Bible Inerrancy, Biblical Authority, Biblical Theology, New Testament

New Testament Canon and Authority

One of the primary doctrines of Christianity as stated in 1 Timothy 3:16 is the inerrancy of the Bible. However, it is not unusual to see the common argument that the Bible is not the inspired Word of God. Instead, some would argue that the Bible is a group of books selected by fallible human beings on the basis of their personal agendas. In today’s world, there is often news a revolutionary thought process or book guaranteed to shed new light on the Bible. Like the early believers the modern church finds itself dealing with the rise of cults and false teachers who manipulate the Gospel and replace the word of God with their own false teachings. Although the Christian church had the established the doctrine of the Old Testament, there was a need to find common ground in the new teachings of the Gospel. Unlike the Old Testament, there was no written New Testament. Church leaders depended on the Old Testament, the Greek version of it, the “Septuagint” or teachings passed down via oral tradition. Church fathers recognized the need to understand, in light of growing cults, the common beliefs which made up the Christian faith. Although it took several centuries of careful consideration and selections of the books to include as canon, through the inspiration of God, the books chosen became the New Testament creating a unifying teaching for the body of Christ.

Open BibleTo understand what lead to the creation of the New Testament, it is important to address if the Scriptures are inerrant and inspired or are if they are simply the works of men. 2 Timothy 3:16 states clearly “All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” while in Hebrews 1:1, believers are reminded there are many ways in which the word of God is written and conveyed to believers. Although believers do not have the original autographs or letters, nor do many know how to read the original Greek and Hebrew it is understood this is not needed to believe in the Scriptures as being the divine Word of God. As laid out by 2 Timothy 3:16, all of the words are given and breathed by God and God does not lie or mislead by His words (John 17:17). Spiritual discernment is needed (1 Corinthians 2:14), but God reveals His words in several ways. For example, such as speaking directly to the author (Revelations 2:1, 8, 12), through interviews and writings (Luke 1:1-3) and via the Holy Spirit (John 14:26). Wayne Grudem writes:

And if the Bible cannot be trusted, then God himself cannot be trusted. To believe that the Bible affirms something false would be to disbelieve God himself. To disbelieve God himself is to place yourself as a higher authority with a deeper, more developed understanding on a topic or topics than God himself. [1]

Inerrancy and error are theological terminology. Biblology or the study of the doctrine of the Bible recognizes the Bible has a dual authorship written by men in their own languages and time and upheld by the supernatural process which is guided by the Holy Spirit so what is written isn’t by the desires or agenda of imperfect men, but guided without error or mistake by God. Towns writes in Theology for Today this is based on the presupposition that there is a God. With this reality, what is being conveyed to mankind is not riddled by mistakes. The Bible was not merely written by men and based on their personal ideologies. If this was true, then the Bible would only undermine the need and message of redemption from God.[2] In order to believe the Bible is true and is the word of God involves the need for faith and belief in the existence of God and the understanding He never contradicts Himself.

When it came to the authenticity and trust of the Old Testament, there was little question or doubt. Jesus used the Old Testament when dealing with the Pharisees and teaching to the masses. While in his letters Paul, a Pharisee himself, refers to the Old Testament as a source of authority as seen in the book of Romans. However, as Christianity grew and become a part of society, the growth of heretical cults became a problem for the Christian faith. In the latter part of the first century, Clement of Rome and Ignatius of Antioch began the move from using oral traditions to pass on the teachings of the Gospel to documenting the teachings in written format. Justin Martyr records in the second century not only the Old Testament writings being read at meetings, but the memoirs of the apostles.[3] It is established that Jesus is the standard for authority when it came to the accepted Gospels or words used to convey the basics of Christianity. By the end of the second century, several letters of Paul and what are known as the Synoptic Gospels record the life and resurrection of Jesus were referred to as the Scriptures.

At the same time, within the church body, there was the growth of heretical groups such as the Gnosticis which Irenaeus included the Ophites, the Valentinians and the Caporcatians. All were groups teaching a mystical form of Christianity. Individuals known as the church fathers (which included Irenaeus and Hippolytus) were concerned about the growing threat from within Christianity and the teaching of false doctrine. Marcion of Pontus, around 140 A.D. is considered a formidable concern and heretic to the Church fathers due to his belief the Old Testament was not reconcilable with the growing acceptance of the new canon, later to be known as the New Testament. With the rise of heretical groups claiming the name of Jesus, but under false pretenses, it is recognized there was an immediate need to be able to establish the true doctrine of Christianity from amidst the untruthful claims which were causing confusion among Christians.

Although Marcion is considered a heretic and did not believe the Old Testament was reconcilable with Christianity, it is important to note his work helped begin what is considered the early development of a fixed, written canon. Ironically, his writings could be said to be the catalyst for the movement to developing a new canon in addition to the Old Testament. Throughout the development of a fixed canon, the Gospels have been influenced from within the church, as well as by external forces such as heresy and persecution.

