do you know people like that? They like to talk philosophy, but they don’t do it out of a love for the truth. They just like the intellectual challenge or the exercise of the imagination. Those conversations are ultimately unfulfilling unless truth is the object.

When Paul came to Athens, he was struck by all the idols he saw. (Acts 16:17) Athens was filled philosophies and gods of unending variety. In this way, Athens was like the modern Internet: a person might not ever exhaust all the possibilities. A person could spend a lifetime trying without ever synthesizing all the information and fitting the pieces to the puzzle of life together.

Paul cut the chase. Referencing an inscription: “To the unknown god”, Paul opened his speech with the statement, “What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you.” (Acts 17:23)

I love that! Paul started where they were. He started with something familiar to them, and he used it as a segue into an introduction of “[t]he God who made the world and everything in it”. There were temples everywhere in Athens, but Paul was not shy in saying that the “Lord of heaven and earth does not live in temples made by men”. (Acts 17:24)

Paul wasn’t interested in small talk, or ideas for nothing but the novelty of them.

I also love that Paul quoted Greek philosophers and poets to them. He quoted Epimenides of Crete for the proposition that “In him [the God who made the heaven and earth] we live and move and have our being”; and he quoted Aratus for that proposition that we are His offspring. (Acts 17:28)

Paul was educated, and he could speak the language of educated people. He could take poetry and use it in a sermon on God. He didn’t play their games, though. He didn’t speak just to hear himself talk. He didn’t pander to their penchant for novel ideas.

He called them to account: “The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.” (Acts 17:30)

Paul preached the Gospel, the good news that Jesus died for our sins, redeeming us from destruction and giving us the hope of everlasting life, but Paul lost most of his audience at that point. They weren’t interested in “dogma”. They took offense at the exclusivity of Paul’s message. They liked ideas, but they weren’t interested in truth. Sound familiar?

Truth, of course, is exclusive. That’s the nature of truth. People like the Athenians, and people who embrace post-modern thought today, don’t want to want to hear ideas that are exclusive. They want variety. They want to keep their options open, ironically even to the exclusion of truth.

A few people, though, were moved by Paul’s sermon. They wanted to hear more. Among them was Dionysius, the Areopagite. For Dionysius, Paul provided him the missing piece to the puzzle of his life.

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Holding onto Truth with Humility

Today I read A Slice of Humble Pie, in the newsletter, Science for the Church, by Drew Rick-Miller. This piece is noteworthy for at least two reasons. First, it models a high regard for truth (and joy in discovering it), and second, it models the integrity that is required for humility.

Truth matters, because our Father is the progenitor of all truth, and through his Word all things seen and unseen were made. (John 1:1-3) His Word, of course, “became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (John 1:14) – Jesus. Thus, Jesus was able to say accurately, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.” (John 14:6)

The statement that all things were made through the Word/Jesus, particularly speaks to the truth of science, which is the truth that we can discover in the creation. Rather than fear scientific truth, we should embrace it, as God is the creator of all things.

I like the approach of Hugh Ross to the seemingly contradictory “truths” of the Bible and science. He says that we have the book of revelation (Scripture) and the book of nature (which science reveals); if we see contradictions between them, then our understanding of one, or the other, or both must be inaccurate.

We should not hold so tightly to our assumptions and understandings that we fail to recognize and acknowledge truth. We should not fear the need to adjust our understanding because God is not the author of confusion, but the author of truth.

We are finite beings. That means that we sometimes need to hold truths in tension with each other when we don’t know how to synthesize the truth as we understand it. We do this in the hope and expectation that we will grow in our knowledge of God and the truth. If we can’t harmonize those tensions that we see today, we hope to understand them better tomorrow.

We don’t only find tensions between science and faith. We find tensions within Scripture, itself. Free will is implied in Proverbs (“In their hearts humans plan their course….” (16:9) and in the words of Jesus (“Anyone who chooses to do the will of God will find out whether my teaching comes from God….” (John 7:17)) Predestination is implied by Paul (“He predestined us for adoption as son…” (Eph. 1:5) and in the words of Jesus (“You did not choose me, but I chose you….” (John 15:16)

As finite beings, we have to recognize that our efforts to harmonize everything will likely never reach the point of comprehensive understanding and synthesis of all truth with certainty and without gaps in our understanding. If we were able to achieve such a synthesis, we would be like God… and we aren’t.

(And that was the original temptation, wasn’t it!)

Even if we highly value truth, we are going to get it wrong sometimes, and we need to be ever open and willing to acknowledge when we are wrong. This humility is also a recognition of the truth – the truth that we are finite creatures

There is freedom in valuing truth and in being humble. We don’t need to hold on stubbornly to assumptions and dogmas when we value truth and humility.

This is not to say that we should allow ourselves to be tossed about by every wind that blows. God is a rock whose foundation is secure and does not change. We can rest in that.

Sometimes, though, we build onto that foundation structures that we mistake for the very foundation, itself. We invest much of ourselves in those structures and are, therefore, tempted to cling to them when we should be letting go and embracing with humility truth as it becomes known to us that might suggest some remodeling is needed in those structures we have built.

We will never need to restructure the foundations, which are of God, but we may need wisdom to know what is foundational and what is structural. Fortunately, if anyone lacks wisdom, we simply need to ask God, who provides wisdom generously to all who ask. (James 1:5)

It’s interesting to me that, when James talks about asking God for wisdom, affirming that God will give wisdom to all who ask, he goes on to talk about humility. (James 1:9-10) We need humility (and faith) to receive anything God offers to us. James affirms this later in his letter, quoting Proverbs 3:4:

“God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”

James 4:6