In our previous debate, we learned Bart Ehrman’s peculiar twist on the integrity of the New Testament text. His focus is on the first hundred years or so of the original writing of the New Testament, for which we have essentially no manuscript evidence. His contention is that we can’t be sure how radical the variations were during this period because that early in history the scribes couldn’t have been as well trained as the scribes and monks of the middle ages, so what we have may be vastly different than what was originally written by the apostles and their associates.
Wallace rightly characterizes this as radical skepticism, and argues for the proposition that Ehrman’s claims are making a mountain out of a mole hill. His contention is that it’s less likely that the variation was as extreme as Ehrman wants us to conclude. This is part of what I came away with from their last meeting on Wallace’s turf in Dallas, Texas.
Now they plan to meet on Ehrman’s turf to “dialogue” (as opposed to debate? Is this just postmodern euphamism?) on whether the original New Testament was lost. I suspect my summary of their positions above will be at the heart of this dialogue. Wish I could attend, but, then, it gets old hearing the same jokes out of both fellows. Hopefully they come up with fresh material. More on this in a few weeks after the debate is made available to those of us unable to attend. (Click for more info)
Many of you may have already seen this viral video originally posted by The Resurgence website. A co-worker told me about it and it linked (at that time) to The Resurgence. At that point it had three million views. By the time I got home Friday morning and pulled it up again (about four hours later), it had six million views! Now it’s plateaued at over seven million. It’s effective, because it’s edgy. It’s edgy because it features a misdefinition of the word “Religion.”
Watch the video, before we move on:
Another friend of mine shared it on his Facebook page, with a lengthy discussion in which I just had to participate. Here’s what I wrote:
This forty-something Republican is down with most of this. But the “semantic” issue is that by “religion” he does mean legalism, but I’d like to submit that he’s also talking about hypocrisy. But I guess if he used the right words, it wouldn’t have been nearly as edgy and would have gotten a couple million fewer views on YouTube. At first I thought he was coming too close to advocating “don’t go to church, be the church” like Barna’s “Revolutionaries,” but I rewatched it and retained his clarification about “loving the church” which I suppose means he doesn’t advocate dropping out. He’s just, again, challenging legalism and hypocrisy.
Fortunately, a trained professional has now written a lengthy and helpful critique, which is not uncomplimentary, about this latest YouTube phenomenon. Kevin DeYoung, co-author of Why We Love the Church: In Praise of Institutions and Organized Religion (2009?, Moody Publishers) writes “Does Jesus Hate Religion? Kinda Sorta, Not Really.” Here’s DeYoung’s comments on the poet’s misleading use of the word “religion,” how religious Jesus was, and how religious he wants his followers to be:
More important is Bethke’s opening line: “Jesus came to abolish religion.” That’s the whole point of the poem. The argument—and most poems are arguing for something—rests on the sharp distinction between religion on one side and Jesus on the other. Whether this argument is fair depends on your definition of religion. Bethke sees religion as a man made attempt to earn God’s favor. Religion equals self-righteousness, moral preening, and hypocrisy. Religion is all law and no gospel. If that’s religion, then Jesus is certainly against it.
But that’s not what religion is. We can say that’s what is has become for some people or what we understand it to be. But words still matter and we shouldn’t just define them however we want. “Jesus hates religion” communicates something that “Jesus hates self-righteousness” doesn’t. To say that Jesus hates pride and hypocrisy is old news. To say he hates religion—now, that has a kick to it. People hear “religion” and think of rules, rituals, dogma, pastors, priests, institutions. People love Oprah and the Shack and “spiritual, not religious” bumper stickers because the mood of our country is one that wants God without the strictures that come with traditional Christianity. We love the Jesus that hates religion.
The only problem is, he didn’t. Jesus was a Jew. He went to services at the synagogue. He observed Jewish holy days. He did not come to abolish the Law or the Prophets, but to fulfill them (Matt. 5:17). He founded the church (Matt. 16:18). He established church discipline (Matt. 18:15-20). He instituted a ritual meal (Matt. 26:26-28). He told his disciples to baptize people and to teach others to obey everything he commanded (Matt. 28:19-20). He insisted that people believe in him and believe certain things about him (John 3:16-18; 8:24). If religion is characterized by doctrine, commands, rituals, and structure, then Jesus is not your go-to guy for hating religion. This was the central point behind the book Ted Kluck and I wrote a few years ago.
The word “religion” occurs five times in English Standard Version of the Bible. It is, by itself, an entirely neutral word. Religion can refer to Judaism (Acts 26:5) or the Jewish-Christian faith (Acts 25:19). Religion can be bad when it is self-made (Col. 2:23) or fails to tame the tongue (James 1:26). But religion can also be good when it cares for widows and orphans and practices moral purity (James 1:27). Unless we define the word to suit our purposes, there is simply no biblical grounds for saying Jesus hated religion. What might be gained by using such language will, without a careful explanation and caveats, be outweighed by what is lost when we give the impression that religion is the alloy that corrupts a relationship with Jesus.
Update: Poet Jefferson Bethke responds on his Facebook page to those using his video to “bash the church”:
If you are using my video to bash “the church” be careful. I was in no way intending to do that. My heart came from trying to highlight and expose legalism and hypocrisy. The Church is Jesus’ bride so be careful how you speak of His wife. If a normal dude has right to get pissed when you bash His wife, it makes me tremble to think how great the weight is when we do it to Jesus’ wife. The church is His vehicle to reach a lost word. A hospital for sinners. Saying you love Jesus but hate the Church, is like a fiancé saying he loves his future bride, but hates her kids. We are all under grace. Look to Him.
Ask him a politically-charged question about biblical sexual morality.
It’s good that Joel was able to get what he’s bound to believe out of his mouth. He would do well to work toward not only believing these things, but also ministering these truths in the way Paul advised Timothy in 2 Timothy 4:1-5, which reads,
I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.
For the record, according to Joel Osteen, he believes that the Bible teaches the following:
“You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination” (Leviticus 18:22).
“If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination…” (Leviticus 20:13).
“…and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error”(Romans 1:27).
“…just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire” (Jude 1:7; cf. Gen. 19).
But this next passage shows Joel should have also qualified his initially reassuring assertion to Oprah that “I think [homosexuals] will [go to heaven].” He does clarify that “they need forgiveness of their sins,” but this was an attempt to evade putting the two together until Oprah had to pull it out of him in uncertain terms. In this, he sounds nothing like the apostle Paul, whose inspired assertion is much clearer:
“Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Corinthians 6:9-10).
Fortunately for homosexuals who repent and for Joel Osteen, Paul goes on in verse 11 to proclaim:
“And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:11).
It is the desire of every loving, right-minded Christian that the homosexuals should, by the grace of the Spirit of God,
- believe the good news of forgiveness through the sinless life, atoning death and enlivening resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ, and so be justified through faith alone…
- repent of his sins, including the sin of homosexuality…
- be washed clean in the waters of baptism…
- learn to obey all that Christ taught, including his and his apostles’ teachings on sexual morality. Or, as Paul put it above “[be] sanctified.”
Short of this, the regrettable fact remains that the homosexual, as well as the sexually immoral, the idolater, the adulterer, the thief, the greedy, the drunkard, the reviler and the swindler, among other kinds of sinner, will not inherit the kingdom of God.