Overall, in church history, the first seven councils in the East were called by emperors. In the West, a series of councils were called by the Pope. The Council of Chalcedon in 451 broughtbmore focus on settling and clarifying viewpoints regarding the two natures of Christ. In 325 A.D., the first ecumenical council known as the Council of Nicea was convened by the emperor Constantine in response to the rise in Arianism and the belief Jesus was not perfect or of immutable substance and subjected to moral changes. Later in 381 A.D. at the Council of Constantinople, the orthodox views held in Nicean were reaffirmed and the Christian church begin to see the establishment of a fix set of books considered as authoritative canon. In 1740, a historical document called the Muratorian Canon, named for its discoverer, Ludovico Antonio Muratori, was recovered and revealed to have been written at the close of the second century. The document is considered a comprehensive list of New Testament writings that included the Gospel of John. However, it was not until the fourth or fifth centuries when a more sanctioned canonization process emerged that the final list of accepted books would be formalized. Athanasius of Alexandria is believed to have first used the term “canon” at this time period to address the accepted list as the authoritative fixed list of documents. Later in 1545 A.D., the New Testament, consisting of 27 books finally came into official use by the church at the Council of Trent. Here Scripture and tradition were formally identified and recognized by the church.

P.D. Feinberg writes, “The question of authority is central for any theology”.[4] Christian history is filled with appearances of false teachers and with the growing new belief of Christianity, there was a lack in identifying the doctrinal stance of the church body. The formalization of New Testament canon took nearly 350 years in which the process defended the true faith against the heretical views permeating the society of the times. There is no denying the tremendous influence that the word of God has had on culture, despite both internal and external forces attempting to distort the true Gospel of Christ.


[1] Wayne A. Grudem, Christian Beliefs: Twenty Basics Every Christian Should Know, ed. Elliot Grudem (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2005), 15.

[2] Elmer L Towns, Theology for Today, 2nd ed. (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing Company, 2001), 27-30.

[3]Martyr First Apology 67.3, quoted in Anthony Frost, “Tracing the Emergence of a Canon of Holy Scripture in Churches to 451 Ce,” abstract, Anglican Historical Society Journal 57 (April 2014): 26-39, Frost, Anthony. Tracing the emergence of a canon of Holy Scripture in churches [online]. Anglican Historical Society Journal, Vol. 57, Apr 2014: 26-39.

[4] P.D. Feinberg, ed., “Bible, Inerrancy and Infallibility of,” in Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, ed. Walter A. Elwell (Grand Rapids: Baker Publishing Group, 2001), 156-59.

 

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Reflections

Survived Week 2 of Fall Classes-2018.

There’s a funny meme posted on Facebook. At first glance, I laughed, nodded and scrolled past the meme. However, as I went on with my day, I stopped and thought about how true the meme described  college or my case, graduate student’s life and the preciousness of time.

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Funny, but true meme from Facebook

We have 24 hours/7 days and each moment we spend it, each decision we make, has consequences, both good and bad. In addition, it is not only our time, but other people, my case, immediate family, friends, church and the list goes on.

We also lose time we can’t get back unless we have a time machine, T.A.R.D.I.S., wormhole, something to bend time and space.

The time we use has to be spent wisely and with care and respect of ourselves and others. My husband shared these wise words (not quoted and heavily paraphrased by me), I need to consider my wish list, my immediate needs, immediate goals, short term goals, long term goals and what is the priority of any given item.

Some people have asked how do I get it all done. Chocolate and coffee. Just kidding…not really.

Well, I don’t some of the time.

There are times due to being too busy, I overlook something minor to me, major to someone else, or I can’t get to something and I have to choose sleep, because we need rest in our lives, even on Sundays.

First and foremost thought, I rely on God.

My faith in Him has helped in good times, bad times and even really hard times.

Even if I don’t feel like it due to being tired or emotionally and spiritually exhausted, I still turn to Him even if the prayer is composed of simply, “Help”. He hears us and through it all helps us find the strength, encouragement and in some cases, the need to drag us kicking and screaming through life.

Second, I am a paper planner girl and a digital planner. I rely on the:

  • Post it Notes which goes on my laptop, my planner, the wall, the refrigerator, etc.
  • Write in my “planner” for my planner” Yes. I have a blue planner I can carry with me, keep notes in etc. and everything gets reviewed and transferred to my main planner.
  • My official paper planner. I keep it open and check the month for an overview, look at the to-do list, prioritize to the best of my ability, address this week’s actions and needs and then daily.
  • Write it on the desktop calendar and/or calendar on the refrigerator
  • Add it to the digital calendar

My official title might as well be a “Multi-Administrative Assistant” to everyone.

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Photo Credit: V.Clark  Copyright @2018 By Grace, In Faith

I have a home, family, marriage, parenting,graduate school, volunteering, member of a church, serving God responsibility and “Oh, I already forgot”, I lead a Bible study group for ladies.

No, I’m not Wonder Woman, but I learn very early  the importance of keeping a:

  • To-Do/Priority List
  • Schedule and plan every quarter; As a matter of fact, my paper planner is divided into quarters so I look at three months in advance.
  • I keep a year at a glance
  • Utilize and ask for help and try not to do it all myself (fast way to burn out)
  • Be realistic
  • Have a plan and a goal always

I couldn’t do this (go to graduate school and everything else) if I waited last minute.

