Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Myth of the “Dark Ages of Christianity” is No Laughing Matter

Most of you can remember exactly where you were when you first heard the tale of Christopher Columbus and his raw courage in the face of mutinous sailors who were in mortal terror of sailing over the edge of a flat earth. Who among us is not familiar with the term “Dark Ages”?

Sociologist Rodney Stark points out in his book The Victory of Reason that what we’re largely unfamiliar with is the reality that far from being “benighted fanatics clinging to Scriptural claims that the earth was flat” for the “first fifteen centuries of the Christian epic, nearly unanimous scholarly opinion pronounced the earth spherical.” Likewise, only in the revisionist history of skeptics like John Stewart and Stephen Colbert are the “Dark Ages” dark and the Renaissance enlightened.

What really happened is a matter of history and evidence. The millennium that encompassed Greek and Roman history is more correctly characterized by irrational superstition than rational supposition. Greco-Roman thought was shackled to the illogical presupposition of an eternal universe that was ministered by moody gods. Little wonder that almost a thousand years after Aristotle, Roman aristocrats, spoon-fed at the table of Greek enlightenment, dwelt in drafty domains and never dreamed of a coming Christian epic in which the invention of chimneys, clocks, and capitalism would revolutionize Western Civilization.

In place of a rational God who orders the universe according to knowable principles, Greek sages and their Roman counterparts fixated on the capriciousness of the gods. As such, Socrates would render astronomical observations a “waste of time,” and Plato persuaded devotees to “leave the starry heavens alone.” They obsessed on astrology, but left astronomy an unexplored domain. They mastered the magic of alchemy, and remained blithely ignorant of the majesty inherent in chemistry.

Even more shamefully, “enlightened” Greco-Roman civilization had scant regard for human equality. As a slave master, Plato reasoned that “nature creates a slavish people lacking the mental capacity for virtue or culture, and fit only to serve.” And Aristotle famously remarked, “some are marked out for subjugation, others for rule.” Of course, women fared no better, for in Rome female babies routinely expired in the shadow of Nero’s image—their tragic cries a testimony to the terrors of sexual inequality.

Here’s my point: The notion that the enlightenment of the Greco-Roman world was separated from enlightenment in the modern world by the Dark Ages of Christianity is nothing more than useful propaganda. It was Christianity and Christianity alone that shattered the superstitions of the Greco-Roman world. An unbiased reading of history demonstrates conclusively that the rise of Western Civilization is inextricably linked to the DNA of a biblical worldview.

Well, today, that biblical worldview is mocked by culturally corrosive comedy, and our children are at stake, because for every five-hundred hours they spend in church, a 17 year old has spent more than fifty-thousand interacting with the mass media.

For more on culturally corrosive comedy, listen to my interview with Ted Baehr, co-author (with Tom Snyder) of “Culturally Corrosive Comedy: The Daily Show and The Colbert Report,” Christian Research Journal 33, 2 (2010).

Listen to the show

Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Book of Mormon: NOT Another Testament

Open the Book of Mormon and the very first words that you will encounter are the following:

“The Book of Mormon is a volume of holy scripture comparable to the Bible. It is a record of God’s dealings with the ancient inhabitants of the Americas and contains, as does the Bible, the fullness of the everlasting gospel.”

The Book of Mormon goes on to say that it is the record of two great civilizations. One came from Jerusalem in 600 BC, whom afterwards separated into two nations known as the Nephites and the Lamanites. The other great civilization is known as the Jaredites. After thousands of years, all were destroyed except the Lamanites, and they are the principle ancestors of the American Indians.

The last survivor of the war between the Nephites and the Lamanites was a military commander named Moroni. Following his death and resurrection, Moroni appeared to the prophet Joseph Smith and instructed him relative to the ancient record and its destined translation into the English language. That very day, September 21, 1823, Moroni told Joseph Smith the location of golden plates that were inscribed in “reformed Egyptian” hieroglyphics. He had abridged these plates allegedly with the help of his father Mormon.