Some cases there are things that  require flexibility and ability to change at the last minute. But I also know there are things set in stone and has to be done before, not during or after and realistically if I know or plan at least a month ahead, I can be considerate of God’s time, my time, my family and everyone else.

The best way I feel one can fail is to not be able to at least know what to expect and have some idea of a schedule.

So as soon as my classes syllabuses are released, I’m the girl who prints them and instructions out before classes begin (all my classes are currently online), write down due dates on everything, but the wall (wait, I need to invest in a dry erase board then I can write on the wall, sort of.), and set goals and how to meet them.

This is not a guarantee for success, but if I know ahead of time what to expect, I can break things down to small, manageable actions and not lose myself in the process. This doesn’t eliminate of knowing what my limits are and sometimes saying, “I’m tired, I need support, etc.” and having a support system when I could use encouragement myself.

This fall, I’m taking my first three graduate level classes. The way the online classes are setup, I take eight week (intensive!!) classes, with the first two classes being:

    • CHRI_5330: HISTORY OF CHRISTIANITY
    • CHRI_5360:  OLD TESTAMENT THEOLOGY

The last class for this fall will be about Acts and the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John).

Already I have two papers due this week and the rest of the last five weeks means writing a lot of paper for me.

The key for me is not procrastinating, taking care of what I can now and working ahead.

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Photo Credit: V.Clark Copyright @2018 By Grace, In Faith

I’m still nervous about the idea of weighing Master level classes with everything else in life so I have to make sure I get rest and have a good support system.

The point of all this is we are going to have busy seasons in our lives.

We also have to choose how to handle those busy seasons.

As a Christian, I rely first and foremost in trusting God and His will for the bigger picture.

I follow this with also being realistic about limitations and how can I ask someone whose better equipped than me to help so I can breathe a little for the Fall semester.

I will  say I  survived my second week of Fall, Master level classes.

I can say I realistically worry about failing my classes at the same time.

Or not keeping up.

Or forgetting.

End of the day, I’m not Wonder Woman.

I’m a human being like everyone else with faults, successes and a desire to push forward.

 

 

 

 

Reflections

Thoughts on Harvey

One year ago, today Hurricane Harvey devastated the Texas Coast. Countless lives were changed over the following days, weeks & months.

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Everyone who lived through those days has a story relating to that monster of a storm & how it impacted their lives. Periodically throughout this past year my wife has asked me to write down my thoughts about my experiences during, and immediately after the hurricane moved into & through the Houston area.

I captured some brief thoughts & a few pictures on almost a daily basis via Facebook during this time, which in & of themselves, are probably more informative than anything I may write today.

By the grace of God my family & I were virtually unaffected by this storm. I am very resistant to writing this & am hesitant to share what will be the final draft. I don’t care for public attention especially when it’s related to just doing what is right.

I have always been the type of person to run towards the chaos while most people with any common sense are running in the opposite direction. Without a doubt, this was a key factor in my decision to join the U. S. Marine Corps as a young man. Since that time, I have struggled to find what I consider a meaningful purpose in the civilian world. This is a common feeling that many veterans struggle with upon separating from military service as they attempt to assimilate back into civilian life.

In late May of 2017 my family & I moved to a new home in a different city near Houston, TX. We had previously lived in Dickinson, TX for over a decade. Dickinson would soon make national news as the city became an epicenter for high water rescues related to the flooding brought on by Hurricane Harvey.

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Late in August of 2017 Hurricane Harvey made landfall around Rockport, TX. I used to go duck hunting down in Rockport & have fond memories of the area. This storm was huge & there were some meteorologist that were calling for significant destruction to be caused by the storm.

My thoughts were that yes, Rockport & those areas south of Houston would be hit hard, but that this hurricane was just going to dump some rain on Houston & move on.

(In case your keeping score, I was wrong.)

With all this in mind my family & I had been invited to a friend’s home to watch a UFC fight & enjoy some brisket & ribs he had been smoking all day. We would only be about a block from our house should it start to rain, so off we went. It began to rain & it didn’t stop for days. The satellite reception went out so no fight.

The rain was literally coming down in sheets & my wife & I began to think we should get our family back to our home. We got soaked but made it home without incident. As we woke the next morning the predictions of a major flood event were being talked about on the local news channels. Little did any of us know what the following days would hold for the city & the surrounding areas.

As I have said my family & I were new to the neighborhood in which were living at this time. However, I knew there were some folks who had hearts for service & were itching to get into the fray to do something to help the people being affected by this devastating storm. I wanted to find those people.

A neighbor who is a pastor at a local church was standing in his garage with a group of men who looked like they had been out in the storm all day.

They were wet & looked exhausted. I stopped immediately & went to find out what was going on. They had been out doing water rescues & helping people evacuate their homes before the water reached a level that would prevent escape. I was in before I even spoke to any of them.

These folks had kayaks, paddleboards, a bass boat & 4×4 pickup trucks. They also had every intent to be out in the storm & help anyone that they could that

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needed assistance. We all resolved to gather our gear & meet the next morning at 5 AM to load up & start helping people. Before we did that though we were approached by another neighbor whose mother in law was trapped in a gated retirement community & the water was rising. She needed help immediately.

We responded & ended up traversing a golf course in a kayak to retrieve the lady, a few of her possessions & her dog. Things were getting serious & it appeared that it was only going to get worse. Of course, the flooding did get worse & we headed towards Dickinson, TX which had already begun to flood.

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Photo from YouTube Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ng54uOtEnFo

There’s a famous photo of dozens of boats motoring down FM 517 in Dickinson that exemplifies exactly what we were encountering. People from every walk of life & from all over were running towards the chaos to rescue strangers from the rising waters.

Military vehicles, police vehicles, bass boats, jet skis, kayaks…. anything that could traverse the waters was being launched near the donut shop I had gotten breakfast at on many a weekend in previous years.

The sound of rotary blades could be heard overhead as military helicopters conducted rescues & reconnaissance. Things had gotten real in a hurry. We conducted rescues & pulled people out of apartments & delivered them to Army National Guard trucks or nearby shelters. We met some incredible people who were conducting rescues & some incredible people who were being rescued. We helped a lot of people that day. Finally, some purpose.

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Photo taken by V. C. Image copyright by @2018 By Grace, In Faith

We had decided not to perform night time rescues as they presented special challenges that we were not necessarily equipped to tackle, although had we been aware of a specific need I have no doubt that to a man we would have gone out into the night to do whatever we could to help.

So, with the sun setting we made our way back to our island neighborhood.

We never flooded, only lost power for a few minutes & had home cooked meals & hot showers every evening.

This was totally surreal given what we had seen throughout our day. We resigned to perform rescues daily for the foreseeable future.

My wife is the industrious & organized type, God knows I am not. Hence, he gave me her to help me at least appear to be organized on occasion. She had been on the phone & internet all day talking to people who wanted to help or who knew of people that needed help. She even had people from outside the state coordinating information to pass along to teams about rescue needs, gasoline availability, hazards or government warnings. All in all, it was amazing to witness.

The men I had been working with the day before met bright & early the following morning. Coffee in hand we worked on a plan for the day & said a prayer before we departed. Overall, we knew it was bad outside our subdivision. We had no idea how bad it might get or what we were going to run into today. We rescued several people in the Friendswood, TX area this day.

The most memorable was in a secluded neighborhood adjacent to a creek. Obviously, any home near a body of water was going to be affected by the deluge. I never even knew this neighborhood existed.

The homes must have been close to a million dollars in value, Harvey didn’t care.

We couldn’t get the boat into the far back of the neighborhood due to the stone walls & decorative stonework near the homes. Should we have damaged the prop we would have been out of commission & rendered mostly ineffective in future rescue efforts. Fortunately, we had a paddleboard & a canoe. We waded for about a half a mile to a large home at the rear of the subdivision.

A family of 4 needed rescue and we were going to get them out. As we were making our way to their home I took a step & ended up in chin deep water.

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Photo taken by C.W. Clark. Copyright @2018 By Grace, In Faith

I am 6’0” tall, a former lifeguard & have surfed for many years but this development kind of freaked me out. I regained my composure & we made it to our destination.

The mother & 2 teenage daughters along with 2 dogs were going with us.The father refused to leave his home.

The first story was flooded & he had no power but just couldn’t bare to leave his property to the unknown.

I don’t know what happened to him but often think of stopping by that home to hear their story.

We evacuated the ladies & went forward with more rescues. Some areas were impassable in our boats, so we were limited by that factor.

Do you think my wife would be ok with me buying an airboat?

Those guys did some amazing work & could go anywhere. In the subsequent day or 2 we performed more rescues & decided that we would not travel outside of our local area due to the needs within our immediate community.

The rains stopped & the water began to recede in some areas. I was losing my purpose.

God had other plans for me. My home church was collecting supplies like bleach, paper towels, gloves, dust masks, cleaning solutions.

The highway I traveled to get to work was under 6-10 feet of water, so I was not going in to work any time soon. If I recall correctly this was a Wednesday…I don’t know for sure though. I gathered what supplies we had & made my way to my church. I dropped of those supplies & asked how I could help. I was told I had just helped & that if I wanted to do more I could fill out a form & they would call me.

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Come again???

The world outside my door looked like an over budget poorly scripted Kevin Costner movie & you want me to fill out a form to help.

I departed with a bit of an attitude.

I just so happen to have to drive by my pastor friend’s church. The parking lot was packed. What are they doing I thought? I pulled into the parking lot & made my way inside.

The music minister & his wife said hello & asked if I was here to help. Why yes, I am, even though I only knew one person in the entire congregation. So, I was placed on a team, was given a sack lunch, a case of water, tools & several addresses of people who needed assistance mucking out their homes. God supplied me with more purpose than I could possibly have handled on my own.

For the next several days I worked on teams with people I had never met, cleaning out homes for people I had never met. We worked hard & laughed & ate & prayed together. I am holding back tears as I remember those times.

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One of the many sites affected by the flooding. Photo taken by C.W. Clark. Copyright @2018 By Grace, In Faith

There are some great stories relating to those times, the group of Mormons who helped us & got to be on the receiving end of talking about our true Lord & Savior.

Or the guy who was an amateur taxidermist who literally had a house full of stuffed ducks.