Smith not only secured the golden plates, but along with the plates, a pair of magical eyeglasses. And with the eyeglasses, he translated the “fullness of the everlasting gospel.” Upon the culmination of this, the most miraculous a feat, Smith said, “I told the brethren that the Book of Mormon was the most correct of any book on earth, and the keystone of our religion, and a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than any other book.”

Here’s the problem, there is no archeological evidence for a language such as “reformed Egyptian” hieroglyphics. There is no archeological evidence for lands such as the land of Moron, which is described in Ether 7:6 of the Book of Mormon. There is no archeological evidence to buttress the notion that the Jaredites, Nephites, and Lamanites migrated from Israel to the Americas. Indeed, archeology and anthropology demonstrate conclusively that the people, places, and particulars chronicled in the Book of Mormon are little more than the product of Joseph Smith’s fertile imagination.

What about the Bible? What if through anthropology and archeology there was demonstrable, conclusive evidence that the Bible is not the Word of God, that like the Book of Mormon it is replete with mythology? If that were to happen it would be an absolute game changer, because, like Mormonism, Christianity would lose all its credibility. But exactly the opposite has happened. With virtually every turn of the archeologist’s spade, there is more and more evidence that the particulars, the people, the places, the details, the descriptions found in the Bible are in fact painstakingly accurate, meticulous, and true.

In an age in which the Mormon Church is attempting to pass itself off as mainstream, Christians must learn to recognize the counterfeit gospel of Mormonism by recognizing the Mormon mirage for just that. It is crucial that Christians are equipped to scale the Mormon language barrier and use Mormon doctrinal deviations to effectively communicate the everlasting Gospel of the historic Christian faith. And we say it’s “historic” because it’s rooted in history and evidence. Mormons need to know the truth.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Seeing Old Testament the Shadows of Temples, Sacrifices, and Diets Fulfilled in the Light of Christ

Over the last couple of days, so many people have been calling in and vociferously communicating that we need to continue adhering to the civil and ceremonial laws we find in the Old Testament. I’m surprised at how popular that sentiment is in modern evangelical Christianity.

I was in fact discussing with one man just the other day Jesus Christ’s words, “Do you not understand that whatever goes into the man from the outside cannot defile him, because it does not go into his heart, but into his stomach, and is eliminated?” (Mark 7:18-19a). Jesus Christ in saying this meant it is not shellfish that makes you unclean; rather, it is those things that proceed from the heart. Mark, of course, parenthetically adds in saying this, Jesus “declared all foods clean” (Mark 7:9b). Well, the man’s response was that’s a parenthetical remark and therefore it holds no weight whatsoever. But that is a most egregious error. We should never revert back to Old Testament types and shadows, which have been gloriously fulfilled in Jesus Christ.

In Christ the Old Covenant order, including temple sacrifices are obsolete. They disappeared in the light of Jesus Christ. The type and shadow of the first and second temples, they don’t find their substance in some kind of Tribulation temple followed by another temple—a Millennial temple. They find their substance in a church built of living stones comprised of both Jew and Gentile with Jesus Christ Himself the capstone. Jesus made this typological relation to the temple when He said “one greater than the temple is here.” All Old Covenant types and shadows, including the Holy Land, the Holy City, and the Holy Temple have been fulfilled in the Holy Christ. There is no need or use for a rebuilt temple with reinstituted temple sacrifices. There is no need to go back to type and shadow.

The teaching that the temple must be rebuilt and that temple sacrifices must be reinstituted not only stands in direct opposition to the Book of Hebrews but it undermines the central hope of the Christian faith, which of course is the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ for all sins—past, present, and future. If our evangelical death march towards the endgame of Armageddon is to be subverted it will be because believers recommit themselves to faithful exegesis to mining what the Holy Spirit has breathed into the text as opposed to superimposing our models onto the text.

My prayer, of course, is that the Holy Spirit gives us clear minds and open hearts as we plug into the power of Scriptural synergy daily by interpreting Scripture in light of Scripture. At the end of the day we must always ask ourselves the question: “Are we willing to sacrifice our treasured traditions on the altar of biblical fidelity, or has tradition become our god?” Perish the thought.