Or the retired couple who owned a home directly across from the Baptist camp I worked at as a teenager.

Too many to recall here.

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Photo taken by V.C. Copyright @2018 By Grace, In Faith

The Houston area was drying out & I was told that I needed to get back to my real job. I took a week of vacation instead, so I could keep doing the job God was calling me to do.

The folks at The Harbor, the church I was working with, made me a team leader & eventually a site evaluator.

Within approximately 12 days our teams had mucked out 200 homes in the local area. I worked on maybe 10 of those with dozens of amazing people.

Towards the end of the last week of work I was told by some of the elders & a couple of pastors that I wasn’t allowed to come back until I took a day off.

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One of the homes affected by the flooding. Photo taken by C.W. Clark @2018 By Grace, In Faith
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The author at one of the Harvey affected sites. Copyright @2018 By Grace, In Faith

I am sure I looked like a zombie & most definitely smelled like one at the end of most days. Begrudgingly, I took the following day off & joked that I would see if the local Kingdom Hall needed volunteers.

We had church that Sunday before I went back to work & I felt so close to God & my neighbors.

I am thankful beyond words that God put me in the middle of that storm. I would do that kind of work every day if I had the opportunity.

God saw us through one of the costliest natural disasters in modern history.

He spared me & my family for which I am eternally grateful. Most of all I am thankful that for the 2 weeks in which He gave me an incredible sense of purpose.

I still struggle to fit in to this world in which I live.

Some days are harder than others.

I am certain that God knows my purpose, all I must do is listen, trust & act.

What’s your purpose?

Mark 12:30-31 New American Standard Bible (NASB)

30 and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

Addendum by V.C:

At the time during Harvey, I was taking classes via Liberty University online, working on my degree in Christian Ministry with minor in Biblical Studies. In the process, I became a part of the Ratio Christi-Liberty chapter. Ratio Christi is a student campus apologetic alliance and its close to my heart and that of my family.

C.W. and I have supported, prayed for and made friends whose have become like family through Ratio Christi.

So I wanted to post a “shout out” to them and to the Liberty University professors and fellow classmates for their prayers and support for the Texas Gulf Coast area.

One year later and there’s still work to be done in the Rockport, Houston and surrounding areas, but the people here are #TexasStrong.

Apologetics, Book Review, Zondervan

{Book Review} Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus: a Devout Muslim Encounters Christianity

Qureshi, Nabeel Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus: a Devout Muslim Encounters Christianity. S.l.: Zondervan,368 pages, 2018.

Immediately in the opening pages of Qureshi’s book, Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus, the

Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus

tone of the book is set. “What would you do if someone challenged the very core of your deeply held beliefs?” (13) In the introduction to Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus, Lee Strobel, author of The Case for Christ, provides a glimpse of the person who was Nabeel Qureshi and the discoveries encountered along the journey of faith which unfold within the pages of the narrative biography. 368 pages, available with bonus content as both a paper bound copy and Kindle, Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus is a personal journey opening with the beginning of Qureshi’s odyssey of faith into Christianity.

 

Dr. Nabeel Qureshi held an MD from Eastern Virginia Medical School and later received his MA in Christian Apologetics from Biola University, along with an MA in Religion from Duke University. With an interest in the foundations of the Christian faith, ancient Judaism, early Islam, and the interface of science and religion, Nabeel pursued a doctorate in New Testament studies at Oxford University. He was also a part of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries and lectured to students at multiple universities. He is the author of Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus: A Devout Muslim Encounters Christianity and the books: No God, but One and Answering Jihad.

Opening with an introduction by Lee Strobel, a prologue by Nabeel Qureshi and followed by ten parts, each part is a detailed look into Nabeel’s life before becoming a Christian. Throughout each of the chapters, there are many side notes with definitions of the terminology used to better acquaint the reader with the Islamic terms which describe Nabeel Qureshi’s life prior to becoming a follower of Christ. The additional material in this revised version, included Expert Contributions ranging from evangelists to a distinguished Quran scholar. Nabeel shares that three of these experts played a personal role in his life and their contributions are expanded upon in the book. Each contribution plays a part to one of the ten parts which divides the book and helps add supplemental understanding of some of the discussions Nabeel shares in his autobiography.

Another interesting aspect of note pertaining to the book is that at the end of each chapter Nabeel refers to the reader either to the expert contributions at the end of Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus or other related books to expound on some of the theological discussions which are found throughout his autobiography.

Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus ends with an epilogue by Nabeel Qureshi and an added afterword by Mark Mittleberg who recounts his last moments with Nabeel. Also included are notes from Nabeel’s wife, Michelle and his friend, David Wood. David is a pivotal figure in the middle act of the book and his friendship with Nabeel displays the possibilities of a bond based upon mutual respect and a quest for understanding and answers.  The book closes with a culmination of the expert contributions referenced throughout which are amazingly detailed and worth taking the time to read, as well as a glossary of the terminology Nabeel uses throughout his narrative autobiography.

The book as a whole is a personal and revealing insight in the life of Nabeel Qureshi, a thorough look at the role his family’s faith played in his upbringing, a transparent look at a different faith and culture, along with the impact his own family, his friends and his peers played in life and the life-changing impact Christianity had on Nabeel.  Nabeel writes in the prologue how the answer to his prayer to God would, “forever change my heart and the course of my life.” (26) Nabeel writes with emphatic honesty and conveys on paper the intellectual, spiritual and the heart-based curiosity which set the course for his life. Nabeel is clear that he is writing a narrative biography in which the reader is at once drawn into as he shares moments of his life and bares personal insight into Islam.  The addition of the side notes at the end of each chapter provide guidance to the reader to keep exploring and search for answers to the questions raised during the reading.

After reading Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus, it becomes easy to forget one is reading a narrative biography and Nabeel’s writing style is conversational without condemnation or controversy, but instead is intended to inform and to engage the reader. There is a scholarly appeal to Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus, but without taking on the appearance of a textbook writing. Nabeel attempts to share all the contributing factors which led to him to eventually convert to the Christian faith. During the first reading of the book, I found myself unable to put the book down and with no lamp nearby I used the light of my phone, so I could continue finish reading it late into the night.

The reader becomes drawn in first with the compelling descriptions of Nabeel’s early life, his interactions with his family and later as he began to have questions about his faith. There are moments when the reader is drawn into Nabeel’s narrative it becomes possible to feel the emotional conflict earlier in his story and as he goes through the process of asking questions and discovering answers, the reader finds themselves not merely observing the journey, but becoming part of the journey and in the space of reading, seeing both sides of the world and faith as Nabeel. Reading Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus without also reading Nabeel’s other book, No Other God But One seems impossible.

Although described as a narrative biography, Nabeel’s book is an informative, apologetics-based book where he gives a personal insight into the traditions, culture, and beliefs of the Islam faith, while taking readers on a personal journey of his own search into Christianity and doing his own form of comparative study. Filled with personal anecdotes, his own insights in cross-cultural interactions and even sometimes the barriers which can prevent open dialog and discovery, Nabeel uses his book to open both sides of the world of Christianity and Islam to readers.

The use of the side notes throughout the book helped engage the reader in understanding basics about both faiths and open doors for discussions which is also the goal of the book. Toward the end, reading the Expert Contributions, brought a deeper understanding not only of the method Nabeel and others used, but also introduced cultural awareness which may not have already factored in prior to reading.

Midway through the book, it was difficult not to become emotionally connected and invested which makes it difficult for a reader to put the book down and at the same catch a glimpse of the soul and character of Nabeel Qureshi. His love for his family, for his friends, his peers and more than anything, his faith, is clearly captured within the pages of his book. At the same time, Nabeel invites the reader while joining him in reading his journey, to step outside their comfort zones and ask questions and discovered the answers themselves.

As Nabeel stated in the beginning of the book, he wrote the book to focus on  sharing personal insights, his experiences and heart in his book, Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus  and in the end created an informative book with a look behind the veil of a culture very few may have personal experiences themselves, while sharing what he discovered himself as he sought to understand the Christian faith.

 

Apologetics, Culture

Does our culture still believe in sin?

Does our culture still believe in sin?

One might look around and think that as a society we must have no concept of sin. Murder, rape, abortion, homosexuality, unethical business practices, adultery, theft and violence pervade our modern society. Greed and promiscuity are elevated as characteristics to be emulated instead of being treated as failings. Our televisions bring an agenda of anti-Christian counter culture into our family rooms for hours on end.  Should one disagree with an idea or concept that is contrary to Biblical teachings then they are intolerant. And of course we all know that intolerance is the scarlet letter of our day. Tolerance in today’s society seizes on the idea of offense and holds that one must never offend anyone else by expressing disapproval of any aspect of his or her behavior or ideas.[1] The internet brings pornography, violence, hatred and debauchery into our lives on every size screen we own and anywhere we may find ourselves. But I’m a good person is what many people will tell themselves. Surely I’m not nearly as bad as my neighbor or that creepy guy who works in accounting.  We as a society seem to have a very skewed view of our own personal sin in comparison to the rest of humanity and are unwilling in many cases to call sin just that…sin.

The prosperity gospel of the modern day with its’ feel good message and watered down teachings permeates our culture. How many times have you heard the man with the glimmering smile and the perfect hair on the television on Sunday morning talking about sin in his sermon? More likely he’s telling about how God wants you to be happy, how you just have to love and believe more and all your worries will disappear and of course, that his ministry desperately needs your donations and that you should buy his latest book.  Pastors who don’t want to preach about sin, how it’s wrong and the consequences of that sin. Houston we have a problem.

Finally, as a society we no longer seem to have any shame or even guilt in relation to our sins. So called superstars are in some cases, known for nothing more than a scandalous escapade uploaded onto the internet and are suddenly celebrated as role models. Our leaders lie, cheat and steal and are still elected to office. Cultural icons, sports heroes, politicians, luminaries from all facets of our society might well be associated with immorality and unethical behavior. We have no moral compass in many instances and do not seek one out. Sin saturates our world and our culture and all too often we turn a blind eye. Isaiah 59:2 states, “But your iniquities have built barriers between you and your God, and your sins have made Him hide His face from you so that He does not listen.” Sin creates a barrier between man and God. Our unwillingness to acknowledge our sin, let alone repent of it will not end well for our culture.

By C.W. Clark

A follower of Christ, husband, father, son and brother. A former Marine, one time railroad man , now a manager in the oil & gas industry. More Peter than Paul. Far from perfect and saved only by the grace of God.

 

[1] Lennox, John C. “The World View of Babylon.” In Against the Flow: The Inspiration of Daniel in an Age of Relativism, 74.  Monarch Books, 2015.

Book Review, Pauline Theology, Romans, Zondervan

{Book Review} Reading Romans in Context:  Paul and Second Temple Judaism

One of the important features of reading the books of the Bible is understanding the historical-grammatical background and the context of the books. Composed of short essays, Reading Romans in Context:  Paul and Second Temple Judaism provides readers with a look at Paul’s letter from the context of Jewish literature. The editors, Blackwell, Goodrich, and Maston, provide expert support with their combined knowledge of Biblical studies. Dr. Ben C. Blackwell is an Assistant Professor of Theology and Director of the Graduate programs of Christian Thought at Houston Baptist University. With a Ph.D. from Durham University in New Testament and Historical Theology along with a ThM in Historical Theology and Pastoral Ministries from Dallas  Theological Seminary, Dr. Blackwell offers a well-rounded understanding of New Testament studies.

In addition, at Houston Baptist University, Dr. Blackwell has taught classes regarding Paul’s letters establishing a personal interest in the writings of Paul. Dr. Goodrich is an 51_uy_dxqhlel-_sx332_bo1_204_203_200Associate Professor of the Bible at Moody Bible Institute. His background is in the social world of the New Testament, Pauline theology, Luke-Acts which lends to understanding the cultural impact during the period Paul wrote Romans. Also an Assistant Professor of Theology at Houston Baptist University, Dr. Jason Maston focus is in the New Testament.

Each brings to the book, unique perspectives regarding Paul’s letters. Dr. Blackwell is the author of Christosis: Pauline Soteriology in Light of Deification in Irenaeus and Cyril of Alexandria, Dr. Goodrich is known for his book, Paul and the Apocalyptic Imagination, and he also co-edited with Dr. Maston and Dr. Blackwell. Dr. Maston is the author of Divine and Human Agency in Second Temple Judaism and Paul: A Comparative Approach. Together, the three professors bring together in their book, Reading Romans, a collection of well-thought out and authoritative essays designed to bring both layman and ministers, a deeper understanding of the influence of Jewish texts during the time of Paul’s missionary journeys.

One of the recommended methods to approach reading the Bible has been taking into context the text that has been written and the audience to whom it was written. In the opening introduction for Reading Romans, the editors established the purpose of the book “…to investigate Paul’s relationship with Second Template Judaism…this book examines select passages in Second Temple Jewish literature to illuminate the context of Paul’s theology and the nuances of his thinking.” (21) For the layperson, such as this reader, the approach is an unusual turn which helps bring greater depth to the influences Paul had as a Pharisee and now as a disciple of Christ.

The focus of the book is directed not only to researchers of the Pauline letters, but with the comparison of both Jewish texts and the familiar chapters from Romans, Reading Romans in Context, offers layman a deeper understand of Paul’s intents along with an understanding of the cultural influences which the modern reader would be unfamiliar with while reading the Bible. The addition of essays by the editors not only give insight into their personal understandings of the Pauline letters but also helps provide richer insight into their intent for the book.

For example, Dr. Maston’s essay Sirach and Romans 7:1-25 looks at a challenging and oft controversial chapter from the book of Romans, chapter 7. Carefully comparing the two texts, Maston illustrates the difference Paul was trying to make apart from the Torah, in which, unlike the two-ways paradigm advocated by Ben Sira, Paul debates with the introduction of a third agent, Sin. With these little touches, the reader is provided with some insight into Paul’s thinking and his presentation throughout Romans on such topics as a justification of faith and sanctification.

Although this reader has had little exposure to other Pauline studies, Reading Romans in Context helps draw the interested student of Paul’s writings, into a deeper level of understanding his writings and the impact this has had on Christian doctrine and living. For someone who is serious about taking the time to study the Pauline letters, this particular writing proves to be not only a good source for scholarly research reflecting new insight into Paul’s method and cultural influences for the book of Romans.

My personal assessment initially as an undergrad and now as a graduate student who had  limited scholarly background or exposure to Pauline Theology and thoughts relating to Paul and his works, Reading Romans in Context is a nice blend of clear writing which conveys the perspectives about the influences on Paul and at the same time an introductory look at the scholarly understanding of the book of Romans. This book challenges the reader to look beyond the surface of Paul’s writings and engage in a deeper understanding of the theological and practical ramifications the book of Romans holds for the believer’s life.

The writing is very clear and concise and reflects not only the editor’s expertise but the collection of writers who contributed essays broken down into themes from Romans. For people who are unfamiliar with Jewish influence in the New Testament, such as this reader, Reading Romans in Context brings to the surface a better understanding of what Paul is working with when he is writing to both the Jewish community and the Gentiles.

 

Apologetics, Culture, Daniel

The Christian’s Response to Cultural Changes

Daniel was a young man when his world changed.

The world Daniel knew and grew up in changed to a world contrary to his culture and his faith. Christians today find themselves not immune to the shifting cultural changes of society. With this brings personal and communal challenges of what is the Christian response and role in culture. It becomes vital figuring out how to respond to culture with a stance in Apologetics, through actions reflecting Christ and standing firm in the faith.

One response could be disengagement. However, as Chuck Colson wrote in “How Now Shall We Live?” Christians should not shy away from culture, but be prepared to minister, serve, and share the Gospel. Disengagement from the culture is not a best response nor should it be a choice. Instead as Christians, what needs to be done is finding ways to engage and live within society as Daniel did, but without compromising Biblical values. This is a fine line to walk, but the reality is Christians must live and interact within the society and culture.

Although Daniel could have tried to escape with repercussions, he becomes an example of courage and steadfastness in a culture different from his own. When offered food considered defiling (Daniel 1:8-16), rather than compromise, Daniel relied on his faith in God. God’s response for Daniel’s faithfulness was favor not only in God’s eye, but through later circumstances the king’s so Daniel was given opportunities to display in words and actions, credit to God.

For Christians, Daniel’s responses to his world is an example of the Christian response to modern day culture. While Daniel did not have a say in where he lived, he did have a choice in how he would respond to society and culture. Likewise, so do Christians and one form at a believer’s use is in the form of apologetics. Mary Jo Sharp writes in, “Living in Truth” apologetics is, “making a case for belief in the Christian God, which includes answering objections to belief in God.” This echoes 1 Peter 3:15 of being prepared like Daniel to give reason and why to belief in God. For those unfamiliar with apologetics, there are bible studies geared toward teaching believers not only how to share their belief, but even how to defend their belief. Daniel use every opportunity to credit God and use those moments to be a testament in his faith in God.

Paul, in the book of Acts, interacted with diverse groups of people in a form of apologetics where though the message of the Gospel stayed the same, he considered how he interacted with society and the culture. There are many ways to handle the encounters without changing the message. Tim Muehlhoff argues the greatest skills for Christian is not in debating but recognizing and affirming God’s truth through conversations with people and how Christians engage others in their daily lives. The challenge is engaging in culture while not being part of culture. (John 17:13-19) Obviously Daniel was facing more extreme situations where he had little if any say in his life. However, like Daniel, he showed the struggles for us as Christians, being under pressure to conform to society and culture without compromising values and belief.

Those who follow Christ are called to shed light on the Gospel to the world. (John 17:15). There is the reality though not to be too influenced by the world. (James 1:27; 1 Corinthians 7:31; Romans 12:2; 1 John 2:15). One solution is suggested by Dr. Jim Eckman for believers to evaluate how they speak the language of Christianity in a relativistic world. This also brings the need to do heart checks and determine if one’s faith and even actions line up with Christ. A favorite quote from Francis Schaeffer is:

“We are not excused from speaking, just because the culture and society no longer rest as much as they once did in on Christian thinking. Moreover, Christians do not need to be in the majority to influence society.”

 

Daniel was one man, but he held fast to God and by obedience he followed God. The same can be said for modern Christian engaging others in an increasingly secular world. Reality, this can make casual conversations and daily interactions sometimes a complex manner. The concept of what is truth is becoming more convoluted and with it changing definitions of even what is tolerance. Christians are supposed to be counter-cultured. John Lennox saw post-modernism having within itself a self-contradiction of “no absolute truth” while the Christian finds themselves sharing truth seen through the eyes of God.

When looking at how Daniel handle his response to a changing society and culture, what is found is a core commitment to God. While the Christian finds themselves immerse in day to day engagement with people in real life or even on social media there is a point of conflict when the two worlds meet. Apologetics calls for sharing the truth of God’s world which is a contrast to a pluralistic world where sometimes the prevailing idea is “live and let live.” For the Christian, this is not biblical, and laced with grey areas of morality not founded on biblical truth.

Apologetics is about finding common ground to be able to engage in conversations where the message of the Gospel can be interlaced in conversation. It is easy to react to a post-modern society without grace or think culture is useless, but Theodore Turneau countered like Paul, use culture in a way to connect with non-believers without compromising the message. Disengagement from society and even culture will not help discussions. Disengaging can be detrimental or even argued contrary to the “Great Commission” (Matthew 28:19-20). Every day brings with it new challenges to those who follow and believe in Christ. The challenge then lies in the Christian understanding more what is their role in society and culture and how to engage in the community in a way which reflects Christ.

Notes:

Charles W. Colson.”How now shall we live?” Journal of Markets & Morality, vol. 5, no. 1, 2002, p. 287+.

Dr. Jim Eckman. “Culture and the Christian: Separate, Identify or Transform? – Issues In Perspective.” Issues In Perspective. 31 Dec. 2011. https://graceuniversity.edu/iip/2011/12/11-12-31-1/.

James A. Patterson.  “Cultural Pessimism In Modern Evangelical Thought: Francis Schaeffer, Carl Henry, And Charles Colson,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 49, no. 4 (December 2006): 813.

Mary Jo Sharp. Living in Truth: Confident Conversation in a Conflicted Culture by Mary Jo Sharp (September 26, 2015).  Lifeway Christia

© By Grace, In Faith[2018]